Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection at the de Young Museum

by Admin on 06/22/2014

Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection, now on view at San Francisco’s de Young Museum is a presentation modest in number, but grand in both its breadth and scope; illustrating critical stages and achievements of postwar, American modern art. Within just several gallery spaces hang 46 predominantly large-scale paintings and sculptures promised or already gifted to the National Gallery of Art’s permanent collection by Mr. Robert and the late Mrs. Jane Meyerhoff, which have never been on view on the West Coast. This is also the second exhibition at the Fine Arts Museums this year coming from a collaboration with the National Gallery of Art, due to its extensive renovation, and a close relationship with its director, Earl Powell, III and Diane Wilsey, president of the Board of Trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. img_6443

Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection

Placing particular emphasis on six American masters: Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella, the Meyerhoffs amassed one of the most outstanding collections of modern art over five decades. This current exhibition consists of paintings and sculptures gifted to the National Gallery of Art, supplemented by six promised works from Meyerhoff’s own galleries. “With the closing of the East Building galleries for renovation and expansion,” explained Harry Cooper, curator and head of modern art at the National Gallery of Art, “it made perfect sense to lend this amazing group of works.” This was the same impetus for which the Legion of Honor current exhibition, Intimate Impressionism, a paintings from the National Gallery also acquired through a private collector: Mrs. Alisa Mellon Bruce, daughter of the National Gallery’s founder, Andrew Mellon, and her brother Paul Mellon.

In the late 1950s Baltimore-based real estate developer and philanthropist Robert E. Meyerhoff and his wife, Jane, began collecting works by artists who rose to prominence in the wake of World War II. Over time, the Meyerhoffs also focused on the generation of artists who followed the Abstract Expressionists—Johns, Kelly, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg and Stella—all of whom became close friends of the collectors. By the 1990s, the collection had expanded to include artists who sought to reinvigorate the practice of painting in the postmodern era such as Eric Fischl, Nancy Graves, Brice Marden, David Salle and Terry Winters. In 1987, the Meyerhoffs signed an agreement with the National Gallery of Art for the eventual donation of their entire collection. img_6510

Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection

The exhibition of this collection offer at times stark juxtapositions. From a deeply expressionist work with large textural surfaces and experimental use of color in Autumn Gold by Hans Hofmann from 1957, one of the first works acquired by the couple, to a starkly minimal, yet equally colorful Flin FLon IV by Frank Stella from 1969, and even further to Joseph Cornell’s diorama, Sand Fountain of 1948, this summer exhibition, with its wide cast nest of approaches, styles, and epochs, provides viewers many ways of looking, and bridging them together and also perhaps challenge historical perspectives of the story of postwar American art. The works selected for the Modernism from the National Gallery of Art, painted in a span of over 50 years, eloquently illustrates how artist practices survived and thrived in an era after Duchamp’s declaration of “the death of painting,” and worked in an era of ambiguous movements like “Abstract Expressionism,” “Minimalism” or “Conceptualism.” Artists, now individuals rather than members of a group or movement announced by a manifesto or membership, grappled for answers to questions that they themselves asked of their work.

Not only will this exhibition allow visitors to explore the visual and intellectual concerns of American art since the middle of the 20th century, its presentation at de Young Museum also illustrates how strong relationships between private art collectors and Museums have successfully collaborated together in the growing interest of displaying modern and contemporary art, as well as providing educational resources on the subject. Drawn primarily from the Bay Area collections of Maurice and the late Harriet Gregg and of Jack Wheeden and the late David Davies, Shaping Abstraction concurrently on view with this exhibition presents a selection of early to mid 20th century of artwork of abstractionists associated with the New York-based American Abstract Artists group, which played a pivotal role in advancing abstraction in the USA in the first half of the 20th century. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco has also recently coordinated with long-time supporters of contemporary art at the Museums, Robert and Daphne Bransten to establish an annual lecture series on contemporary art.


‘Modernism From the National Gallery of Art: The Robert & Jane Meyerhoff Collection’ will be at de Young Museum through: Oct. 12, 2014