At This Competitive Curatorial Showdown, Which Artwork Will Make the Cut?

High Museum of Art
Sep 11, 2019 · 6 min read

At Collectors Evening, curators vie for votes to determine which new artwork will be added to the High’s collection.

By Eva Berlin, Digital Content Specialist, High Museum of Art

The High Museum of Art’s highly anticipated night of elegance, art, and entertainment is almost here. On October 3, 2019, Collectors Evening attendees will have the opportunity to make their mark on the High Museum’s collection by voting for their favorite works of art.

How does Collectors Evening work?

These four artworks (scroll for more details) will be in the running at Collectors Evening 2019.

The curators propose an artwork to add to the collection, and it is up to our Collectors Evening attendees to decide which works make the cut. As they try to win over the hearts and votes of the audience, the curators bring along their artworks, proposal videos, and a healthy dose of competition.

Since the inception of Collectors Evening in 2010, attendees have selected a total of 28 acquisitions for the Museum’s collection, including works by Donald Locke, Nandipha Mntambo and Vik Muniz.

Proceeds from the evening will support the purchase of the works that receive the most votes. The event is open to the public. Tickets and additional information are available on the Collectors Evening page.

Scroll to see what the curators have to say about their picks for this year’s Collectors Evening.

Modern and Contemporary Art/Photography

Michael Rooks and Sarah Kennel

Shirin Neshat (Iranian, born 1957), Possessed, 2001, 16mm and 35mm film transferred to digital video, 13:01, with sound. Proposed purchase through funds provided by patrons of Collectors Evening 2019.

Haunting and mesmerizing, Shirin Neshat’s film Possessed (2001) interrogates the complexities of gender, politics, and public space in the Middle East. Neshat, a renowned Iranian-born artist living in New York, shot the work in Morocco using 35mm black-and-white film. The film shows a distraught woman as she roams the streets of a walled city without a chador, the traditional Islamic veil. Her increasingly aberrant behavior is initially ignored until she mounts a platform. Soon, a crowd gathers and begins to argue, some condemning her madness while others defend her. As she quietly slips away, she leaves in her wake chaos and dissent. The conclusion is provocative and ambiguous: does she symbolize the radical force of a woman who refuses to remain silent or the repressive violence of a patriarchal society?

Neshat’s technical mastery heightens the film’s dramatic impact. She interweaves closeups referencing silent movies with long tracking shots and cuts edited in sync with the gripping soundtrack. Poetic and troubling, the film exemplifies what Neshat has characterized as the drive “to make sense out of shambles, to distill essence out of chaos.”

The proposed Neshat acquisition would strengthen the High Museum’s growing collection of time-based media and contemporary works by women photographers. Jaye Rhee, Tear, 2002; Zanele Muholi, Kwanele (Parktown), 2016; Arthur Jafa, Love is The Message, The Message is Death, 2016.

A key work by an internationally renowned artist, this proposed acquisition is the last available in an edition of six and would greatly strengthen the Museum’s growing collection of time-based media. If acquired, the work would anchor the next rotation on the Skyway Level of the Anne Cox Chambers Wing featuring works exclusively by women, in celebration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.

American Art

Stephanie Mayer Heydt

Thomas Sully (American, 1783–1872), Girl with a Fan (Blanche Sully), 1837, Oil on panel, 20 x 17 inches, signed with conjoined initials TS and dated 1837, lower left. Proposed purchase through funds provided by patrons of Collectors Evening 2019.

Raised in Charleston, South Carolina, where his family managed the town’s performance hall, Thomas Sully gained early experience in the world of theater that paved the way for his success as a painter. Actors were his first subjects, and Sully quickly learned to infuse drama into his work — swiftly making him one of America’s most sought-after portraitists.

Theatrics come to the foreground in Sully’s painting Girl with a Fan. The sitter is Sully’s daughter, Blanche, intriguingly posed with an extravagant feather fan. As one of the artist’s so-called fancy pictures, the painting was not so much a likeness of his daughter as it was a rendering of mood as conveyed through an idealized female form. Sully endowed his rosy-cheeked women — positioned to accentuate their long, curved necks — with a grace that many considered on par with the best examples of a Renaissance Madonna.

