Sunday, June 24, 2018

Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, goes shopping for poppy art


And the winner is ... Poppies!

The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg can boast 10 new works in its permanent collection depicting the colorful flower, the bounty of an annual April event that lets museum members have the final say in what new art the museum purchases.

In past years, only three works have been up for a vote by members of the Collectors' Circle support group, which hosts the Collectors' Choice Dinner. The winner is purchased with funds raised by the group during the year.

This year, the museum mixed things up a bit, offering three categories, each containing four to 10 works. All art in the winning category would be purchased.

The poppy group consists of nine individual prints and one book of prints from the 18th to the early 20th centuries created by masters of the botanical genre, including one by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. They have great stylistic variety. Redouté's poppy is the gold standard, swooningly beautiful. Some are more straightforward, such as the engravings by Elizabeth Blackwell and William Curtis. We see the influence of the arts and crafts movement in Eugéne Grassett's 1896 print and the influence of art deco in Jeannie Foord's early 20th century lithograph. Her important book, Decorative Plant and Flower Studies for the Use of Artists, Designers, Students and Others (1906) is also part of the group.

They will be part of an exhibition being developed by chief curator Jennifer Hardin for the museum's 50th anniversary in 2015. "The Poppy in Art, 1740-1940: Reality and Dreams" will feature one of the museum's most beloved paintings, Georgia O'Keeffe's Poppy.

In explaining her wish to bring the works into the collection, she said, "They provide us with a context. A lot of the artists were women artists like O'Keeffe, but they were doing small dainty works in contrast with O'Keeffe and this series of bold paintings."

Museums traditionally bring new art into their collections through donations of works by individuals or the purchase of them using a pool of money called an accessions fund. Curators and accessions committees decide what to add.

For decades, museum leaders throughout the United States have sought other ways to fill their galleries. The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, like many other museums, has special-interest groups such as the Collector's Circle that offer educational programs and fundraising events. The Collectors' Choice Dinner has the additional art-purchase component. It's a tad gimmicky because museum curators control the process by selecting all the art being considered. They choose potential additions based on what will enhance the overall collection and what's on the market and within the budget of the Collectors' Circle. There are no wild cards; any of the choices would be welcomed.

Still, it's a fun way for volunteers to spend hard-earned money. The poppy group was thought to be the odds-on favorite because of its connection to O'Keeffe's Poppy. Also presented was a group of New Mexico-related works with three Todd Webb photographs, a clay bowl by Diego Romero and works on paper by John Sloan and Peter Hurd that would be exhibited in conjunction with a recent addition to the collection, another Georgia O'Keeffe painting, Grey Hills Painted Red. The third category was contemporary art that included photographic prints by Jessica Labatte and Jessica Eaton and a video work by Michael Bell-Smith.

As has happened in the past and is always the hope of museum leaders, individual patrons often contribute funds to purchase art that didn't win at the dinner. Longtime benefactors Bill and Hazel Hough are giving Bell-Smith's video, Waves Clock, to the museum. It has only one other video in the collection, which was also a gift of the Houghs.

The Collectors' Choice Dinner had another surprise announcement: The museum's large glass atrium has been named the Mary Alice McClendon Conservatory in honor of a donor who, with her late husband Doyle, has given many art works and millions of dollars to the museum.

The couple contributed $9 million to the capital campaign in 2006, the largest one-time donation in the museum's history and a crucial one for the construction of a new wing that opened in 2008. They supplied $250,000 in matching funds that paved the way for the purchase of Childe Hassam's Home Sweet Home at a Collector's Choice Dinner in 2005.

Mrs. McClendon also invites chief curator Jennifer Hardin to her condominium about once a year "to go shopping," as she calls it, selecting works from her museum-quality collection of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts for gifts to the museum.

She says her own collecting days are over.

"As we have given the things that were museum-quality, I have replaced them with things that are nice but strictly decorative. I don't miss any of the gifts. All I have to do is come to the museum and look at them, along with many more people than would see them in my home."

Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.

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