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Press Release / American Art
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Press Room

7/11/01

Smithsonian American Art Museum Acquires .Major Works by Modern Masters

Contact: Laura Baptiste baptistel[at]si.edu
.Tel: (202) 275-1595
American Art's Web site: AmericanArt.si.edu
Recorded information: (202) 633-8998


"Both the Kienholz tableau and Jensen's painting greatly enhance the museum's collection of 20th-century art," said Elizabeth Broun, the museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director.

Edward Kienholz (1927–1994) and his widow Nancy Reddin Kienholz (b. 1943) are internationally known for their life-size sculptural tableaux. "Sollie 17," one of four works in their "Spokane Series," conveys a sense of loneliness and isolation. Incorporating the suggestion of time-lapse images, the scene focuses on an old man's attempts to fill his time—reading, playing solitaire and staring out the window—in a cramped room made from discarded furnishings the artists collected from a condemned hotel.

The museum will also acquire a related construction, "Drawing for Sollie 17" (1980), as a promised gift. In 1961, Kienholz began making three-dimensional studies he called drawings as alternative versions of themes explored in larger tableaux.

"Acquiring a world-class Kienholz for the collection has been a priority for at least a decade," said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, chief curator at the museum. "'Sollie 17' is a powerful and emotional piece, a seminal work in the Kienholzs' career that we believe will become a destination piece for our visitors."

Alfred Jensen (1903–1981) showed his work with the Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s, then forged a highly individual style that brought him international acclaim. The six large panels of "Honor Pythagoras, Per I—Per VI" combine thick strokes of green, yellow, red and blue with mathematical theories and optical patterns. Jensen based the composition on geometry, using numbers and their square roots to form the background grid, while his prominent use of the triangle refers to Pythagoras's famous theorem.

Another significant acquisition, which will come to the museum as a bequest from The Honorable Marilyn Logsdon Mennello and Michael Aloysius Mennello, is "Before the Storm, Fassetts Rocks" (1915), a landscape by John Sloan (1871–1951). Sloan, who was associated with the Ashcan School, spent summers in Gloucester, Mass., from 1914 to 1918. At that time, Sloan experimented with Hardesty Maretta's color system and with a loose, calligraphic style. This painting, the first representation of the artist's Gloucester period in the collection, complements his other three paintings in the museum's collection.

"We are thrilled that 'Before the Storm, Fassetts Rocks' will join the museum's collection of early 20th-century art," said Virginia Mecklenburg, senior curator at the museum. "The Gloucester seascapes marked a major turning point for this master realist. With four paintings and more than 20 works on paper, the museum is now able to feature Sloan's accomplishments in wonderful depth."

In the past year, a number of works entered the collection as part of a focus on important 20th-century artists. These major acquisitions include Charles Arnoldi's "Presents with Secrets" (1987), Christo's "Package 1961" (1961), Chuck Close's "Self Portrait" (2000), Alex Katz's "Black Scarf" (1995), Joseph Stella's "Neapolitan Song" (1929), and two works by Wayne Thiebaud, an untitled ink drawing from 1963 and "Neapolitan Meringue" (1986/1999). The museum's purchase of Joseph Cornell's "Soap Bubble Set" (1949–1950) as well as the partial gift and bequest of his "Pink Palace" (1946) greatly enhance the rich resources available in the museum's Cornell Study Center, which preserves the contents of Cornell's studio that were donated to the museum in 1978. The center is available to researchers by appointment; call (202) 275-1503.

Recently, the museum has strengthened its commitment to contemporary art and artists through awards as well as acquisitions. On May 22, the museum announced Jorge Pardo as the inaugural winner of the Lucelia Artist Award, an annual prize awarded to a leading contemporary American artist. Last fall, the museum awarded its New Media/New Century Award—to support projects that explore American landscape through the new medium of Web art—to three new technology artists: Cindy Bernard, Russet Lederman and Patrick Lichty. These three works are available on the museum's Web site at http://AmericanArt.si.edu/helios.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum collection began with gifts of art donated to the federal government in 1829 and has evolved into the world's most important American art holdings with approximately 39,000 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, photographs, folk art and contemporary crafts.

While the three-year renovation of the museum's main building—the Old Patent Office—continues, American .Art offers a full program of exhibitions at its Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W.). For information about Renwick Gallery activities, call (202) 357-2700. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at AmericanArt.si.edu.

Note to Editors: To receive slides, call (202) 275-1595.

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