The proposed acquisition would add important context to the High’s holdings in American portraiture. Chauncey Bradley Ives, Bust of Rebecca, 1855; Benjamin West, Arethusa, 1802; Samuel F. B. Morse, Portrait of Mrs. Morse and Two Children, 1824; Thomas Sully, Portrait of George Houstoun Woodruff, 1819.

Sully painted Girl with a Fan with mass distribution in mind. Indeed, the image swiftly appeared as an engraving, published alongside stories and poems in popular annuals. Before museums and public collections were available in America, it was in print that artists made their reputations. Sully reached his largest and most devoted audience by releasing his work in these wildly popular publications that circulated to middle- and upper-middle-class households across America.

European Art

Claudia Einecke

Louis Valtat (French, 1869–1952), Les Couturières (The Dressmakers), 1918, Oil on canvas, 32 x 26 inches. Proposed purchase through funds provided by patrons of Collectors Evening 2019.

European art at the High is short on figurative paintings like this one, which engage us directly through their uncomplicated, homely subject matter. However, in Les Couturières the mundane motif of two dressmakers examining a length of cloth is elevated to a matter of high art by the refined, condensed composition and exquisitely nuanced palette.

This appealing work is by one of the masters of early twentieth-century modernism, Louis Valtat. Stylistically, Valtat is best seen as an intermediary between the Nabis and the Fauves, two groups of artists intent on creating new, pointedly modern ways of representing, stressing simple shapes and heightened color, respectively. While Valtat never formally joined either camp, he learned from both.

The proposed acquisition would stand in dialogue with other modern works in the European collection. Pierre Bonnard, The Breakfast (Le petite déjeuner), 1922; Édouard Vuillard, Woman Before a Plaster Relief, ca. 1900–1904; Emile Bernard, Still Life with Orange, 1887.

Les Couturières is a superb example of Valtat’s mature style: the two figures are outlined graphically in black, with little attempt at giving them individuality. Rather, set in a constricted space, with areas of luminous color like stained glass, this is a work about the relationship of forms and lively, sinuous patterns, which Valtat balances with consummate mastery. At the High, Les Couturières would stand in dialogue with paintings by Nabis founding members Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard and a similarly simplified Synthetist still life by Émile Bernard.

Decorative Arts and Design/Folk and Self‑Taught Art

Kevin Tucker and Katie Jentleson

Unidentified Artist, Barbershop Stand and Shelf, ca. 1940–1950, Polychromed wood and metal, 49 1/2 x 26 x 13 inches. Proposed purchase through funds provided by patrons of Collectors Evening 2019.

This brightly colored, hand-carved barbershop stand is a rare example of Southern vernacular furniture with important ties to both folk and decorative arts.

The set consists of a chest of idiosyncratically fashioned drawers and a freestanding shelf that once were used to hold haircutting and shaving implements in a West Virginia barbershop. They are constructed from reused pieces of old furniture, including chair rods and drawers from other chests. The unidentified artist added many bands of v-notched wood and finished the set with rich shades of red, light blue, mustard yellow, and black paint, giving it an otherworldly appearance that suggests it also might have served a spiritual function in its past life.

In the High’s collection, there are several examples of African American self-taught artists, including Elijah Pierce and Ulysses Davis, who used their barbershops as places for not only hairstyling and wood sculpting but also Christian ministry.

The proposed acquisition would broaden the scope of wooden sculptures and decorative arts masterpieces in the High’s collection. Ulysses Davis, Three-faced Man, 1940–1985; Gustave Herter and Christian Herter (designers), Herter Brothers (maker), Cabinet, ca. 1875; Tejo Remy, You Can’t Lay Down Your Memory Chest of Drawers, designed 1991, fabricated 2008.

In addition to this point of kinship with the work of Davis and Pierce, this altarlike stand would serve as a vital counterpoint to both elite and vernacular examples of decorative arts masterpieces in the collection, including the Herter Brothers’ Cabinet, a rarely seen “tramp art” chest, and Tejo Remy’s much beloved You Can’t Lay Down Your Memory Chest of Drawers.

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