by Madeleine Peck Wagner
The summer show at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens takes a cue from local tastemakers. “Collector’s Choice: Works of Art from Jacksonville Collections,” is about as straightforward as it sounds, until you look a little more closely.
Culled from over 27 private collections, the show is as much a look at people as it is at art. A kind of voyeuristic glimpse into someone else’s life- like when you find yourself staring at the background of friends’ snapshots to learn a little more about them. On the collector’s list for the show there are some very familiar names: Preston Haskell, Joseph Duke, Jimmy Boyd. But there are some surprises as well: Missy and Tom Hagar, Daniel Wynn, Niall and Nancy Falloon. Though by no means complete unknowns, the latter list is comprised largely of artists and members of the creative community. It is not surprising that they collect art, more so to see selections from those collections publicly showcased.
Looking through the show itself, it seems as if there is a strong American slant to it. There are pieces of historical interest, like the Winslow Homer watercolor of the St Johns. The image itself is, to be frank, no more than that which might be seen today: a clump of wan-looking palm trees. However, it delights the sense of art history to think of the artist wandering the banks of the river and finally painting this vignette.
There are other, less tangible examples of a kind of Americanism: Dan and Cindy Edelman’s photographs chosen for the show reflect their Jewish heritage. In one picture, Three Sisters, the viewer is greeted by three double-knit-wearing Bubbies (Yiddish for grandmother), with their tattoos, in numeric succession still clear enough to read (A-7760, A-7761, A-7762). Daniel Wynn’s collection of African art includes an exquisite 19th century Oba figure, from the Benin Kingdom in Nigeria. Looking at the Edelmans’ and Wynn’s selections, it is tempting to postulate that all are attempting (on some small level) to reconcile past and present, while preserving and celebrating cultural triumphs.
Holly Keris, curator of “Collector’s Choice,” weighed in on the “Americaness” theory. “I don’t consider the exhibition to be particularly ‘American’ in nature. I appreciate the diversity in each collector’s personal reasons for their purchases and the diversity in the materials in the exhibition. Those personal stories make the concept of the show accessible and relatable to everyone who reads them, and although there are some similarities, ultimately each collector pursues works for different reasons.”
Theories aside, there are other pieces in the show that give a historical thrill. There is a William Sonntag, and a William M. Hart, both second generation members of the Hudson River School of painters. The works exhibited here, though with distinctly north-of-Florida flora, offer valuable insight into how the HRS painters worked, how they laid their paint down, valuable information for any landscape painter.
There are several European works on display as well: noteablely a bust of Rose Beuret. Beuret spent the balance of her life living with Auguste Rodin. According to writer Ruth Butler, Beuret’s life with Rodin was a hard one, he was a philanderer, emotionally distant, and, in addition to her work as a model/studio assistant, he expected her to perform all the domestic duties. Described as bird-like, nervous and beautiful, the bust captures what her youthful fragility must have been like; while, prefiguring the indignities she would suffer as his mate.
But not everything in “Collector’s Choice,” is weighted with such a fraught sense of history. There are images from Jacksonville photographer Loyd Sandgren’s estate. His images reflect a very different city from the one we now know, as well as the image city leaders like to project; think “women wrestlers wanted.” There are also a group of unintentionally hilarious Meissen porcelain pieces. Though crafted with infinite care, it is hard to look at the miniatures, especially Lover Discovered, and not recall Jeff Koons.
Taken as a whole, the show is instructive for artists and art historians alike, while those in less specialized fields might enjoy the simple pleasure of looking at lesser known pieces by well known artists. But for local artists, it is an interesting look at what is being collected, and for art history buffs, a chance to revel in stories come to life.