The Impact of a Collection

by Anthony Hirschel, Dana Feitler Director, Smart Museum of Art

last edited on Thu. November 20 2014

This is an extraordinary year for the Smart Museum.

With the presentation this fall of Carved, Cast, Crumpled: Sculpture All Ways as the first of our 40th anniversary exhibitions, we provide persuasive evidence of the extent to which the ongoing presence of great works of art can help to define a museum’s path and establish its reputation.

The Joel Starrels, Jr. Memorial Collection of sculpture and related works arrived as a founding gift to the Smart through the friendship of members of the Starrels and Smart families. The collection, the subject of the inaugural exhibition in 1974, immediately established the Smart as an art museum of consequence.

Now, 40 years later, Carved, Cast, Crumpled pays tribute to the Museum’s early days; the Smart’s first exhibition inspired our decision to remake the entire Museum, turning our galleries over entirely to sculpture in all its glorious diversity. It makes for a remarkable and entirely unique transformation.

For the exhibition, we have chosen to draw exclusively upon the riches of our own collection and works that have been promised to the Smart as future gifts. We are able to mount such a show because of the effect the Starrels collection has had in shaping the Museum’s activities and collecting over four decades. Our widely recognized strength in sculpture and figurative work is a direct consequence of that early gift. With its gorgeous sculptures and drawings by sculptors, it has set the bar very high for all subsequent additions to the Smart’s collection.

Every work of art entering the Museum’s permanent collection can have such an impact, shaping conversations about art and our world and providing scholars important tools for teaching and research. Carved, Cast, Crumpled bears the imprint of a number of significant recent or promised gifts of art on view for the first time. A mixed media mobile by Alexander Calder—what will be the Museum’s first by the artist—and a Surrealist bronze abstraction by Jean Arp are set in dialogue with modern sculpture drawn from the Starrels collection. Both works are part of a larger promised gift from Joan Harris, a 2013 National Medal of Arts honoree. Also featured are recent gifts that further augment strengths across the collection by the Smart’s chairman emeritus Richard Gray and his wife, Mary, including an exquisite bronze attributed to Renaissance master Baccio Bandinelli. And on view for the first time is H. C. Westermann’s wooden tower Monument to Martha. The expertly crafted work was made by Westermann in 1960 as a gift to his sister, Martha Renner, who in turn gave it to the Smart where it joins an unparalleled trove of materials related to the artist.

And so during the Smart’s 40th anniversary year, we also look to the future: in part by choosing to include works of art that are promised gifts, but also by experimenting with new methods of display and interpretation, and coupling that with significant efforts to engage you, our visitors, in thinking with us about the Museum’s future. We seek to be as transparent, welcoming, and accessible as possible, looking to chart our course for the years ahead even as we honor the achievements of those already past.

You can be part of our exciting future. I hope you’ll join in this sustained effort throughout the year. I look forward to seeing you soon and often at the Smart Museum.

Recent and promised gifts on view in Carved, Cast, Crumpled

From Dennis Adrian
Roger Brown, Police Car Iron, 1975

Ted Halkin, A Case of Gloves, 1970

From Miranda and Robert Donnelley
Pablo Picasso, Head of a Woman, 21 May 1962

From the estates of Tom Fizdale, Ruth Fizdale, and Helen Rehr
Julio González, 3 drawings, 1938–1941

From Stanley Freehling
David Hare, Untitled (Standing Female Nude), c. 1955

From Helyn Goldenberg and Michael Alper
Zarina Hashmi, River of Tears, 2007

From Richard and Mary L. Gray and/or the Richard and Mary L. Gray Collection Trust
Anthony Caro, Standing Figure with Turban, 1984

Jean Arp, Groupe Mediterranean, 1941–1942

Attributed to Baccio, Bandinelli, Mars Arming, 1493–1560

Auguste Rodin, Saint Jean-Baptiste Prêchant, 1878

From Joan Harris
Alexander Calder, Sunami, circa 1940s, reassembled and modified by artist 1972

Jean Arp, Torso, 1931

From Joel Press
June Leaf, The Vermeer Box, 1965

From Martha W. Renner
H. C. Westermann, Monument to Martha, 1960

This article was originally published in the Fall 2014 edition of At the Smart.