10 Things You May Not Know About Robert Indiana

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By Ali Ruoppo, Semmes Foundation Intern in Museum Studies

You do not want to miss Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE, the first American museum retrospective devoted to the artist’s work, closing on May 25! Ken Johnson of The New York Times declares: “It will be a revelation even for viewers who think they know something about Mr. Indiana.” Here are 10 things you may not know that will give greater insight into the man who created one of the most famous images in twentieth-century art.

1. This isn’t the first time Indiana has been to San Antonio.
Indiana first came to San Antonio in September 1946, when he began a six-week basic training course at Lackland Air Corps Base. More than twenty years later, in April 1968, The Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, opened Indiana’s first solo museum exhibition; the show traveled to the McNay, then the Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, and the John Herron Institute of Art, Indianapolis. During that same year, Indiana created Viva HemisFair, a poster for the World’s Fair. See two of Indiana’s working designs from 1967, now on view in the Frost Octagon Gallery!

Robert Indiana, "Hemisfair San Antonio," 1968. Poster, 46 x 30 in.

Robert Indiana, “Hemisfair San Antonio,” 1968. Poster, 46 x 30 in.

2. Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE includes several rarely-seen works from the McNay’s collection.
The exhibition features 32 papier-collé collages of costumes (1966/76) that Indiana designed for the Bicentennial production of Virgil Thomson’s and Gertrude Stein’s operatic collaboration, The Mother of Us All, which chronicles the life of suffragette Susan B. Anthony. It also includes two paintings, The Metamorphosis of Norma Jean Mortenson (1967), a tribute to the pop culture icon and symbol of the struggle for the American Dream, Marilyn Monroe; and Decade: Autoportrait 1961 (1972-77), part of a suite of paintings known as the Decade: Autoportraits, each documenting a different year of the artist’s life in the 1960s. All were given to the McNay by San Antonio arts patron, philanthropist, and Santa Fe Opera supporter, Robert L. B. Tobin, who was a good friend of Indiana’s.

Robert Indiana, "Decade: Autoportrait 1961," 1972-77. Oil on canvas, 72 x 72 in. Collection of the McNay Art Museum; gift of Robert L.B. Tobin

Robert Indiana, “Decade: Autoportrait 1961,” 1972-77. Oil on canvas, 72 x 72 in. Collection of the McNay Art Museum; gift of Robert L.B. Tobin

3. Indiana changed his last name in 1958.
Born out of wedlock in New Castle, Indiana, in 1928, he was adopted by Earl and Carmen Clark. Check out the artist’s eerie portrayal of his adoptive parents in the diptych Mother and Father (1963-66). On the eve of turning thirty and launching his signature hard-edged visual style in New York, Robert Clark assumed the name of his native state, Indiana, emphasizing his American identity and Midwestern roots.

Above: Earl and Carmen Clark with the family’s Model-T Ford, c. late 1920sEarl and Carmen Clark with the family’s Model-T Ford, c. late 1920s Below: Robert Indiana, Mother and Father, 1963–66. Oil on canvas, two panels, 70 × 60 in. (177.8 × 152.4 cm) each. Collection of the artist

Above: Earl and Carmen Clark with the family’s Model-T Ford, c. late 1920sEarl and Carmen Clark with the family’s Model-T Ford, c. late 1920s
Below: Robert Indiana, Mother and Father, 1963–66. Oil on canvas, two panels, 70 × 60 in. (177.8 × 152.4 cm) each. Collection of the artist

 4. He was closely associated with some of the most significant artists of the 1960s, including Andy Warhol.

Indiana (left) and Andy Warhol in Warhol’s studio on East 47th Street in New York, 1964. Photograph by Bruce Davidson for "Vogue"

Indiana (left) and Andy Warhol in Warhol’s studio on East 47th Street in New York, 1964. Photograph by Bruce Davidson for “Vogue”

Warhol’s paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and films have been previously exhibited in three shows at the McNay, most recently Andy Warhol: Fame and Misfortune.

Indiana and Warhol both exhibited work at the Sable Gallery in New York and took part in Sidney Janis’s 1962 New Realists show, the first important survey of Pop art. As two artists at the helm of the movement, they posed together in a Vogue photo spread from 1964. They also collaborated on Eat, a 40-minute, slow-motion film of Indiana eating a single mushroom in his Coenties Slip studio in Lower Manhattan. Their friendship ended when Warhol asked for a LOVE in exchange for a Brillo Box, an insulting tradeoff according to Indiana.

