Sunday, November 6, 2011

Last chance and a new horizon at Peabody Essex

Albert Bierstadt, Donner Lake from the Summit

I can't get to everything, I tell myself. Still, when I haven't gotten around to writing about an exquisite show like Painting the American Vision at the Peabody Essex Museum, I give myself a few psychological kicks. So I wanted to throw in a quick word about the exhibit to readers - this is its very last day, but if you have the afternoon free, hop in the car and get up to Salem to take it in. You'll be glad you did.

Painting is an import, basically, from the New-York Historical Society (and drawn entirely from that Society's famous collection).  Its focus is the Hudson River School, although its landscapes range far beyond those of that lovely valley, or the East Coast in general.  And frankly, the exhibit's not really a clearly curated view of the movement, anyway.  It's impressionistic, organized "thematically," and includes a fascinating (but odd) set of paintings by Thomas Cole on the rise and fall of "Empire" that are placed in some classical-fantasy setting unusual for the School.  And the "first" (Thomas Cole, Asher Brown Durand, etc.) and "second" generations (Frederich Church, Albert Bierstadt, John Frederick Kensett, etc.) of the movement aren't carefully delineated, either.

But you don't really care.  The show follows a roughly historical timeline, with many dazzling landscapes drawn from sites all over the globe (and even beneath it, in one interior view of Kentucky's Mammoth Cave).  The exhibit culminates in Bierstadt's great Donner Lake from the Summit (at top) and the sublimely strange Cayambe, a kind of hyper-realistic South American zoological-topological fantasy, from Church (below).

Frederic Church, Cayambe

While you're at Painting the American Vision, you should step next door to check out the brilliant Man Ray and Lee Miller show in the adjacent gallery (which has only a month left in its run).  And you should also savor some wonderful news - the Peabody Essex has just announced it has raised some $550 million toward an overall endowment campaign of $650 million - a number that out-strips even the MFA's fabled $504 million campaign for the creation of its new American wing.  I adore this museum (as does Greg Cook of the New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, with whom I often converse on the visual arts), so as you can imagine, I'm pleased as punch.

Some $300 million of that total will go to an expansion and renovation of the museum - the remaining $350 million will go to the endowment, which will vault the Peabody Essex into the company of the top 10 museums in the country in terms of financial resources.  (It will also allow about half of PEM's annual operating expenses to come from earned income on that money.)

And while I have no confirmation of this whatsoever, I'm going to go ahead and state a hunch that part of that expansion will go to permanently housing the wonderful collection of Dutch art owned by Eijk and Rose-Marie van Otterloo (who are on the PEM Board), which we were dazzled by a few months ago. Back then, I wondered aloud where that world-class collection would end up; now I think I know. Or at least I hope I know.  We'll try to find out more in the coming weeks.

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