You have just another month to catch the most pleasurable art exhibit of this summer, much less the past year. It’s not in Chicago but 90 minutes away at the Milwaukee Art Museum. And it’s actually two shows in one–a stunning collection of more than 70 masterworks, primarily by 20th Century artists, as well as a tribute to the vision of the museum patrons who collected them. It’s unusual to find such a world-class collection in an art outpost like Buffalo, more noted in recent times for its snowstorms.
The museum is the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, one of America’s earliest art museums, famed for its superb collection of modern and contemporary art. While its galleries were undergoing renovation recently, Milwaukee has had the good fortune to capture this traveling exhibit before the works return to their home.
The exhibit opens with a bang. The first work viewers encounter is a Van Gogh work, La Maison de la Crau (The Old Mill), painted soon after he moved to Arles in 1888. Its color scheme of gold, green and brown strokes marks the influence of Impressionism on the artist. On an adjoining wall hangs Gauguin‘s iconic Spirit of the Dead Watching (1892). Both are from the collection of A. Conger Goodyear, a visionary patron and member of the museum’s board who later became the first president of the Museum of Modern Art.
I then passed well-known works by artists associated with the the Paris School such as Modigliani, Robert Delaunay, Henri Rousseau, Miro and highly appealing canvases by Matisse and Vuillard. There is also a path-breaking picture by Kandinsky, his 1913 Fragment 2 for Composition VII.
But it is when the exhibit’s second half shifts focus from Paris to New York City that the show’s magic unfolds with several Abstract Expressionist masterworks. The first is Jackson Pollock’s Convergence (1952), an iconic example of the artist’s “action painting” technique.
For me, the show’s knockout awaited in the next room with Clyfford Still‘s monumental, 1957-D No.1, a brilliantly powerful yellow, black and white canvas that nearly fills the entire wall. (Albright-Knox holds 31 Still works in its collection that the artist gifted in 1964).
The exhibition also holds many more viewing treats: works by Robert Motherwell, Frida Kahlo, Giacometti, Gorky, Mark Rothko, Jim Dine, Dali and Lee Bontecou. Another personal favorite was Helen Frankenthaler’s large, colorfully lush, Tutti Fruitti, an early precursor of the “color field” movement.
Buffalo was blessed over the last century with art enthusiasts like Goodyear and the leadership and magnanimous support of Seymour H. Knox Jr. whose lifelong generosity was noted with the Albright Art Gallery being renamed in 1962. He served on the art gallery’s board for 60 years and donated 700 works of art during his lifetime. The influential art dealer of the 1960s, Martha Jackson, was a Buffalo native as well. Her family made a bequest of 44 works of art to the Albright-Knox in 1974.
“Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Rebels” is on view through September 20 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. It is a rare opportunity to see an exceptional collection of modern and contemporary art. Plan a day to make the short drive north to take in the beauty and ponder the daring innovation of these artistic rebels who shaped the history of 20th Century Art.
The museum is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Between now and Labor Day, the museum is offering free admission to active duty soldiers, reservists and military veterans plus up to five family members. Make the museum a whole family outing!