G. David Thompson: A Pittsburgh Art Patron and His Collection


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Pausing near Aristide Maillol’s bronze nude called ‘Night,’ G. David Thompson points out other sculpture he commissioned for his garden. Photographed by Yale Joel for the May 16, 1960 issue of Life magazine.

In May 1961, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York presented an exhibition titled One Hundred Paintings from the G. David Thompson Collection. A few older artists (Cezanne, Monet, Degas) were represented in the exhibition, but the impressive check list, though not comprehensive, was a veritable who-is-who of artists whose main activity was or continued to be in the 20th century. From Josef Albers to Adja Yunkers, the exhibition offered one-man’s viewpoint of contemporary western painting. Artists especially dear to the collector were represented by multiple works: Braque, Klee, Legér, Matisse, Miró, Mondrian, Picasso, Schwitters, and Wols accounted for more than half of the total, with Picasso’s 12 listed works the most by any artist. Mr. Thompson, in his own introduction to the exhibition catalogue, expressed his thoughts on collectors and collecting, emphasizing his preference for exploring in depth the work of selected artists instead of aiming at a comprehensive survey. Indeed, in several cases, he had acquired more than 40-50 and in a few cases more than 100 works by a single artist. He attributed this to personal taste and individual preferences but also offered more pragmatic considerations as explanation, such as market availability.

By the time of the Guggenheim exhibition, Mr. Thompson of Pittsburgh was not only a nationally but also an internationally known art collector, whose profile had been featured in Life and Time and in several European publications. What was less well known is that by the time the exhibition came to New York after several European venues, Mr. Thompson had already sold nearly all the art to a Swiss dealer, as the New York Times reported just days before the exhibition’s opening. But we’ll have more on this later.

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Art Tracks: Why Museums Love Libraries


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Pietro Perugino, St. Augustine with Members of the Confraternity of Perugia, c. 1500. Carnegie Museum of Art, Acquired through the generosity of Mrs. Alan M. Scaife.

Without libraries, museums would be flying blind. We rely on our fellow information hoarders professionals to help us solve problems, guide us to resources, and occasionally go for a drink. In so many ways, libraries are the left to our right, and one of the places this relationship is most visible is provenance research.

Provenance research used to be a much more labor-intensive affair. Auction catalogues, travel diaries, and other archival material were held by a few libraries, and if you could figure out which repository had the material you were looking for, getting access was another issue entirely. Many books and papers were held in closed holdings that could only be accessed by appointment and by application. The researcher then had to travel to the library, get the book, maybe do a translation, and do the research.

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March Snapshots: Photography’s Shifting Landscape


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Sara Cwynar, Girl from Contact Sheet 2 (Darkroom Manuals), 2013. Courtesy the artist and Foxy Production, New York.

If I had to choose one image to encapsulate the visual and verbal conversations that have embodied the Initiative over the past two years, I’d probably put Sara Cwynar’s Girl from Contact Sheet 2 (Darkroom Manuals) among the top five. Okay, maybe more like the top three. It’s not just because of the tension-cum-synergy between digital and analog that the picture so powerfully and poetically conveys (and that Oliver Wasow finds so evocative in his commissioned response this month). It’s because the image represents a growing shift in the medium “from taking pictures to making pictures,” as recently described by the publisher of FlakPhoto, Andy Adams. This making consists of everything from appropriating vernacular photographs to digital wizardry with the tools of Photoshop to physical layering made up of any and all media available to an artist.

The successful admixture of these elements depends, of course, on an audience savvy enough to understand the constituent parts and interpret what their juxtaposition might mean or say. An audience that gets the way in which contemporary photographic practice is no longer (or perhaps has never been) about either-or, but rather both-and. An audience that traffics regularly and with ease in the increasingly universal language of images.

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The Time Avant-Garde Filmmaker Jonas Mekas Visited Pittsburgh


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Jonas Mekas talking to the audience at his screening event on April 1, 1970. Carnegie Museum of Art, Film and Video Department archive (photograph by Robert Haller).

On this day in April of 1970, Jonas Mekas became the first filmmaker to visit Pittsburgh as part of Carnegie Museum of Art’s brand new film program (also known as the Film Section, the Section of Film and Video, and the Department of Film and Video). Film curator Sally Dixon invited him to screen selections from his films and talk about his ventures in experimental cinema in New York. Mekas was the first of many non-narrative filmmakers to visit the museum (names like Robert Breer, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Peter Kubekla, and James Broughton are common in our Program Notes), but more than any other film or video artist, he set the tone for moving image programming at CMOA.

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CMOA Commissions a Sculpture of Pittsburgh Icon Rick Sebak


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WQED’s Rick Sebak stands in the Hall of Sculpture at Carnegie Museum of Art, the future location of his sculpture. Photo: Bryan Conley.

We always get excited to work with living artists, and so we were excited to see the announcement of a major commission by famed British artist Lucie Poole. She has chosen Pittsburgh icon Rick Sebak as the latest model in a series of works featuring contemporary American men, and the sculpture will be installed in the Hall of Sculpture at the heart of the museum. Poole will be the first artist to install a work in the Hall since Nicole Eisenman’s Carnegie-Prize winning works in the 2013 Carnegie International. One of these sculptures, Prince of Swords, was acquired by the museum, and remains on view.

Poole has chosen Sebak to be the latest subject of her series (hyper)MASCULINE, and will arrive at the museum next week to begin the work. The series meditates on classical ideals of male beauty, and focuses on what the artist calls “men whose masculine energy presents itself to them, almost uncontrollably,” and who are “enigmatic, yet bound by their own externalities.” Subjects are given almost impossibly perfect forms, taking cues from Greek and Roman sculpture. Previous selections include writer and television host Anthony Bourdain, and Massachusetts senator Scott Brown. Works in the series can be found in the collections of the Tate Modern and Detroit Institute of Arts. The series presents what Poole calls “body archetypes” that “invert the normative conditions of our temporal states through an eruption of antiquity into our contemporary world.”

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