July 21, 2013

Art Review: Depth under the hoopla about the Lunder Collection


There will be a great deal written nationally about the works in Colby's Lunder Collection.

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The three-story Sol Lewitt wall drawing in the new Alfond-Lunder pavilion.

Courtesy photos

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Above: “Brooklyn Bridge” by John Marin.

Additional Photos Below



WHERE: Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville

WHEN: On view though June 8, 2014.

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday


INFO: 859-5600; colby.edu/academics_cs/museum


In addition to opening the Lunder Collection exhibition, the Colby College Museum of Art has other new exhibitions that may be overshadowed. Among them:

"A Thing Alive: Modern Landscapes from the Marin Collection," featuring works from Colby's John Marin collection supplemented by photographs from the Norma B. Marin collection. On view through Oct. 6.

"Alex Katz: A Matter of Light," on view through Sept. 15. This show features prints, drawings and paintings from the museum's permanent collection that demonstrate Katz' study of light and shadow.

"Here and There: Contemporary Art from the Alex Katz Foundation," through Dec. 31. Recent acquisitions of contemporary art through the Katz Foundation.

A cynic could question the import of the news: After all, this is about a new wing on an already multi-winged museum and a collection that has already been announced and commended.

But things really have changed: Maine has a new title-holder for largest (and most important) museum and the public now has free access to one of the most significant collections of American art in the country.

Colby's academic standing in the arts has moved up, to the benefit of all of Maine's institutions of higher education.

The scholarly back-end is one of the qualities too often overlooked: Unlike the Portland Museum of Art, for example, Colby has an entire academic faculty behind it. Even college President William Adams is working on Cezanne through the lens of French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (don't forget Rackstraw Downes, Bro).

The richness of Colby's scholarly depth is fully apparent in the first of seven exhibitions within the museum -- "Spaces and Places: Chinese Art from the Lunder-Colville Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" -- curated by Professor Ankeney Weitz. While Bowdoin's exhibition of ancient Chinese bronzes in 2012 was unprecedented, the breadth of "Spaces" is even more extraordinary.

Even so, I think the coolest show at Colby right now is "A Thing Alive" that puts works by John Marin next to those by Berenice Abbott and others.

The scholarship of shows like "Spaces" or Prendergast at Bowdoin doesn't dry up when the exhibitions leave. It becomes part of the institutional memory -- and our cultural landscape.

The game shifter is Colby's new Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion. Featuring Maine's first completely glass curtain wall structure, it is exciting architecture. The architect is Frederic Fisher & Partners of California -- who have created some of my favorite art spaces in America, including MoMA's PS1 Contemporary Art Space. One of my favorites is Fisher's previous Colby project: the museum's Lunder Wing.

To fully understand the new pavilion, we need to start with the Lunder Wing. I am a big fan of Colby's campus, and my favorite building has been the Lunder Wing. It pushed the neo-Georgian style campus back in the direction of (earlier) American federal style architecture. This was particularly successful because of the more contemporary (and weaker) architecture of much of the museum -- in particular, the warehouse-boxy Schupf Wing.

The external effect of Fisher's Lunder Wing was to use the range of the architecture to echo the collection. Fisher's new pavilion punctuates these bookends so that the strongest elements use the oldest and newest architectural vocabularies.

While the Alfond-Lunder pavilion is Colby's most notable and unusual building from the outside, it seamlessly connects the museum to the campus. It does this by sculptural scale and proportion, but also by its night role on a campus gorgeously watched over by the majestic, lighted steeple of Miller Library.

In fact, Colby's most famous view is of the library reflected in the picturesque campus pond. The new pavilion seems to echo this with its reflecting glass and extraordinary night beacon role, with the three-story Sol Lewitt wall drawing offering passersby a nighttime visual treat.

The most subtle aspects of the Lunder Wing, however, are its interior qualities: period-correct dark wood floors and colored walls (bosc pear, robins' egg blue, deep plum, etc.) and Shaker-inspired detailing.

As space for the pre-20th century work, the Lunder Wing comes into full focus in contrast with the new pavilion that particularly shines as backdrop for the Lunders' grand masterpieces of contemporary art: Duane Hanson, Sol Lewitt, Terry Winters, Fred Sandback, Claes Oldenberg, Jenny Holzer and many other major artists.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Pagoda tile from Chinese Qi dynasty.


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