5. The famous red, blue, and green LOVE first appeared on a Christmas card.

Robert Indiana, LOVE, 1966. Oil on canvas, 71⅞ x 71⅞ in. Indianapolis Museum of Art; James E. Roberts Fund 67.8

Robert Indiana, “LOVE,” 1966. Oil on canvas, 71⅞ x 71⅞ in. Indianapolis Museum of Art; James E. Roberts Fund 67.8

During the summer of 1965, The Museum of Modern Art in New York commissioned Indiana to design its Christmas card. Out of four color possibilities for LOVE, the museum selected the red, blue, and green version. Indiana subsequently turned this successful design into his iconic 1966 LOVE painting, first exhibited, along with a suite of paintings, drawings, and small sculptures in what he called the “LOVE show” at New York’s Stable Gallery. A year later he painted a grisaille (monochromatic or grey) version, on view in Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE.

6. A LOVE poster opened him up to plagiarism and broke his heart.
After the MOMA Christmas card was released, Indiana lost control of LOVE. Because he had no legal protection against imitators of his design, massive numbers of commercial products bearing the LOVE image were sold. Indiana tried to copyright his work in the 1970s, but failed. In an interview with The Art Newspaper, he explained, “[The Copyright Office] said you could not copyright a word, even though it was a very distorted and changed word, that was not possible. It’s difficult to talk to the Copyright Office, they are just as pleasant as the IRS.” You can find variants of Indiana’s LOVE design on everything from coffee mugs to high-tops. During the weeks surrounding Valentine’s Day, maybe you spotted a festive rendition of LOVE on H-E-B’s cupcakes.

ConverseArtie with Cupcake

 

 

 

 

 

7. LOVE isn’t as cheerful or optimistic as it seems.
When it debuted, LOVE was perceived by the hippie generation as a symbol of the “make love, not war” 1960s counterculture revolution and an emblem of sexual freedom. Today it continues to be misinterpreted as having affirmative connotations; the tilted “O” implies Indiana’s skepticism and critique of love’s precariousness and fragility. Perhaps inspired by his unhappy childhood (his family never used the word love) and failed adult relationships (he had a falling out with Ellsworth Kelly in 1959), Indiana suggests that love does not last; it is an idealized concept that often brings disappointment and heartbreak. “Love is a dangerous commodity—fraught with peril,” Indiana said.

Robert Indiana, "LOVE," 1970-71. Polychrome aluminum, 144 x 144 x 72 in. 1350 Avenue of the Americas (at W 55th St), New York

Robert Indiana, “LOVE,” 1970-71. Polychrome aluminum, 144 x 144 x 72 in. 1350 Avenue of the Americas (at W 55th St), New York

 8. The title of this exhibition sets the record straight—Indiana’s works go “beyond love” and incorporate profound artistic, literary, and social references.
Many of Indiana’s paintings are inspired by American masterworks by artists such as Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and Joseph Stella. Others use texts drawn from classic authors such as Hart Crane, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman. Indiana cites political and ethical issues in his powerful Confederacy Series, pinpointing Southern cities where violence occurred during the civil rights movement.

Robert Indiana’s “Confederacy Series” (1965/1966) at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Robert Indiana’s “Confederacy Series” (1965/1966) at the Whitney Museum of American Art

9. Indiana created “herms,” too.
Due to financial constraints, Indiana began to make vertical wood sculptures in 1959, using miscellaneous materials he found in Lower Manhattan’s abandoned warehouses: old wooden beams, rusted metal wheels, and other remnants of the shipping trade that once thrived in Coenties Slip. Indiana painted circles, stars, numbers, and three-or-four-letter words onto his works with found, nineteenth-century stencils that had been used to affix trademarks and labels onto commercial freight. He called his sculptures herms after ancient Greek anthropomorphic stone or bronze pillars that were set at important intersections and along roads in ancient Greece. Indiana even attached bicycle wheels to evoke the winged sandals of Hermes.

