Transfigurations: Modern and Contemporary Masters from the Wexner Family Collection
By PAUL LASTER, JAN. 2014
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Columbus, Ohio’s seminal Wexner Center for the Arts, its main benefactor, Leslie Wexner, who’s the founder and CEO of L Brands (Victoria’s Secret, PINK, Bath & Body Works, La Senza and Henri Bendel), lent some of the modernist gems from his family’s private art collection to the institution that bears his name.
Guest curated by art historian Robert Storr, dean of the Yale University School of Art, the exquisitely installed exhibition featured major paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Dubuffet, Willem de Kooning and Susan Rothenberg. Spread throughout the flexible galleries of architect Peter Eisenman’s first museum, the stellar show offered sixty priceless works of art by these six modern masters.
The show began with Degas’ famous Petite danseuse de quatorze ans (Little fourteen-year-old dancer), a bronze version of the coveted 1879-81 sculpture of a girl with a muslin skirt and satin hair ribbon that’s one of few editions of the work in private hands, and ended with Giacometti’s Grande Femme Debout I (Large Standing Woman I) a nine-foot tall bronze of an erect female figure from 1960.
Picasso is Wexner’s favorite artist, with 19 works from the collection exhibited, ranging from 1898 to 1959, when the artist was just 16 years old until he was 78. The earliest Picasso in the show was 1898-99’s Scène villageoise en Espagne (Spanish Village Scene), a charcoal drawing of a young man at the center of a crowd of people in a town square.
Wives and mistresses are prominent subjects in the Picasso’s paintings on view. Dora Maar is featured in five fantastic paintings from the collection, including the 1942 canvas Portrait de femme (Dora Maar), which reduces her figure to an accumulation of shifting planes. Marie-Thérèse Walter is portrayed in 1932’s Nu au Fauteuil noir (Nude in a Black Armchair), which is the first and largest of a series of paintings Picasso completed that year of his voluptuous mistress. Picasso’s first wife, Olga Khokhlova, is classically depicted in a 1922 painting Femme dans un fauteuil (Woman in an Armchair), while his last spouse, Jacqueline Roque, is captured in 1959’s Femme nue assise (Seated nude woman), a contorted view of femininity.
Dubuffet was represented by 14 paintings from the collection, including the expressive 1946 canvas George Limbour roi mexicain (George Limbour, Mexican king) and 1963’s La maree L’Hourloupe (The Hourloupe Tide), a massive puzzle-like abstraction consisting of cellular forms, which are either filled in completely or cross-hatched in contrasting colors.
Two works by De Kooning shared the Dubuffet gallery: a 1975 drawing of an abstracted figure and the amazing 1944 canvas, Pink Lady, a two-faced portrayal of a sensuous, if somewhat fragmented, woman. And, in another stroke of genius juxtaposition, Storr placed five of Susan Rothenberg’s 1970s’ paintings of minimally rendered horses on three walls surrounding a dynamic display of eighteen, figurative Giacometti bronzes, along with a single painting of the sculptor’s brother.
Beautifully considered, Transfigurations took modern masterpieces off the walls of a private collector’s home and gave them new life in a public realm he helped to build. WM
Transfigurations: Contemporary and Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection was on view at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio from September 21 to December 31, 2014.
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, independent curator, artist and lecturer. He is a New York desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific and a contributing editor at Whitehot and artBahrain. He was the founding editor of Artkrush.com and Artspace.com and art editor of Flavorpill.com and Russell Simmons's OneWorld Magazine; started TheDailyBeast.com's art section; and worked as a photojournalist for Artnet.com and Art in America. He is a frequent contributor to Time Out New York, New York Observer, Modern Painters, ArtPulse and ArtInfo.com.view all articles from this author