A 1949 Joseph Cornell box, a rare sight in New England, holds three balls in what could be a Minimalist hamster cage. Compare it to Alexander Calder's small, delicate 1942 mobile, with fins that seem like tiny floating leaves, and Donald Judd's forbiddingly severe line of gray metal boxes suspended from a wall dating to 1965.
Jackson Pollock's Phosphorescence, a drip painting from 1947, the year he first began making them, is a compact canvas covered with a thick impasto of silver paint, with rainbow hues seeming to shimmer through. White lines fall on top, like pick-up sticks. A brand new 2009 painting and collage by Mark Bradford resembles a wall pasted thick with old, washed-out advertising posters.
"Our collection of American art, even though we only do American art, is one of the great collections in the country," Addison director Brian Allen tells me. "In terms of American things, we're up there with the MFA and the Philadelphia Museum of Art."
Comparing museums is a fun but challenging parlor game, because, owing to construction, many major local collections have been only sporadically on view in recent years. The collection of 1950s and '60s painting at Brandeis University's endangered Rose Art Museum is one of the finest anywhere, and the best in the region, but Harvard's collection of Modernist art of the past century is better and has more depth. The Museum of Fine Arts, often rightfully maligned for its poor collecting of 20th-century art, is better than the Rose in pre-WW2 Modernism, and better for Warhol and Pollock.
And then there's the Addison Gallery. If you look just at Modernism, it probably comes in a strong fourth, after the Rose and Harvard and the MFA. But when it comes its specialty — all of American art — only the MFA has a better local collection.
GREG COOK |email@example.com