Left: Group of twelve herms in Indiana’s Coenties Slip studio, New York, c. 1962 Right: Island marble herm, Archaic Greek, c. 520 BCE. National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

Left: Group of twelve herms in Indiana’s Coenties Slip studio, New York, c. 1962
Right: Island marble herm, Archaic Greek, c. 520 BCE. National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

10. He currently lives and works in a remote Maine mansion.

Robert Indiana’s home, the Star of Hope, a former chapter headquarters of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine

Robert Indiana’s home, the Star of Hope, a former chapter headquarters of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine

Frustrated by the commercialization of LOVE, from which he barely made any money, and “blackballed” by the art world, Indiana permanently left New York in 1978. “It started a long time ago with the [Leo] Castelli gang. I have never been given a museum retrospective in New York, but all my peers have,” Indiana lamented. Embarking on a “self-imposed exile,” Indiana moved into a four-story Victorian house on Vinalhaven, an island 15 miles off the coast of Maine with a population of 1,200 people. Coincidently, the early twentieth-century American modernist, Marsden Hartley, had summered there in 1938. You can find a series of Indiana’s paintings that pay homage to Hartley and his relationship with a young German officer, Karl von Freyburg, in the back of the Tobin Exhibition Galleries. Also, on view in the Frost Galleries is the exhibition, Robert Indiana’s Hartley Elegies, which features the entire suite of ten screenprints on this theme.

Robert Indiana, KvF I (Hartley Elegy), 1989–94. Oil on canvas, 77 × 51 in. Private collection

Robert Indiana, KvF I (Hartley Elegy), 1989–94. Oil on canvas,
77 × 51 in. Private collection

 

60 Weeks of 60: Cézanne’s “Houses on the Hill”

60 weeks of 60 Template-Houses on the Hill

Marion McNay’s purchase of Paul Cézanne’s Houses on the Hill in 1942 coincided with a pivotal moment in the museum’s history: Marion’s decision to convert her home into the first museum of modern art in Texas.

According to Marion Koogler McNay: A Biography, it all happened over the course of a visit from Dalzell Hatfield and his wife, Ruth. The Hatfields were friends of Marion and owners of the Dalzell Hatfield Gallery in Los Angeles—which supplied many key works in her collection—and were on their way home from their annual buying trip. They stopped to visit Marion and show her their newest purchases. She was immediately impressed by Cézanne’s seemingly “unfinished” landscape. As a collector, Marion particularly enjoyed works that showcased the creative process. However, she felt she could not afford it at that time. So, the Hatfields returned to their hotel room and prepared Houses on the Hill for shipment to Dallas.

Paul Cézanne, Houses on the Hill, 1900-1906. Oil on canvas. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

Paul Cézanne, “Houses on the Hill,” 1900-1906. Oil on canvas. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

After they delivered the crate to the Railway Express office, they went to Marion’s for dinner. Sometime during the evening, Marion had a revelation.

“Suddenly in the middle of a sentence on an unrelated subject, Marion exclaimed as though the idea had most unexpectedly and not until that moment occurred to her,” remembered Ruth, before quoting Marion: “‘Now I know what to with the collection when I pass on; now I see what I’ve been building towards all these years. A museum of modern art!—one of the first in America, and these paintings will form the nucleus of that collection.’”

The Hatfields left Marion’s home in Sunset Hills around two o’clock in the morning, but not before Marion had talked nonstop for more than an hour about her plans for the museum, including the necessary additions for her collection and the conversion of her house into an art museum (See “From Mansion to Museum“).

Shortly after Marion’s decision to bequeath her home and collection was announced, the San Antonio Evening News ran a story featuring a photo of "Houses on the Hill", then called "Along the River."

Shortly after Marion’s decision to bequeath her home and collection was announced, the San Antonio Evening News ran a story featuring a photo of “Houses on the Hill”, then called “Along the River.”

At around 4:00 am that same morning, Marion called the Hatfields to tell them that she was sorry for calling so early, but that she was too excited to sleep and felt that if she were to create a museum of modern art she would need the father of modern French art, Cézanne, to be represented. In short, she now wished to purchase Houses on the Hill.

“What followed was probably only routine in the life of an art dealer,” Lois Burkhalter writes in Marion Koogler McNay: A Biography, “By 6 a.m. Mr. Hatfield had arranged to have the crate containing the Cézanne landscape removed from the train when it arrived at Waco and placed on the next train back to San Antonio. The painting was uncrated in the Express office and hand-delivered at Sunset Hills before dinner.”

Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield, friends of Marion McNay and owners of the Dalzell Hatfield Gallery in Los Angeles.  Image Credit: Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield.

Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield, friends of Marion McNay and owners of the Dalzell Hatfield Gallery in Los Angeles.
Image Credit: Estate of Ruth and Dalzell Hatfield.

