Georgia O’Keeffe. Jackson Pollock. Mark Rothko. The Boise Art Museum is pulling out all the stops in celebration of its 80th anniversary with an exhibition that showcases 52 works by major artists.
Bold colors and experimental techniques are the focus in “When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection.” The American art on display is just a fraction of the collection that philanthropist and arts advocate Neuberger amassed from the early 1930s to the 1960s. Neuberger fell in love with art during his travels through Europe before returning to New York to found his own investment firm.
Neuberger was heartbroken by the story of artist Vincent van Gogh, who painted brilliant scenes such as the iconic “Starry Night” but died a pauper. Thus, the art enthusiast believed in supporting the work of living artists and tended to purchase most works within a year or two of their creation.
“He also lived to be 107 years old, which I’m just going to attribute to his interest in art,” Boise Art Museum executive director Melanie Fales said.
The artists Neuberger collected were relatively unknown at the time, but he had an instinctive eye for selecting work that would be paramount. The cache of paintings, drawings and sculptures exhibits a diverse set of artists, many of whom were self-taught, immigrants or struggled with poverty.
As far as what pieces are a must-see, it’s hard to pick favorites. “I truly value each and every one for a different reason,” Fales said.
The artwork is organized in chronological order as you move throughout the galleries, demonstrating how the artists were pushing boundaries, moving away from realist representation of their surroundings and toward abstract expression.
Starting in the museum’s Central Gallery, you’ll find a whimsical display of birthday art made for Neuberger’s 50th birthday at the behest of his wife. Jack Levine, Milton Avery and Pollock are among the artists who sent doodles to Neuberger for the occasion.
Then, moving to the gallery on the left, you can browse through “American Scene” paintings. Keep an eye out for O’Keeffe’s “Lake George by Early Moonrise.” Considered to be the “Mother of American Modernism,” her vibrant green painting is surrounded by those of other American modernists, including Marsden Hartley and John Marin.
When you walk back through the Central Gallery, don’t miss Stanton Macdonald-Wright’s “Head of John Dracopoli,” a painting representative of the Synchronism movement. According to the exhibit catalog, Macdonald-Wright and artist Morgan Russell established Synchronism, a technique that relied on painting with color “scales.” Synchronism colors are not blended but rather placed next to each other, just as music notes are placed one after the other to create a scale.
The head portrait is one of the only surviving early Synchronism works. Dracopoli, who was friends with the two artists and acquired many of their paintings, once burned many of them in a fit of house-cleaning rage.
In the gallery directly to the right of the birthday card display, José De Rivera’s sculpture titled “Yellow Black” beckons you into the room. Fales said she loves “La Parisienne” by Max Weber hanging on the adjacent wall because of its beautiful composition and block print quality.
As you move into the next gallery, look up for a welcome surprise: an Alexander Calder mobile titled “The Red Ear.” Calder is credited with having created the mobile as well as the stabile, a sculpture that contains moving parts but sits on the floor.
The museum has saved some of the grandest pieces for last. In the final gallery, Pollock’s “Number 8, 1949” and Rothko’s quintessential piece “Old Gold Over White” are just a few of the noted works. Pollock, who was often criticized for his unique style of painting, created the piece by pouring paint from a can and dripping it from sticks onto the canvas. This is the first time one of his drip paintings has been shown at the Boise Art Museum. Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife, also has a piece on display.
As for the Rothko, Fales explained how his simple colors can be appreciated. “One of the things he tried to do was work large-scale and create a feeling or help evoke an emotion from the viewer,” she said. “If you’re standing in front of it, the idea is that the color is supposed to kind of envelop you and have you have an emotional experience with the artwork.”
It’s the first time this collection of artwork has traveled to the Northwest. “I believe that we as a society value art and have valued art throughout time,” Fales said. “It’s important for people to come see these pivotal artists who were changing the course of art history in this important time period.”
See the exhibit
“When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection” runs through Aug. 27. Museum open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. 670 S. Julia Davis Drive. $6 general, $4 seniors, $3 grades 1-12 and full-time college. Free for ages 5 and younger and members. 435-8330, boiseartmuseum.org.
Coming to the Boise Art Museum: Work by Brooklyn artist Sean Kenney, featuring two-dimensional Lego pieces representative of gemstones, will be unveiled Saturday, June 24, in an exhibition titled “Bricks and Stones.” Stones on loan from the Idaho Museum of Mining & Geology and Stewart’s Gem Shop will accompany the Lego art.
The museum will also be throwing a special community celebration June 24 in honor of the Boise Art Museum’s 80th anniversary with 80 gifts for the first 80 guests and other special activities as well as extended hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.