Editor's note: The following 1976 article was published on August 23, 2004 in Resource Library with permission of Thomas Daives, New Canaan, CT. If you have questions or comments regarding the article please contact Mr. Daives by writing to the author at 58 Beacon Hill Lane, New Canaan, CT, 06480.
An American Art Collection in Hong Kong
by Thomas Davies
The next section of the exhibit focused on Impressionism. Typical pictures broadly painted with heavy impasto by artists like Edward Potthast, Bruce Crane and Edward Redfield were exhibited. From what I have seen this kind of work is very different from Chinese paintings, both early and contemporary. Their work is generally more delicate, with muted pastel colors and very thinly applied paint. I thought perhaps they would dislike or ignore the Impressionist section. My reservations proved to be totally unfounded. After the exhibition opened, both my wife and I became increasingly amazed at its reception. Having attended hundreds of exhibitions myself over the past dozen years, I can say without hesitation that the audience here can teach us a thing or two about attention, enthusiasm and concentration. People didn't wander through idlely or quickly, they carefully studied the paintings and stayed for amazingly long periods, often going back through the exhibit several times. This wasn't a sophisticated, visibly wealthy audience either. On the contrary, it was a wide cross-section from the elderly to young people, from grade school through university level. I suppose their degree of curiosity and capacity to absorb new and very foreign work is a reflection of the Chinese 3,000 year heritage and tradition of magnificent, sophisticated fine arts. Among those paintings in the impressionistic section, I think the piece that drew the most attention was a large oil by Richard E. Miller entitled En Bateau. In contrast to this strongly impressionistic painting, an early still life of brass and copper by Emil Carlsen was constantly being examined and caused a great deal of comment and interest. Perhaps its approach reflected the subtle influence of Oriental art on western art. Other artists included within this group were Mark Fisher, Frank Boggs, Dwight Tryon, Willard Metcalf, Charles Hawthorne and Frederick Waugh.
As I mentioned in the beginning, the American Fortnight provided the vehicle to put together Art America. Because of the scope and backing for the American Fortnight, it was possible to secure a huge exhibition area centrally located on Hong Kong Island. Unfortunately, Hong Kong does not have a large museum, but the magnificent complex of theaters, restaurants and exhibition areas, called City Hall Exhibition Center, was ideal for the display of these paintings, providing a great location for maximum attendance and ample space for an exhibition of this size, 142 pictures.
During one of the many discussions with the organizing committee of the American Fortnight, the germ of an idea was mentioned; they wished to somehow keep a permanent record of the exhibition. This led to a project which I feel was the biggest innovation of the whole effort. It was agreed that I would do a full "sight and sound" presentation of the show. Initially this audio-visual presentation was to be a 35 mm slide show covering all of the paintings in the exhibition and follow the organizational approach of the catalogue. It was divided into three half-hour segments. One of the top photographers in Hong Kong was used to photograph the paintings. Next, we decided to accompany the narrative with a music track. Appropriately, only works by American composers were chosen to complement each of the various periods being described. I did the voice track for the narrative which was recorded and mixed in a professional sound studio. As the project developed, I began to realize the enormity of it. At this stage, I was researching and writing a catalogue which eventually became 51 pages in length, as well as writing an hour-and-half script for the audio-visual presentation, all on my free time I might add.
An immediate problem emerged with the script for the audio-visual; what do you illustrate on the screen during the description of each of the periods discussed (eventually becoming nine in total)? Again, another idea emerged which increased the amount of work, but added immeasurably to the total effect of the exhibition as a whole. I systematically reviewed all the art reference books, magazines and catalogues I had accumulated over a dozen years, and began selecting photographs of American paintings which would illustrate the points being made. Eventually, it took about 250 paintings, many of acknowledged American masterpieces, to fill in those nine periods. Thus the viewer saw both the paintings on exhibit, as well as fully illustrated sections discussing each of the periods.
When the audio-visual was completed, it was put on a specially key-punched tape track which electronically triggered a double slide projector system. This way the images were projected on the screen and timed exactly to the voice track using an overlapping soft focus, thus providing a continuous flow of slides. I must admit that when this was completed, it was truly impressive, but there was one hitch. It required an extensive amount of sound and projection equipment. How to make it portable was the next question. The answer was to put it all on a video tape system, so it could be shown easily on a T.V. screen. So we went back to the studio, this time to one of the local T.V. studios in Hong Kong. After a full day's taping, the entire presentation (voice, images and music) was permanently on tape. The exhibition was set up so that the public entered and moved through the show until its conclusion, where the video tape equipment was set up and running continuously. This provided further information and insight on the show and encouraged the viewer to pause a while, see the exhibit from a more broadened perspective and then go back through the exhibition again. I think it is also important to note that the exhibition was free.
Returning to the development of the show, after the Impressionist group, the next section was entitled "Urban Reality," and focused upon painters of America's cities; artists like Arthur C. Goodwin, Aaron Gorson, Ernest Lawson and Guy Wiggins were represented. A spectacular view of the New York City skyline from across the Hudson River in winter, painted in 1913, perhaps best reflects the mood of this period and certainly drew the largest crowd at the exhibit. The artist, Max Kuehne, is little known today, but he was a close friend and travelling companion of Ernest Lawson and studied under Henri with the various members of The Eight. I am doubly pleased with this picture because I had the opportunity to meet Kuehne before he died in 1968. At that time, about 1966, he lived in Rockport, Massachusetts. Even while talking with him, I did not realize how good his early work was. I have subsequently seen a great deal of his work executed in the early 1900's and it is very impressive. Unfortunately, his interests drifted away from painting into wood carving, sculpture and furniture designing and making.
It was at this stage of development that the limitations of our collection sort of "forced" the next section. Since my tastes have remained fairly representational, many of the post 1913 Armory Show movements or directions are not included in the collection. For this reason, the catalogue referred to this portion as "Armory Show and Afterwards" and stated:
Within this group of pictures were examples by many artists who are beginning to receive attention within the gallery community but have generally not received much academic attention yet. Examples were included by artists such as Hayley Lever, John Carlson, Paul Dougherty, Gordon Grant, Leon Kroll, Jay Connaway, Anthony Thieme and Frederick Mulhaupt. Of particular interest, and relevance for a Hong Kong audience, was a major still life by Emil Carlsen's son, Dines Carlsen, called Oriental Reflection, 1931. This piece and a companion still life were two that I bought by photograph while living here and preparing the exhibition.
The final section of the exhibition dealt with contemporary American painters and also tied in with a second major project in which I became involved for the American Fortnight. This was bringing about 85 paintings by contemporary American artists to Hong Kong for sale. This project was co-ordinated, and actually made possible, through the efforts of the Salmagundi Club in New York which is the oldest professional artists' club in America. As a lay member myself, I knew many of the artists personally who sent examples of their work, so it became that much more meaningful for both my wife and me. Three big exhibitions of their work were held at the major hotels in Hong Kong. They were very well publicized and attended and were opened by the American Consul General and, for a touch of glamor, Miss America was here for many of the events associated with the Fortnight. These works covered the full spectrum of subject matter, media, and styles of realistic art and were enthusiastically received. In fact about thirty pieces were sold, and almost totally to the Chinese community.
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