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FWMoA’s permanent collection
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
Approximately six months after the opening of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's renovation and expansion, Fort Wayne's artists, students, nerds, and illuminati have been able to call this place their home. While the expansion includes a new gift shop, auditorium, and more clearly defined gallery spaces, some of most important additions are the three permanent galleries, which house FWMoA's often misjudged, unassuming, but significant collection. Consisting of nearly 1,400 American paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, and photographs, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's collection is a great asset to our city's cultural character.
Throughout FWMoA's existence, its collection has had significant changes in focus, funding, and direction. During the 80s and 90s, FWMoA amassed an amazing collection of contemporary prints, as well as other forms of work from contemporary artists. More recently in 2003, under the leadership of Executive Director Charles Shepard, the Museum's collection made a major redefinition which center around three things: American Art, art education, and making art have meaning to people in the community. This redefinition lead to the creation of the American Art Initiative. Over this new period of the collection, most of the acquisitions have been from the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century.
The first gallery contains fine examples of functional ware such as china and furniture, as well as more traditional fine art like paintings and sculpture. Prominent in this first gallery are Paul Howard Manship's sculptures including "Day" and "Evening", incarnate depictions of these opposing times. Manship, although not a household name, is an incredibly popular artist, and is known as a pre-eminent precursor to the Art Deco movement which dominated America in the first half of the 20th Century. Perhaps the most famous piece of Manship's work would be "Prometheus" which is the greater than life size, gold plated, suspended, fire carrying figure which seems to glide with the ice skaters in Rockefeller Center's Lower Plaza in New York City. Other than Manship's beautiful sculpture, this gallery and the second gallery beyond it are mostly society portraiture, tranquil landscapes, and other predictable elements of America's artistic beginnings.
As museum visitors enter the third and final permanent gallery, they are transitioned quickly through the early modern period with pieces of Milton Avery and Milton Resnick, and quickly enter American Art's post-war heyday with the likes of Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, John Newman, and George Rickey.
Dominated by abstraction, FWMoA's third permanent gallery evocatively explores the amazing freedoms and developments of American Art as our nation slowly began to grow into the superpower identity of which we are all familiar. Beginning with Milton Avery, the seminal American abstract artist, whose work, although still representational, triggers the later emphasis on the relationship between colors, a letting go of the Western perspective ideals, and boldness in creative drawing. Temporally, the next artist represented is Alexander Calder, with an uncharacteristic untitled etching which has a closer connection to surrealism, but still vaguely resembles a landscape.
Historically, all hell breaks loose after this period in the collection. With the end of World War II, the advent of abstract expressionism, and a wealth-infused America, abstraction goes from eccentric artists experimenting to the art world norm. Milton Resnick's "Untitled" 1948 is a perfect example of this new found freedom in painting. Resnick, a Russian émigré born in Bratslav in 1917, was the last surviving member of the New York Abstract Expressionists until his death in 2004. Employed by the Easel and Mural Division of the WPA, Resnick made it through the depression and met many of the other major abstract expressionists like Ad Reinhardt and Willem de Kooning. The FWMoA's Untitled Resnick is actually very reminiscent of De Kooning's work, such as "Excavation" housed at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Other strong abstract pieces in FWMoA's permanent gallery include Norman Bluhm's "Citrus", a Pollock-esque abstract painting, Felrath Hines' "Trellis", a large scale color field painting, two abstract sculptures, both untitled, by Donald Judd and John Newman, an intriguing kinetic sculpture by George Rickey, "Twenty Four-Lines", and Alma Thomas' "Wind Sparkling Dew and Green Grass". Thomas, an African American woman, is an amazing example of the ways that these artistic freedoms were coincided with social freedoms. Thomas, born in 1891 was the first graduate of Howard University's art department, the first African American woman to earn a Master of Fine Art from Columbia University in New York City, and was the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art. When put into context with the male dominated, machismo driven work of the New York School, Alma Thomas was an exceptional "other" both because of her race and gender, and achieved many great things, breaking barriers along the way.
Straying from this timeline, two pieces in the permanent collection, though from slightly different time periods play a major role. Andy Warhol's "Mao" silkscreen, and Larry Rivers’ "The Burial" are both examples of the way that figurative work, although not fashionable for a time, has consistently played a major role in American Art, and in ways, brings us back to our roots in the European imitations of the 19th Century. Turning those traditions on their heads though, Larry Rivers merged the erratic nature of some abstract expressionists with a figurative style all his own. Warhol on the other hand entered into Post-Modernism by intentionally eschewing and preserving the artists hand through the use of photographic methods.
All of these artists, no matter where they were born, or their gender, race, or orientation, are excellent examples of how powerful American Art has been and will be. Take advantage of this opportunity experience these pieces in your own city.
The Fort Wayne Museum of Art hours:
Thursday open until 8pm
The Museum is free every Sunday and Thursday.