BAR HARBOR — Some of the most important artistic trends, and several heavy-hitters, of 20th-century American art are represented in a show at College of Atlantic’s (COA) Blum Gallery through Friday, Aug. 14.
The scope of the ambitious show, however, is eclipsed by the disappointing way the artwork is presented. The show fails to place into context any of the art, the system used to label each work is confusing and awkward, and the dearth of information keeps all but the most educated art historians in the dark as to why this work is important at all.
“Selections from the Collection of Allan and Clare Stone” consists of more than three dozen artworks taken from the private collection of New York City gallery owner Alan Stone and his wife Clare. COA created the Allan Stone Chair in Visual Arts this year, and the show functions as an inaugural of sorts for the new position. Mr. Stone passed away in 2006.
While there are several pieces of folk and African art included in the exhibit, most of the works have a general feel of being created in the 1950s and 1960s, during the time when New York City was rising to prominence in the international art world. Abstract expressionism, one of the important trends that helped define post-World War II American art, is well represented.
Unfortunately, one cannot say with any conviction that the pieces in the show were created during the post-World War II period, because no dates are included with any of the information. We are told of the artist, the name of the piece, its size and the materials used, and that’s it.
It’s a vexing omission. For the few artists whose names are big enough to be recognized, such as Willem de Kooning and Richard Estes, not knowing when the work was created takes away the pleasure of fitting it into the artist’s overall career. For the rest of the painters and sculptors represented in the show, viewers have no idea whatsoever whether they were working 50 years ago, are working today in a retro fashion, or are somewhere in between.
Beyond the lack of dates, the way the spare information is presented proves awkward. For reasons unknown, rather than placing the name of the artist and the title of the work on the wall, the information for the 42 works in the show are listed on a large sheet of heavy paper.
At the top of the page, a black-and-white diagram of the gallery is presented, with numbers on each piece that refer to the information in the list. Constantly referring to the handout is awkward, but is made more so by the fact that the diagram is not labeled in order; in other words, as you move around the room, the pieces are numbered randomly, from 35 to 6 to 10 to 27. What this does, in effect, is cause the viewer to look at a piece, look at the diagram, find it in the list, look at the piece again, check the diagram again, and etc. It is not a pleasant way to go about viewing art.
Once the visitor’s understanding is settled, the view of the work itself is diminished by inadequate lighting. Skylights and an open door offer some degree of natural light, but the room is far from brilliantly lit. There are two banks of gallery lights in the Blum, but neither was turned on; that would have helped to brighten up the walls and allow a more penetrating view of the art.
In COA press materials for the show, the collection of Mr. and Ms. Stone is described as “legendary.” Important post-war artists such as Barnett Newman, Mr. de Kooning, and Eva Hess showed their work at Mr. Stone’s gallery in Manhattan’s upper east side, while others, such as Mr. Estes, had their first solo shows there.
Certainly, a collection of the magnitude of Mr. and Ms. Stone’s deserves better treatment. A full catalog should have been made available, with information on each artist, so the viewer could understand what he or she was looking at. Why one was not included is not known. Printing costs may have been an issue, but when the relative worth of the art in the show is taken into account, wouldn’t it have been worth the effort?
We can only assume that with the creation of the Allan Stone Chair in Visual Arts at COA, there will continue to be opportunities to exhibit work from the Stones’ private collection, or even from the collections of their peers.
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