Forget boring white gallery walls. When the “Methods for Modernism” show opened Thursday night at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, the more than 240 people in attendance were treated to an exhibition installed in two galleries where electric blue and lime green accent walls pumped up the volume and turned a few heads.
“They’re very brave with how they showed it with bright colors,” said artist Katrina Van Dusen, who came to the opening with friend and fellow painter Laurie Hadlock. “But it works.”
The show on view through July 3 marks an exciting collaboration between the college and the Yale University Art Gallery. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the show is one of seven that private colleges (mostly in New England) will mount this year using works from Yale’s famously encyclopedic collection. Additional works from Bowdoin’s own collection and from other institutions — including the Portland Museum of Art, the Colby College Museum of Art and the Princeton Art Museum — complete the exhibition.
Bowdoin’s Mellon Curatorial Fellow Diana Tuite, who’s a Yale alum familiar with the university’s expansive collection, landed the enviable job of selecting the works.
“We knew our strength is 19th century American,” Tuite told me, when I caught up with her and Daniel Hope, who works in the college’s special collections library. “So we knew our faculty was challenged in teaching modernism.”
Highlighting artists active from 1900 to 1925, the show includes works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Man Ray, Wassily Kandinsky and Max Weber. This selection allowed Bowdoin “to create a context for the stray works from our collection” that were produced in that same period and are rarely shown, Tuite said.
So why the unusual wall colors?
“These works would have been installed in very avant-garde ways,” Tuite said, and added that white gallery walls were a design idea popularized by the Museum of Modern Art in the 1930s.
The show itself will serve as a teaching tool for a number of courses.
Lucy Cooney, who helps organize Brunswick’s annual 10×10 show (which takes place on Oct. 1 this year), is auditing a Modern Art History class taught by Professor Pamela Fletcher (who missed the opening, but had a good excuse since she’s in Venice).
According to Cooney, who’s also a docent at the museum, students in Fletcher’s class will create audio tours of the show that will be used by the museum. Pretty cool, huh?
Cooney wasn’t the only student who showed up for the party.
“It’s such a great resource to have,” said student Sadie Knott, when I asked her about the museum. “It’s incredible to learn about works and then walk over here and see them.”
Seniors and roommates Elise Selinger, Jessica Weaver and Maggie Crosland were equally enthusiastic about the museum’s role on campus.
“They always do things in collaboration with classes,” said Crosland, who also serves as a docent.
“The collection here is so amazing,” said Emily Skinner, who graduated from Bowdoin in ’08 and now works as the college’s health education coordinator.
Presiding over the evening’s festivities was Kevin Salatino, the museum’s director, who came to the college last summer from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He showed off his sense of humor when it came time to say a few words about the show.
“Remarks are important,” Salatino told the crowd. “They’re a little like the Academy Awards, except I’m not as well dressed.”
He was looking pretty sharp to my eye, but then Maine’s fashion standards are no match for LA’s.
When I asked him how the two art scenes compare, he said “the LA art scene is not unlike the New York art scene. It’s one of the centers of the art universe.”
However, when it comes to actually creating art, he views Maine as the clear winner.
“In New York and LA, you become the artist everyone wants you to become,” Salatino said. “In Maine you become the artist you are.”
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: