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Monday, July 9, 2012

Tacoma Art Museum: 100 Percent Bigger, 100 Percent More Western

Posted by on Mon, Jul 9, 2012 at 2:20 PM

Charles Bird King, Wanata (The Charger), Grand Chief of the Sioux, ca. 1826. Oil on canvas, 39 x 27 1/4 inches.
  • Courtesy Tacoma Art Museum, promised gift of Erivan and Helga Haub
  • Charles Bird King, Wanata (The Charger), Grand Chief of the Sioux, ca. 1826. Oil on canvas, 39 x 27 1/4 inches.
Tacoma Art Museum is nearly doubling its gallery space in order to make permanent room for the 280-work Western art collection of German-born billionaires Erivan and Helga Haub. The museum will get an entirely new, 10,000-square-foot wing devoted to Westernness.

This could be fun. A place where commie-queers and stodgy old cigar-puffers collide. Where there are hippies and industrialists and Salish artists working in the old ways and urban aborigines, aesthetes, conceptualists, pop artists. We'll see.

It's unlike anything else in the region, that's for sure. And yes, it is a little weird. Psychogeographically, Northwest museums tend to situate themselves in the Art World (NY/global) or within a very localized/historical scope. In the last few years, a greater awareness has been paid to the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver corridor. But not much is made of the American West as an identity—which might invite connections to places as far away, miles-wise and minds-wise, as Denver, Las Vegas, San Diego, Santa Fe. Will those connections be interesting? It depends entirely on how they're done.

Georgia OKeeffe, Piñons with Cedar. Oil on canvas, 30 x 26 inches.
  • Courtesy TAM, promised gift of the Haubs, @ Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/ARS
  • Georgia O'Keeffe, Piñons with Cedar. Oil on canvas, 30 x 26 inches.
The announcement also continues TAM's recent history of presenting itself as in alignment with the historical underdog, as if dramatizing the Seattle-Tacoma relationship itself. The category of Western art—it brings to mind bronze statues of animals and gauzy cowboy-and-Indian paintings—is to mainstream art what hot dogs are to steak. This kind of dynamic can be fun to play with; again, the proof comes later.

I don't know exactly what's in the collection; artists include Bierstadt, Moran, Remington, Russell, O'Keeffe, and lesser-knowns like E. Martin Hennings and Ernest Blumenschein. The museum sent a handful of images, and they are peculiar and varied (more on the jump), the paintings dating back to the 1820s and forward into the present. Contemporary artists include John Clymer, Tom Lovell, Bill Schenck, and Clyde Aspevig. Erivan Haub, now retired, was born into a family that owned a major chain of German food retailers; he later acquired a nearly-half interest in the American chain A&P, and he has land in Washington, Wyoming, and owns the ski resort Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop.

How will a Western wing situated in a Northwestern museum that has at the other end of its building a double-height gallery built to accommodate large-scale contemporary art compare to, say, the Autry National Center in LA (formed in 2004, and governed by four initiatives, when the Southwest Museum, the Museum of the American West, and the Women of the West Museum came together)?

How would a Mona-Lisa-like portrait of a decorated chief read differently if it were sharing a building with, say, Hide/Seek, the queer show that traveled to TAM from D.C. this spring? How might scenes of European/tribal contact resonate with the AIDS exhibition TAM curator Rock Hushka has been organizing? How do artists today construct/ignore/play on/resist/deny Westernness?

Antoine Predock designed Tacoma Art Museum, but Olson Kundig was the local architect of record. Now, Predock will not be involved in the expansion, which will be handled by Tom Kundig, in his first completed museum project. (We've already looked at what will happen to TAM's front door, and the freighted-golden history of the museum front door.)

The wing will stretch southward down Pacific Avenue toward Union Station, resting on stilts on the hillside like the existing building. A staircase—one already being called "grand," comparable to the Chihuly Bridge of Glass in its value as its own art experience, in a great comprehensive overview piece by The News Tribune's Craig Sailor—will lead upward from the parking lot into a re-created lobby. The new museum, with a price tag of $15 million, paid for mostly by the Haubs although the museum isn't revealing how much they're giving exactly, is expected to open in 2014.

Frederic Remington, Conjuring Back the Buffalo, 1889. Oil on canvas, 35 x 20 inches.
  • Tacoma Art Museum, promised gift of Erivan and Helga Haub
  • Frederic Remington, Conjuring Back the Buffalo, 1889. Oil on canvas, 35 x 20 inches.

Thomas Moran, Green River, Wyoming, 1907. Oil on canvas, 20 x 28 1/2 inches.
  • Tacoma Art Museum, promised gift of Erivan and Helga Haub
  • Thomas Moran, Green River, Wyoming, 1907. Oil on canvas, 20 x 28 1/2 inches.

John Clymer, Late Arrivals—Green River Rendezvous. Oil on canvas, 24 x 48 inches.
  • Tacoma Art Museum, promised gift of Erivan and Helga Haub
  • John Clymer, Late Arrivals—Green River Rendezvous. Oil on canvas, 24 x 48 inches.

Albert Bierstadt, Departure of an Indian War Party. Oil on board, 17 1/4 x 24 1/4 inches.
  • Tacoma Art Museum, promised gift of Erivan and Helga Haub
  • Albert Bierstadt, Departure of an Indian War Party. Oil on board, 17 1/4 x 24 1/4 inches.

 

Comments (3) RSS

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cressona 1
Speaking as a fan of the Tacoma Art Museum and of the art of the west (I loved SAM's "The Beauty and the Bounty" show last year), I consider this wonderful news. Well, so long as this addition doesn't change the character of the rest of the museum--the concern Jen Graves articulates.

There's nothing stopping the two strains from coexisting with and complementing each other just fine, unless the museum loses its vision. TAM already strikes a similar balance, albeit on a much smaller scale, with its permanent collection of Chihuly glass.
Posted by cressona on July 9, 2012 at 5:18 PM · Report this
2
Great. And does not Craig Sailor ever rule?
Posted by Tim Appelo on July 9, 2012 at 6:10 PM · Report this
3
I would rather see the focus be on Pacific Northwest Landscape oriented art; mixed with artifacts, natural history and radical ecology concepts. Sounds like this "Western" thing might be too broad and kitschy but still enjoyable I'm sure.
Posted by bluer is better on July 10, 2012 at 12:38 PM · Report this

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