Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is partnering with the Wells International Foundation (WIF) to take the Beauford Delaney: Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition to the U.S.!

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Anatomy of an Art Exposition - Part 1

Sue Canterbury was the curator of the magnificent exhibit entitled Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris that originated at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (November 21, 2004 – February 20, 2005) and was subsequently presented by the Knoxville Museum of Art (April 8 – June 25, 2005), the Greenville County Museum of Art (August 3 – October 2, 2005), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (November 12, 2005 – January 28, 2006).


ArtsMIA Web page for Beauford’s show

As a novice to the art world, I was curious to learn how this latest one-man exposition of Beauford’s work was conceived of and put together. Sue graciously explained this to me, beginning with how she discovered Beauford’s work:

I arrived at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in the summer of 1998. Sometime during my first year, I met Burt and Patricia Reinfrank. If I recall correctly how things unfolded, they had contacted my boss and I (my boss having arrived about 9 months before I ) with an interest in lending Jazz Quartet (1945) by Delaney for display in our permanent galleries. (It's worth noting that before meeting them, I had never heard of Beauford Delaney.)

Jazz Quartet
Beauford Delaney
(1946) Oil on canvas
Courtesy of Burt and Patricia Reinfrank
As I learned more through them, Burt floated the idea of an exhibition. I was intrigued by the idea for the following reasons: 1) Delaney was an artist with an interesting body of work but of whom I had never heard; 2) I was particularly engaged by what I saw as his (then) two bodies work--the New York figurative and the ca. 1960 and after abstract expressionist works. I felt as though I was viewing the work of two different artists. Where was the stylistic bridge between the New York and Paris works? The link was absent in all the literature I had seen thus far.
That last bit (#2) was what particularly intrigued me. I always have to find a hook to any project I choose to undertake. The quest to uncover new connections is what drives my passion about something. I'm not interested in covering material already treated by other exhibitions.
Sue went on to say that while curators can sometimes be assigned projects, they much prefer to choose their own. It is the curator's job to make a compelling case for a proposed project to colleagues and the museum director. Once a presentation of the proposal is made, and if the project is approved, then the framework of budgets and schedules can be put in place so all phases will come together in a timely manner.

Sue chose to do the Delaney exposition because of her rapidly growing passion for Beauford’s work. It was her responsibility to 1) craft the concept; 2) locate the objects in order to develop an object checklist for the exhibition; 3) find new information through research of old catalogues, books, magazines, etc) and, in the case of Beauford by talking to people who actually had known him, etc.; and 4) arrange for the conservation of several objects. An example is the Richard Gibson portrait, the conservation of which was performed by a London conservator. Many works were in need of cleaning or required framing. Two works were in extremely rough shape and needed major intervention. Sue feels very gratified that these works were saved for posterity.

The budget for the exhibition was very slim and, consequently, a great deal of Sue’s research had to be piggy-backed onto courier trips to New York, London, and Paris. (An institution that borrows paintings from another institution for an exhibition pays for a courier to accompany the work to its facility.). Sue would often tack on a few extra days to extend the time available for research, interviews, and visits with collectors.

Next week: The behind-the-scenes details of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) show.

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