An exciting and historic acquisition, Houses on the Hill remains a staple in the museum’s collection. In 2000, Houses on the Hill traveled abroad to an exhibition featured in Austria and Switzerland, titled “Cézanne: Finished—Unfinished,” where it was exhibited alongside 141 other paintings, watercolors, and drawings on loan from 60 museums in 18 countries. Never before had an exhibition been entirely devoted to discussing the “unfinished” state of many of Cézanne’s works.

To learn more about Houses on the Hill and other paintings by Cézanne done in a similar style, check out the exhibition catalogue, found in the McNay library.

To learn more about Houses on the Hill and other paintings by Cézanne done in a similar style, check out the exhibition catalogue, found in the McNay library.

Houses on the Hill, currently on exhibition in the Mays Gallery, tells a story beyond the canvas—of an artist’s process and a collector’s enduring taste.

Stay tuned for more history and weekly highlights of works in the McNay’s permanent collection in honor of the museum’s 60th anniversary.

Bibliography

Lois W. Burkhalter, Marion Koogler McNay: A Biography, 1883-1950. San Antonio: Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, 1968.

Felix Baumann, et al., Paul Cézanne: Finished Unfinished, Germany: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2000.

 

 

 

60 Weeks of 60: The San Antonio Art Institute

60 weeks of 60 Template-Art Institute

Marion McNay is remembered mostly as an avid art collector who, upon her death, established the first museum of modern art in Texas. However, Marion was also an accomplished artist and influential teacher.

At the age of 9-years-old, Marion was already a talented painter, adept at painting in both watercolor and oil, but her first formal introduction to the world of art came a year later, when her family traveled to see the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She went on to study at the Fine Arts School at the University of Kansas, and then at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

This oil painting, titled "Fisherman," was painted by Marion when she was 9-years-old. Marion Koogler McNay, "Fisherman." Oil on cardboard. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

This oil painting, titled “Fisherman,” was painted by Marion when she was 9-years-old. Marion Koogler McNay, “Fisherman.” Oil on cardboard. Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

Following her studies, Marion accepted a position as a substitute art supervisor for schools in her home state of Ohio. A letter of recommendation from the school board’s superintendent described her as “one of the best qualified art teachers I have ever known … she arouses and develops the child’s observation and enlarges his aesthetic nature.”

In the 1930s, after Marion married Dr. Donald T. Atkinson, built the Sunset Hills mansion, and begun collecting (see Diego Rivera’s Delfina Flores: Mrs. McNay’s First Purchase), she continued to cultivate her interest in one of her favorite mediums: watercolor. Marion attended the eleventh annual International Watercolor Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago and purchased fourteen watercolors. In the same year, she had two of her own watercolors exhibited at the Museum of New Mexico.

Many of her paintings were inspired by the Pueblo Indians with whom she formed a close relationship during her summers spent in Taos. According to Marion Koogler McNay: A Biography, “she was always welcome in their pueblos and allowed freedom to wander and to paint their ceremonies, dances, and scenes of their everyday life.” It’s even said that she occasionally joined in on the tribal dances.

Marion Koogler McNay, "Taos Pueblo (Pueblo Dwellers)." Watercolor on paper. Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

Marion Koogler McNay, “Taos Pueblo (Pueblo Dwellers).” Watercolor on paper. Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

In 1932, works from Marion’s growing collection were exhibited at the Witte Museum under Director Ellen Quillin. The exhibition featured 48 watercolors—four of which were Marion’s own depictions of New Mexico. Her relationship with Quillin would later become instrumental in the founding of the San Antonio Art Institute, and later the McNay Art Museum.

San Antonio Art Institute, Sunset Hills Studio, ca. 1948

San Antonio Art Institute, Sunset Hills Studio, ca. 1948

When World War II prevented the Art League from holding art classes at the Witte Museum, Marion offered her home, and in effect founded the San Antonio Art Institute. She built a library and studio classroom on the grounds; offered her collection for study; paid for art supplies, salaries for teachers, and exhibitions; and housed visiting instructors. An extensive course catalog included classes in still life painting, advertising design, fashion illustration, lithography, ceramics, and textiles.

Pages of the San Antonio Art Institute school catalogue, reveal the many course offerings in both studio and commercial art.

Pages of the San Antonio Art Institute school catalogue, reveal the many course offerings in both studio and commercial art.

Marion also recruited renowned teachers, including French artist Etienne Ret, who taught at the San Antonio Art Institute for three months out of the year.

“[Marion’s] basic idea was to develop, if possible, outstanding artists in the fine arts field,” Ret recounted in the biography. “The school was, of course, not a commercial enterprise. Developing creative talent was its purpose. Marion’s hope was that as a result of her sponsorship there might emerge some regional work of art which would have status comparable with that which formed her modern French collection. The ideal was the school’s raison d’etre.”

Marion (pictured at center wearing a hat) assists in a San Antonio Art Institute drawing class held on the patio, ca. 1946-1948. Marion often sat in on classes and offered critiques to students.

Marion (pictured at center wearing a hat) assists in a San Antonio Art Institute drawing class held on the patio, ca. 1946-1948. Marion often sat in on classes and offered critiques to students.

Marion’s personal interest in students also extended beyond instructors and supplies. She regularly visited classrooms, offered her critiques, and on more than one occasion, purchased works of art from students, adding them to her collection, or giving them to friends or to art museums. She also provided scholarships for promising students to study at her alma mater, the Art Institute of Chicago.

Carlos Rios was one of the recipients of the $1,000 scholarship. Rios studied at the school in 1946 on the G.I. Bill and later had a long career as a commercial artist.

“She treated me like a son,” said Rios, who often received telegrams from Marion, that were signed “Love Mother Marion.”

In addition to classes, the San Antonio Art Institute also held social gatherings, including three major parties: one for Mrs. McNay’s birthday on February 7 (now celebrated as Founder’s Day), a graduation fiesta held in May, and a Christmas gathering. It was during the Christmas gathering in 1950 that Marion made her last public appearance.

Marion, surrounded by students from the San Antonio Art Institute, enjoys herself at the annual graduation fiesta. Other annual events included a celebration of Marion's birthday (now Founder's Day) and a Christmas gathering.

Marion, surrounded by students from the San Antonio Art Institute, enjoys herself at the annual graduation fiesta. Other annual events included a celebration of Marion’s birthday (now Founder’s Day) and a Christmas gathering.

After Marion’s death, the San Antonio Art Institute continued to thrive into the 1990s. Today art education and Marion’s philosophy live on in the museum’s many educational programs, lectures, workshops, and films.

This fall, a special exhibition, School at Sunset Hills: San Antonio Art Institute Artists in the McNay Collection, will feature artists active with the Institute during its first decade of operation. Works like Michael Frary’s untitled work (below) will be on view in the Hamon I Gallery August 20, 2014-February 15, 2015.

Michael Frary, Untitled. Watercolor on paper. Gift of Amy Freeman Lee in honor of Blanche and John Palmer Leeper.

Michael Frary, Untitled. Watercolor on paper. Gift of Amy Freeman Lee in honor of Blanche and John Palmer Leeper.

Stay tuned for more history and weekly highlights of works in the McNay’s permanent collection in honor of the museum’s 60th anniversary.

Biography Citation: Lois W. Burkhalter, Marion Koogler McNay: A Biography, 1883-1950. San Antonio: Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, 1968.

Workshop on Fire!

During all the excitement of the Anniversary Weekend, the McNay also presented a raku ceramics workshop as a way for visitors to learn more about the large-scale installation by Catherine Lee on display in the AT&T Lobby.Ceramics1

The installation is made up of 105 ceramic sculptures fired using the raku method. The individual works are glazed similarly, but smoke and ash bond with the glaze during firing to create colors ranging from dark burgundy to bright red. No two are alike!

In this workshop, we set out to experience the transformative process of raku for ourselves. Austin artist Ryan McKerley guided us through the process.

First, workshop participants selected and glazed a pot. Pottery typically needs to be fired twice to go from malleable clay to glazed ceramic. Ryan provided bisqueware (ceramics that had already had their initial firing). The glazes are very pale, pastel versions of the colors that they will become once they are fired.Ceramics 2

When all the pots were glazed, Ryan loaded them into a small gas kiln. They reach anywhere from 1400-1800 degrees in a short amount of time, about 30 minutes. We watched the glazes starting to melt through an opening in the kiln lid.

Ceramics3

Once the glazes transformed into glassy colors, they cooled briefly outside of the kiln. Looks can be deceiving. The pots were still about 1,000 degrees at this point, but they only needed to be 451 degrees for the next step.

Ceramics4

Usually, ceramics are not removed from the kiln when they are still so hot. They are allowed to cool slowly. Raku requires extremely strong clay that can withstand thermal shock (drastic change in temperature). At this point, the pots are introduced one at a time to a metal trashcan filled with combustible material. Newspaper is added with each pot. The ceramics ignite the newspaper.

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As the newspaper burns, the fire consumes the oxygen in the trash can, creating a reduction environment. The lack of oxygen causes the glazes to change colors. Also, any clay that did not receive glaze turns black from the newspaper ash at this point. The pots stay in the trashcan for about 30 minutes and are quenched in water to cool them enough to touch.

ceramics6

After a little scrubbing, the pots were ready to take home. Crackle in the glaze is a sought-after effect in raku. Everyone was amazed by the transformation of their pots, from glazing to the kiln to the trashcan. To sign up for our upcoming workshops, visit mcnayart.ticketleap.com.

last one

 

 

60 Weeks of 60: El Greco’s “Head of Christ”

60 weeks of 60 Template-El GrecoMarion McNay purchased the Head of Christ, painted by Spanish Renaissance artist, Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known as El Greco, in 1937 from the Dalzell Hatfield Gallery in Los Angeles. An unusual purchase for a collector focused on modern art, the acquisition reflects Marion’s awareness of the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, where Marjorie and Duncan Phillips acquired a unique El Greco master painting to add to their otherwise modern collection. Before it found a home at the McNay, it was a part of private collections in Madrid, Barcelona, and London.

Guests at the Museum opening in 1954, admire "Head of Christ," which was a part of Marion McNay’s original bequest.

Guests at the Museum opening in 1954, admire “Head of Christ,” which was a part of Marion McNay’s original bequest.

Questions over whether the painting was the handwork of El Greco were raised in the 1990s. It was not uncommon for artists living at the same time as El Greco to employ large workshops of painters to reproduce their work, and El Greco himself had three main assistants during his lifetime. On a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bill Chiego, the director of the McNay, studied El Greco’s other depictions of Christ, suspecting that the McNay’s painting warranted more research.

In search of answers, it was sent for conservation to Helen Mar Parkin in Dallas, who cautiously removed overpaint and restored color. Following its restoration, art historian Bill Jordan and Leticia Ruiz Gómez, curator of Spanish painting at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid who has examined hundreds of El Greco paintings, examined Head of Christ and confirmed that it was largely the work of El Greco himself. However, it’s possible that parts were added by one of his assistants, or even his son, after the artist’s death in 1614. Ruiz Gómez pointed out that specific elements, such as the beautifully painted face of Christ—his eyes in particular—and the beard appear to be the biggest clues that the work is largely by El Greco’s hand. Ruiz Gómez believes it might be related to El Greco’s early work for the Toledo Cathedral, El Espolio (The Disrobing of Christ), which would date Head of Christ to somewhere between 1579 and 1586.

Greco (DoménikosTheotokópoulos), El Espolio (The Disrobing of Christ), 1577–79. Oil on canvas, Toledo Cathedral, Spain.

Greco (DoménikosTheotokópoulos), El Espolio (The Disrobing of Christ), 1577–79. Oil on canvas, Toledo Cathedral, Spain.

Since its restoration and authentication, Head of Christ has been reframed in the 17th-century Spanish style and can be viewed upstairs in the Oppenheimer Galleries. The painting, along with a small installation titled, El Greco Rediscovered, organized by Semmes Foundation Intern in Museum Studies, Katherine Kunau, was exhibited in the Hamon Galleries in 2011, and it remains one of the most prized possessions of the McNay’s collection.

Hamon Galleries

 

Indiana Everywhere: “Beyond LOVE” in the News

artie Indiana EverywhereSince 1966, LOVE has been everywhere: From postage stamps to doormats to keychains to coffee mugs, Robert Indiana’s iconic work with the tilted “O” became famous without ever giving the artist his due. But now with the first American retrospective, Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE, it’s Indiana who is making the headlines both nationally and here at home in San Antonio.

