New exhibit displays collectors’ shared interests

by Katherine Schreiber | 10/4/15 6:01pm

A small television sits next to a stack of playing cards. Nearby, an Andy Warhol print of an electric chair hangs near a wooden stag’s head. A marble bust is displayed on an old, cracked cabinet, and on the wall there is sketch of a dancer by John Singer Sargent.

These diverse pieces are all part of the Hood’s new exhibition, “Collecting and Sharing: Trevor Fairbrother, John T. Kirk and the Hood Museum of Art,” which showcases the collection of scholar John T. Kirk and curator Trevor Fairbrother. The exhibition includes approximately 140 paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and furniture pieces from the Kirk-Fairbrother collection. Among the artists represented in the show are Andy Warhol, John Singer Sargent, Sol LeWitt, Robert Gober and Elizabeth Peyton.

The exhibition is divided into seven themed sections — histories, wonders, goods, marks, males, geometries and surfaces. This categorical organization invites the viewer to examine relationships between objects, as well as between objects and their section, Hood associate director and curator Katherine Hart said.

The categories are somewhat fluid, as objects are not necessarily limited to one section, Hart said.

“There are these relationships and moments that are created throughout the exhibition where you’re looking at and thinking about the objects in relation to the theme,” she said.

In addition to pieces from collections of Fairbrother and Kirk, each section also includes one work from the Hood’s permanent collection, Hart said.

Emily Neely ’17, who visited the gallery on Wednesday, thought that the museum’s choice to organize the pieces thematically made the exhibition more engaging.

“It was interesting how they brought together different works that were unified by theme — it made you pay a lot more attention to the different aspects of the work,” Neely said.

Neely liked that the show included pieces from the Hood’s permanent collection.

“I think it was a good choice to pull one of the Hood’s existing works for each theme,” she said. “I personally liked recognizing some of the pieces.”

Neely said that she had seen Alice Neel’s “Portrait of Daniel Algis Alkaitis” in the Bernstein Study-Storage Center during a “Painting 1” class last year.

Kirk, an early American decorative arts curator and scholar, and Fairbrother, a 19th- and 20th-century American and contemporary art curator and scholar, have been collecting together since the mid-1970s. After working with the Hood on several projects starting in the 1980s, they approached the museum about donating works to its permanent collections. Since 2010 they have given 52 pieces to the museum.

Although they had no special affinity with the College, the collectors were interested in the Hood’s commitment to education.

“They were very much drawn to the idea that the collections would be used for teaching,” Hart said.

One of the museum’s primary goals is to make its collection accessible students, professors and the general community, Hart said. In addition to the works displayed in the galleries, the museum also draws out between 2,000 and 3,000 works in Bernstein each year.

This term, classes from 30 different departments will visit “Collecting and Sharing.” Studio art professor Colleen Randall, who visited the show with her “Drawing 1,” “Drawing 2” and “Drawing 3” classes, said that the exhibition showcased a variety of contemporary artists and drawing methods.

“I thought it showed a really wide range of how artists used drawing in their practice,” Randall said. “It provided a lot of discussion about what purpose drawing serves in the artist’s practice.”

She said that the marks section, in particular, showed the different ways that marks can be used on the page. Marks includes drawings by Warhol, Sargent and Gober.

In addition to engaging visitors visually, the exhibition also delves into other disciplines and examines social issues. The males section addresses issues of gender, sexuality and masculinity. Catherine Opie’s photograph “Richard” is part of her series of portraits of friends in the LGBTQ community, made in the 1990s. The section also includes an early portrait by Andy Warhol and several photomontages by John O’Reilly. In one piece, O’Reilly superimposes a picture of Christ’s legs from Diego Velasquez’s Christ Crucified onto a photograph of two choir boys.

The histories section contains several traditional works, including several pieces of early American furniture, and it also includes works that challenge conventional views of history and art. Jonathan Borofsky’s painting of an upside-down flower vase pokes fun at the style and subject matter of traditional American painting. In a piece called “Reconstructed History,” Mike Kelley draws vulgar cartoons over old textbook illustrations, questioning the glorification of American history.

Furniture plays an important role throughout the exhibition. Kirk has advocated against stripping or refurbishing antique furniture. The pieces in “Collecting and Sharing” are often worn-down and even broken — a chest of drawers in the surfaces section has lost much of its paint and is cracked at the bottom edge. A wooden rod holds the chest’s front legs together.

On Sept. 25, Kirk led a talk in the galleries called “Early American Furniture: Understanding Designs and Appreciating Surfaces” with his former student, Karen Keane, in which he discussed how to look at and care for early American furniture.

The exhibition also provides a glimpse into the lives of Fairbrother and Kirk. The collectors talked about their collection as objects they wished to live with, Hart said.

“[Kirk] and [Fairbrother] are collecting things that interested them at different times in their life. They’re not necessarily collecting as you would if you were a very wealthy person. A lot of this collection comes out of their relationship with the artist or from things that have interested them in their careers,” she said.

The relationship between Kirk and Fairbrother underlies the entire exhibition.

“This is a collection that they have built together,” Hart said. “These are things that come out of their combined interests and their interest together as collectors.”

On Oct. 28, Fairbrother will give a talk called “Andy Warhol = Nobody’s Fool,” in which he will discuss Warhol’s legacy, based on his own friendship with the artist.

The exhibition runs from Aug. 22 through Dec. 6.