|FEATURES Spring 2002|
The University's Gallery of Art has one of the strongest university collections of modern art in the country thanks in large part to an inventive former curator, H.W. Janson. An exhibition of the best of these early- to mid-20th-century holdings is showing this spring in New York City.
In the 1940s, Washington University's Gallery of Art took the lead among American museums in acquiring works of modern art. A pioneering curator and professor of art history, H.W. Janson broke from tradition. During his years as curator (1944-1948), he chose to sell one-sixth of the University's works of art to acquire cubist, constructivist, and surrealist pieces. Among his favorites were Pablo Picasso's Glass and Bottle of Suze (1912) and Juan Gris' Still Life with Playing Cards (1916). Building what he called "the finest collection of contemporary art assembled on any American campus," Janson (1913-1982)himself in exile from Nazi Germanyproved a staunch advocate for international modernism, particularly supporting the work of European artists living in political and social exile.
Janson's bold endeavor was not without controversy. In the University's official history book, Washington University in St. Louis: A History, the late historian Ralph Morrow states, "Although the transaction effaced all record of the artistic tastes of generations of University patrons, it generally has been hailed as a coup. In the long run it greatly enhanced the market value of the University's holdings ..."
"The scope of Janson's undertaking was unusual, considering that the most progressive American museums had only begun collecting modern work in the late 1920s and 1930s," says Sabine Eckmann, curator of the Gallery of Art. "In light of the strong anti-modernist trends then dominating the American art worldincluding university museumsone could even call it bold."
Honoring this collection is an exhibition, H.W. Janson and the Legacy of Modern Art at Washington University in St. Louis, showing at Salander O'Reilly Galleries in New York City. Organized by Eckmann, the exhibition runs March 12 through April 6, 2002. Divided into two sections, the exhibit focuses first on Janson's acquisitions and then on important works of modern art acquired by subsequent curators and benefactors in the 1950s and 1960s.
Featuring 21 masterworks by 17 European and American modernists, the show includes paintings and sculptures by Max Beckmann, Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, Theo van Doesburg, Jean Dubuffet, Max Ernst, Arshile Gorky, Juan Gris, Marsden Hartley, Jacques Lipchitz, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Yves Tanguy, among others.
An accompanying exhibition catalog features Eckmann's essay "Exilic Vision," which discusses Janson's emigration from Germany; his associations with New York art dealers, also in exile; and the influence of both on his views of contemporary art. The catalog also reproduces, for the first time, the text of a 1981 lecture in which Jansonauthor of History of Art (first edition, 1962, with more than 4 million copies in 14 languages sold)recalls his years at Washington University and building the modern collection. The exhibition catalog is available through the Gallery of Art; please call 314/935-4216.