“What’s up now?” That’s a common question when asking about what’s going on at a museum — and it usually refers to whatever exhibition, often from elsewhere, is on display for a few months.
While these exhibitions keep visitors returning, the lifeblood of a museum is what stays — the things that belong to the museum and the community. The Columbia Museum of Art is showing off some of its newest permanent residents in Cool and Collected: New Art at the CMA. Of the 46 works, 40 have been donated, the rest purchased. Only a few have been displayed previously. These are only a portion of the 100 or so works that have come to the museum since 2011.
“We’ve had a great couple of years,” says Will South, chief curator at the museum.
The works range from a carved wood bodhisattva figure and a Rembrandt engraving from the 1600s to 1950s paintings by James Brooks and Carl Holty and the newest, a 2007 basket by North Carolina artist Billie Ruth Sudduth.
The donations have come from numerous sources. Collectors Ben and Jerry Gimarc of Columbia gave a print by Michael Tyzack, the late chairman of the College of Charleston art department. Artist and South Carolina native Sigmund Abeles donated two of his own drawings. Dwight Emanuelson, who lives in Hilton Head and has given many works to the museum, donated a batch of modern paintings. Robert Turner of Pennsylvania donated the bodhisattva and has given the museum about 100 works during the past decade.
The Rembrandt came from collector Arthur Primus of Texas, a major collector of African-American art whom South has known for many years.
“That simply arrived in the mail,” South says. “It was in a regular box and I had no idea what was in it.”
A dozen of the works on display are from Herb and Dorothy Vogel, a New York couple of modest means who collected thousands of conceptual and minimalist works from emerging artists, and who have been distributing their art to museums all over the country. The Columbia Museum of Art will eventually receive about 800 works from the Vogel collection.
Although the museum doesn’t concentrate on South Carolina art, several recent acquisitions have South Carolina connections: the Abeles drawings, a batik painting by Leo Twiggs of Orangeburg, a drawing/painting by Alex Powers of Myrtle Beach and a batch of Catawba Indian ceramics by the late Sara Ayers of West Columbia.
Among the purchases is the 1978 painting Girl in the Window by George Tooker; a 1937 still-life painting by Stanton McDonald Wright, a modernist who South is an expert on; and a 1920s wood engraving by Charles Birchfield inspired by his time in South Carolina when he was in the Army and stationed at Camp Jackson (now Fort Jackson.)
The museum’s collection strength is Renaissance and Baroque period paintings, the core of which were given to the museum by the Kress Foundation in the 1950s not long after the museum opened. Until a decade ago, the museum collected only sporadically and it’s playing catch up — especially with works from the 20th century. It still doesn’t have a regular fund for purchases, but that that may soon change due to a bequest from a long-time museum supporter. The details are still being worked out.
“Right now we’re looking at fewer things but of higher quality,” South says.
Cool and Collected is on view in the Dawn Helfont Christopher Galleries on the first floor of the Columbia Museum of Art though Jan. 5. The museum is at 1515 Main St. Visit columbiamuseum.org or call 799-2810 for more information.
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