Half-century

Highlights of Colby's collection
By KEN GREENLEAF  |  January 27, 2010

 

 

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"CITY POINT, VINALHAVEN" By Marsden Hartley, 1937-38, on view at the Colby Museum.

The big 50th-anniversary exhibition at the Colby College Museum of Art has only about a month left of its eight-month run, so it seems like a good time to revisit this sprawling and worthwhile show. There's still time for even the most die-hard procrastinator to head off to Waterville. Depending on how you count it, there are some 300 pieces on view, ranging from Chinese objects made a couple of millennia ago to American contemporary pieces.

If you've never been there, you're in for a surprise. Under the guidance of some astute directors the Colby Museum has grown over the years to an institution that would be the pride of many a small to mid-size city. Placed on the edge of the campus, it's had room to grow and has done just that. They have also benefited from the gifts of significant collections over the years, making them quite strong in some areas, especially contemporary.

For this show they've taken an interesting approach: arranging much of it by the date of acquisition, rather than by period or by collection. In effect, they've randomized the arrangement and coaxed the viewer into areas that might be outside their customary interests and created juxtapositions that wouldn't have happened any other way. One finds a Qing vase near an NC Wyeth hard by a Bierstadt and a Noguchi. Even if you follow the course of the show directly you are still wandering around, which is pretty much the best way to visit a museum anyway.

Some highlights for me were the big Lois Dodd painting "Burning House, Night, Vertical," one of a number she did of houses in flames. This is, I think, the largest of this series to appear in Maine, and it demonstrates once again that Dodd is a master. Another fine piece is a panoramic view of New York's landfill by Rackstraw Downes, "Garbage Arriving at Fresh Kill is Hauled to the Top of the Landfill." It's 10 feet long by about 18 inches high, so you have to walk along it.

There is a masterpiece of Marsden Hartley's later career, "City Point, Vinalhaven" from 1937-38. Its rocks and shore have a muscular veracity that reflects his deep desire for artistic truth. Several galleries away (acquired years earlier) is a personal favorite of mine, Hartley's "Church at Head Tide, Maine." I've visited both church and painting many times and can testify that Hartley is, once again, telling the truth.

Note also the tiny Rembrandt etching "Baptism of a Eunuch" and its neighbors, two small etchings by Jacques Callot, from about the same period. There's also a double handful of beautiful Whistler prints. Around the corner from those is a big Neil Welliver painting "West Slope," painted when he was at the top of his form.

It's worth pointing out that there are two major sculptures on permanent view at Colby, Richard Serra's "4-5-6," large steel forgings outside the entrance, and Sol LeWitt's concrete-block "Seven Walls," visible as you approach the building. These are, as far as I know, the only sculptures by these important artists in Maine.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Entertainment, Paul Manship, Rackstraw Downes,  More more >
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