Dubbed “shockingly exciting” and “ravishing to behold” by the New York Times and “a startling, electric retrospective” by the BBC, the exhibition has also received critical acclaim from Art in America, National Public Radio, Art+Auction, Departures magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Glamour, Good Morning America, The Current, the San Antonio Express-News, and Texas Public Radio. Here are #artiemcnay’s picks, broken down into categories for different reader’s tastes:

BEST FOR ART LOVERS THAT LOVE DETAILS:
New York Times
“It Wasn’t All He Needed, or All He Did,”
September 2013, By Ken Johnson

“It is a blessing, then, for Mr. Indiana and for New York art fans that the shockingly exciting exhibition Robert Indiana: Beyond Love at the Whitney Museum of American Art, puts his love works in a broader perspective … It will be a revelation even for viewers who think they know something about Mr. Indiana.” Continue reading

BEST FOR THE ART HISTORY BUFF:
BBC News

“Robert Indiana: Finally loved for more than LOVE”
October 2013, By Jason Farago

“Robert Indiana, now 85 years old, may not command the same recognition as his pop art confreres, but LOVE – with its intense red-green-blue color scheme and suggestively tilted O – is still ubiquitous nearly half a century after its creation … Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE, a startling, electric retrospective that’s just opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is the artist’s first major exhibition in New York in over three decades. (It tours to the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio next year.) And it makes a forceful case for Indiana as a central figure of the postwar American avant-garde.” Continue reading

BEST FOR THE BIOGRAPHY BUFFS:
Art in America

“Robert Indiana”
January 2014, By Carter Ratcliff

“Containing nearly 100 works, ‘Robert Indiana: Beyond Love’ reminds us that the artist was inclined to speak unwelcome truths to power … We enter into the play of layered and sometimes elusive meanings that give Indiana’s paintings the inexhaustible richness of art. And the relentless clarity of his style does not counteract his subtleties as much as push them up front, giving them their paradoxically powerful punch.” Continue reading

BEST FOR AN ORAL HISTORY OF LOVE:
Departures magazine
“What the World Needs Now is…LOVE:

An Oral History of Pop’s Most Famous Four-Letter Art”
September 2013, By Rachel Wolff

Departures

“Rarely is a word’s meaning so cleverly embedded in its typography: Indiana’s O swoons, knocked off balance by a four-letter force evoking every kind of passion, be it sexual ecstasy or coldly devotion. The image is as universal as the word itself … In anticipation of the Whitney show, Indiana—alongside friends, collaborators, critics and cultural luminaries—explains how his masterpiece took on a life of its own.”

BEST FOR LEARNING ABOUT INDIANA’S TIES TO SAN ANTONIO:
San Antonio Express-News
“There’s more to Indiana’s art than LOVE”

January 2014, By Steve Bennett

“Beyond LOVE,” an exhibition of more than 100 paintings, sculptures and works on paper opening Wednesday at the McNay Art Museum, rights the record. As its title suggests, there is much more to Robert Indiana than just “LOVE.” Organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the exhibition’s only other venue is in San Antonio.” Continue reading

BEST FOR THE ART NEWBIE:
San Antonio Current
“McNay’s ‘Beyond LOVE’ a Superb Illumination of LOVE-Master Robert Indiana”

February 2014, By Sarah Fisch

Beyond LOVE gallery

“I knew amazingly little about the career output of Robert Indiana. This is a damn shame. Luckily, not only is the McNay’s career retrospective “Beyond Love” grand, curious and illuminating, it’s also entertaining as hell. Plus, Robert Indiana’s body of work is as close to a representative history of postwar 20th-century art movements as that of any living artist I can think of, without being derivative or survey-like. It addresses, tweaks and subverts American society contemporaneously, not retroactively; one gets the sense the works are not inspired by the great social questions of the day but are rather part of the questioning itself.” Continue reading

BEST FOR THE FASHIONISTA:
Vogue

“Lisa Perry Creates a Special Line in Collaboration with Robert Indiana”
September 2013, By Florence Kane

Vogue

“Not everyone can own a Robert Indiana. (Wouldn’t you love your very own LOVE sculpture?) But you can have a dress—or sweater or jacket or tote bag—chicly emblazoned with one of the pop artist’s iconic works.” Continue reading

Beyond Love gallery 2

Now, come see the exhibition yourself, on view at the McNay through May 25!

 

 

 

60 Weeks of 60: The First Director

60 weeks of 60 Template.First Director

John Palmer Leeper, the McNay’s first director, once said, “Whoever directs an art museum has to be fundamentally interested in art and nothing else.” While no one would deny Leeper’s interest in preserving, collecting, and sharing art, his life history demonstrates that he was a man of many talents, whose unwavering devotion for more than 37 years made the McNay one of the most well-respected art museums in his home state of Texas.

