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Collections in Context: Modern Matters, Recent Acquisitions with works by Matulka, Stella, Lazelle, and Driggs

April 24 - June 27, 2004


Collections in Context: Modern Matters, Recent Acquisitions showcases an important facet of the Heckscher's permanent collection -- one that makes the Museum an important destination for art lovers and the general public alike, according to Modernist Scholar William Agee. Opening on April 24 at the Heckscher Museum of Art, Collections in Context: Modern Matters, Recent Acquisitions spans a broad range of American Modernism and showcases exquisite works by Jan Matulka, the celebrated teacher; Joseph Stella, George L.K. Morris as well as marvelous pieces by female artists such as Blanche Lazelle, Esphyr Slobodkina, and Elsie Driggs. (right: Elsie Driggs, Riot, c. 1929, watercolor and pencil on paper, 11 x 9 inches. Gift of Martin, Richard, Nancy and James Sinkoff in loving memory of their parents, Alice and Marvin Sinkoff. Label text: Perhaps best known as a precisionist painter, Elsie Driggs worked in a variety of styles throughout her lengthy career. Riot, a watercolor drawing more closely allied to the figural works of Charles Demuth, is from a group of images from the late '20s-early '30s that depict social unrest. In this 1929 work, Driggs fully exploits the bleeding quality of the watercolor medium in rich reds and browns contained by fluid pencil lines. As a collector, Alice Sinkoff was especially interested in women artists, and several of the works recently given by her children to the Heckscher were executed by women.)

Over the past three years, the Heckscher has received major gifts from several prestigious sources, including more than 150 20th century works from the Baker/Pisano Collection; an intriguing body of paintings and works on paper from Madeline and Jeffrey Grant; and eight works of art donated by the children of the late Alice and Marvin Sinkoff (donors themselves of more than 30 works of art to the Museum). This exhibition is drawn largely from these impressive gifts to the Heckscher.

"Since the 'historic heart' of the Heckscher is the private collection of the Museum's founder August Heckscher, we have always been intrigued by the collecting instinct," stated Beth Levinthal, executive director. "In Modern Matters, statements by the collectors will provide rare insight into this intense passion."

The permanent collection of an art museum is rarely static. It evolves and changes over the years, growing to reflect institutional collecting priorities but also responding to changing views of art history and art market trends. Collections in Context: Modern Matters, Recent Acquisitions showcases an important facet of the Heckscher collection -- one for which the museum has become increasingly renowned. Many connoisseurs of American Modernism, including the art historian William Agee now consider the museum an especially important destination for art lovers. (left: Charles Prendergast, Figures (II), c. 1916-17, oil and gold leaf on gessoed and canvassed panel, 19 9/16 x 16 inches.  Gift of the Baker/Pisano Collection.  The Heckscher Museum of Art. Label text: Charles Prendergast began his career as a frame maker -- he made the elegant carved and incised frames used by his brother, Maurice -- but in 1912 he began to carve and decorate wood panels. Encouraged by prominent collectors such as John Quinn, Dr. Albert Barnes and Lillie Bliss, he continued this practice throughout his life. The panels were exhibited extensively between 1915 and 1921, but with the death of Maurice in1924, what is known as Charles' Celestial Period drew to a close. In studying the surviving panels, it is evident that Charles Prendergast employed the same motifs in different configurations. The figures, animals, flora and fauna were inspired by Oriental and Near Eastern art, particularly Persian and Hindu miniatures. The result is a fantastic blending of East and West -- unique in the annals of American art.)

Modernist artists espoused an "Art for Art's Sake" philosophy -- one that freed them from the rules of nineteenth century academic art as well as the bourgeois morality and sentiment inherent to that movement. During the modernist era, artists strove to capture the essence of the early twentieth century -- the allure of the city, the excitement of the machine age, and a form of expression that Henri Matisse wrote "must be represented not only by every line of the figure, but by the entire picture; the composition, the arrangement of color-tones, the size and shape of the canvas." Inspired by the radical innovations of Post-impressionism and Fauvism (derived from the French word fauve, or wild, and referring to the early twentieth century French movement known for the use of violent, intense color), avant-garde American artists explored the expressive potential of color and abstract form, turning away from illusionistic painting with its emphasis on pictorial depth.

Over the past three years, we have received important modernist gifts from several noteworthy sources, including more than 150 twentieth- century works from the Baker/Pisano Collection; an intriguing body of paintings and works on paper from Madeleine and Jeffrey Grant, new friends of the Heckscher; and eight works donated by the children of the late Alice and Marvin Sinkoff, long-standing patrons and themselves donors of more than thirty works of art to the Museum. This exhibition is drawn largely from these three private collections, each formed over the years with forethought and sensitivity, but above all, with passion.


Didactic labels from the exhibition:


The Baker/Pisano Collection

The collecting instinct is a compelling one, driven by an abiding love of art, but also by the rewarding experience of assembling a group of objects with shared resonance -- a body of work that also reflects a personal aesthetic and collecting priorities. Over a span of thirty years, D. Frederick Baker and Ronald G. Pisano sought particular pieces by specific artists, sometimes waiting years to locate a painting or sculpture identified through meticulous scholarship. Theirs -- given in 2001 to the Heckscher Museum of Art -- is an extraordinary collection, cohesive and focused. It is informed by art historical connoisseurship, but also reflects the myriad currents and personal connections in the modern art community, and the joy of living with art.

The collection spans about a century, beginning with the work of William Merritt Chase and his circle, but extending through American modernism. Within this extraordinary body of fine and decorative art are several underlying themes: the monoprint collection is one of the finest in America; small-scale sculpture is another specialty; and the work of important artists with historic ties to Long Island reflect Ronald G. Pisano's lifelong interest in artists of our region.


Alice and Marvin Sinkoff

The collection of the late Alice and Marvin Sinkoff was deeply personal, part of the weft and fiber of their daily lives. As a young couple, they purchased a watercolor by Lyonel Feininger in lieu of an engagement ring, eventually hanging it over their hide-a-bed in their first one-room apartment. Seduced by the spontaneity of watercolor, the Sinkoffs began collecting works on paper, focusing on American modernism of the early twentieth century and taken under the wing of the legendary art dealer, Edith Halpert. Alice wrote of the "beautiful and hopeless affliction of collecting" in a 1990 Heckscher exhibition catalogue, A Point of View, calling each new acquisition "a memory of a marvelous discovery and a reaffirmation of the remarkable intuition and harmony we share." She added, "The act of looking and being surrounded by paintings is such incomparable joy."

In 2003 the children of Alice and Marvin Sinkoff donated eight additional works of art in memory of their parents, as well as an extensive art library assembled by the Sinkoffs over fifty years, to the Heckscher.


Madeleine and Jeffrey Grant

Madeleine and Jeff Grant speak compellingly of the pleasures of collecting, of pulling paintings they love off of gallery shelves and carrying them home, of collecting not for the investment, but for the joy and color of a work of art, and for the dialogue created between various works in their collection. Their first serious collecting endeavors spanned American modernism and the Ashcan school. Recently coming full circle back to their first love, abstract expressionism, they advise aspiring collectors to "Go to museums, see what they're buying, look at the work. It's a journey. You develop your eye, your connoisseurship. Go look, read as much as you can." Madeleine Grant comments, "What is wonderful about early twentieth century American art ­ the artists we are talking about were initially European-influenced, but their art became American." Jeff adds, "We live in a crazy world, and this is a nice antidote to the insanity."

After years of collecting, they have evolved a similar aesthetic, and they always agree about their acquisitions. Madeleine adds, "we walk into a gallery and we respond to the same works."

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