THE NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY, A TREASURE TROVE OF ART AND HISTORY
CURRENTLY ON EXHIBIT AT THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY IS PICASSO’S NEWLY ACQUIRED AND RECENTLY RESTORED ” LE TRICORNE”, A WORK WITH A DYNAMIC NEW YORK HISTORY THAT MAKES THE MUSEUM THE PERFECT NEW HOME FOR THIS CELEBRATED STAGE CURTAIN. FOR OVER FIFTY YEARS, THIS WORK WAS INSTALLED AT THE FOUR SEASONS RESTAURANT IN MIES VAN DER ROHE’S LANDMARK SEAGRAM BUILDING AT 52ND STREET AND PARK AVENUE. DIAGHILEV’S BALLET RUSSE PREMIERED “LE TRICORNE” IN LONDON IN 1919 WITH SETS, COSTUMES AND THIS 20 FOOT SQUARE STAGE CURTAIN DEEMED “THE SUPREME THEATRICAL ACHIEVEMENT” BY PICASSO BIOGRAPHER, JOHN RICHARDSON.
GIFTED TO THE NEW YORK LANDMARKS CONSERVANCY IN 2005 AND BELIEVED TO BE THE LARGEST PICASSO PAINTING IN THE UNITED STATES, IT IS NOW THE CENTERPIECE OF THE CURRENT EXHIBITION AT THE NYHS IN A DIALOGUE WITH OTHER OBJECTS AND PAINTINGS FROM THE MUSEUM COLLECTION THAT PROVIDE BACKGROUND ON THIS WORK AND TRACE THE AESTHETIC TRADITIONS THIS REVOLUTIONARY ARTIST OVERTURNED.
PREDOMINANTLY, THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY HOUSES AN OUTSTANDING COLLECTION OF OVER 2500 AMERICAN PAINTINGS – PRIMARILY PORTRAITS, GENRE SCENES AND LANDSCAPES – DATING FROM THE COLONIAL PERIOD THROUGH THE 20th CENTURY AS WELL AS A SELECT NUMBER OF EUROPEAN WORKS. THE MUSEUM FOUNDERS, LUMAN REED, A NEW YORK MERCHANT AND PIONEERING ART PATRON AND ROBERT L. STUART, ALSO A 19th CENTURY NEW YORK PHILANTHROPIST AND ART COLLECTOR, DONATED THEIR OUTSTANDING COLLECTIONS OF HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL LANDSCAPES THAT INCLUDE THOMAS COLE’S ICONIC FIVE-PAINTING SERIES, The Course of the Empire, AND SUPERB EXAMPLES OF 19th CENTURY AMERICAN PAINTINGS BY ASHER B. DURAND, FREDERIC E. CHURCH, JASPER CROPSEY AND ALBERT BIERSTADT.
I AM VERY PLEASED TO CONTINUE OUR CONVERSATION WITH CURATOR AND DEPARTMENT HEAD, MARILYN SATIN KUSHNER.
MARILYN, I PRIMARILY ASSOCIATE THE MUSEUM WITH REMARKABLE PAINTINGS. HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE THE BALANCE BETWEEN THE MUSEUM’S ART AND HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS?
The New-York Historical Society has always been known as a great library. It is one of the great libraries for the study of American history, especially through the Civil War. Our holdings contain amazing documents including a copy of the Louisiana Purchase. In the past ten years, there has been a push to bring out our art because of our superb collections. The New-York Historical was founded in 1804 at a time when there were no art collecting institutions in New York, It was not until after the Civil War, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art was formed, that there was another organization willing to accept fine art. This is why we have a outstanding collection of nineteenth-century art. We also collected Egyptian antiquities during the nineteenth century but these were not within our collecting mission so a great deal of that material was given to the Brooklyn Museum. We also gave a number of “out of scope” objects to the Museum of Natural History in the early part of the twentieth century before World War II.
All of this left us with a superb collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American art. We have an outstanding photography collection from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, great architectural drawings, and wonderful sculpture from the nineteenth century. We want this to be a place where one can see great art as well as a place where you can continue to view wonderful historical documents.
BOTH THE BROOKLYN MUSEUM, WHERE YOU WERE CURATOR AND CHAIR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF PRINTS, DRAWINGS AND PHOTOGRAPHS PRIOR TO JOINING THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY, AND THE NYHS HAVE OUTSTANDING PERMANENT COLLECTIONS. WHAT ARE THE STARS OF THE COLLECTION AT THE BROOKLYN MUSEUM?
That is a different kind of museum. We focus. The Brooklyn Museum has “universal” collections. As head of the Print Room there for twelve years, I can say that they have one of the top print collections in the country. Their American art collections and Egyptian holdings are superb.
HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
There were two great print curators in the early to mid-twentieth century who set the standards for the print collection that is at the Brooklyn Museum – Carl Schnewind and Una Johnson.
Brooklyn has an astonishing Egyptian collection. Some of those pieces came from the New-York Historical Society and as s a matter of fact, we borrowed one of these for the Armory Show. That small Egyptian statuette was included in a room in the Armory Show that highlighted the type of art that was being collected in the early twentieth century. Brooklyn also has a wonderful decorative arts collection and a great American painting collection.
WHEN I WORK WITH CLIENTS INTERESTED IN COLLECTING AMERICAN ART, I REFER A GREAT DEAL TO THE REVOLUTIONARY QUALITY OF THE ARMORY SHOW OF 1913. IT CERTAINLY WAS A TURNING POINT, IN MY VIEW, FROM MORE TRADITIONAL WAYS OF PICTORIAL CREATIVITY TO UNCONVENTIONAL ONES BY INTRODUCING CUBISM TO THE AMERICAN ART WORLD AND COLLECTING PUBLIC. I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW YOUR THINKING AND PERSPECTIVE ON THAT EVENT AND HOW YOU WERE ABLE TO ORGANIZE A SHOW OF SUCH REMARKABLE SCOPE.
Thank you. It was a labor of love. The exhibition took us almost five years to organize from our first plans with a “wish list” checklist to the opening. It takes at least that long to find the works, arrange to borrow the works, design the exhibition, find authors for a catalogue, get that book published.
IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOG, WE ARE PRIVILEGED TO SHARE IN THIS REMARKABLE CURATORIAL EXPERIENCE OF THE DEVELOPMENT AND EXHIBITION OF THE CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY OF THE ARMORY SHOW, THE ARMORY SHOW AT 100. THANKS TO THE SCHOLARSHIP AND DEDICATION OF MARILYN KUSHNER AND HER COLLEAGUE, KIMBERLY ORCUTT, THIS EXHIBITION SIGNIFICANTLY CONTRIBUTED TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THIS PERIOD, NOT ONLY AESTHETICALLY BUT HISTORICALLY AND SOCIALLY.
PLEASE JOIN US!