Born in 1921, Leeper grew up in Sweetwater, where his father worked in the hardware business. In college, he studied journalism at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and dreamed of becoming an editor. After graduation, he became a cryptographer and sent coded transport messages for the Army during World War II. While stationed in New Hampshire, he read a copy of Art Through the Ages and his life was forever changed.

After the war, he went to study art history at Harvard where he met Blanche Magurn, a curator in Oriental Art at Harvard’s Fogg Museum. The couple married in 1948, and in 1950 Leeper became the director of the Pasadena Museum of Art in California. Three years later, in 1953, the Board of Trustees, whom Marion McNay had appointed in her will, asked John to become the first director of the McNay.

John and Blanche relax in  Mrs. McNay's living room, 1954. The couple lived above the museum, in what its now the Oppenheimer galleries in the early years.

John and Blanche relax in Mrs. McNay’s living room, 1954. The couple lived above the museum, in what its now the Oppenheimer galleries in the early years.

When the Leepers arrived, the museum was still Mrs. McNay’s house (See From Mansion to Museum: The metamorphosis of Mrs. McNay’s home), and the couple, along with their newborn daughter Maryanne, lived upstairs in what is now the Oppenheimer Galleries.

“The water would be turned off at unexpected times, and we’d have to go over to Amy Freeman Lee’s to cook the formula for Maryanne or down to the Texaco station for the bathroom,” Leeper recalled in a 1980 interview.

Architect Atlee B. Ayres (left) and Director John Palmer Leeper (right) worked together on converting Mrs. McNay's home into an art museum. Here they are at the opening in 1954.

Architect Atlee B. Ayres (left) and Director John Palmer Leeper (right) worked together on converting Mrs. McNay’s home into an art museum. Here they are at the opening in 1954.

In just a year, Leeper masterfully created a fully functioning museum: overseeing building renovations, planning a three-year exhibition schedule, and cataloguing the entire collection. Leeper’s controversial choice for the inaugural show was “Paintings and Drawings by Pablo Picasso.” It was during the McCarthy era and Leeper recalled that “they were burning books in Texas and modern art was highly suspect.” His decision to challenge the status quo would set a precedent for the art community in San Antonio.

“Don’t forget, Pablo Picasso was not so much an artist as he was a ‘dirty Red.’” remembered Robert L.B. Tobin, a major supporter of the McNay and friend of Leeper’s.  “And here he was hanging all over the walls of the McNay. Spectacular.”

Over the course of the next 37 years, the Leepers would continue to be pioneers in the world of art. The museum grew from 7,000 square feet to more than 70,000, with seven additions be added to the original structure of Mrs. McNay’s home. The collection also grew from 700 to 9,500 works of art. Blanche, who adopted the role of librarian, trained the first class of docents and expanded the library resources from 100 volumes to more than 23,000 books.

“She also had an extremely active social role,” John said of Blanche. “The world of a museum director’s family has to be social. Blanche and I could set a table in the dark.” Early visitor guides also indicate that tea was served daily at 4 pm, highlighting that the museum was not only an institution for enjoying art, but also a place to socialize in San Antonio.

In 1991, John Leeper stepped down from his role as director, becoming director emeritus and resigning himself to creating a detailed account of the museum’s history using the many annual reports he helped author. The Leepers remained in their home on the museum grounds and oversaw the building of Leeper Auditorium, a 275-seat facility for lectures, concerts and important events that is still very much in use today.

John Leeper (left) cuts the ribbon to the auditorium named in his honor, with trustee Robert Tobin, President of the Board Tom Frost,  and incoming director Bill Chiego. 1994.

John Leeper (left) cuts the ribbon to the auditorium named in his honor, with trustee Robert Tobin, President of the Board Tom Frost, and incoming director Bill Chiego. 1994.

Upon his retirement Leeper was asked how he wanted to be remembered.

“Theres a wonderful comment made by Sir Christopher Wren after he rebuilt London after the great fire,” Leeper recounted. “Someone asked him, ‘Where is your monument going to be?’ And he replied very sensibly, ‘Look around you.’”

Leeper passed away in 1996, preceded in death by his beloved wife, and was memorialized in Impressions with the words of Robert L.B. Tobin:

“John Leeper (a.k.a. ‘Lord Sport,’ ‘Palmer’ ‘J.P.L.’) was a gentleman of keen intellect and inquiring mind whose greatest joys were his family, his friends and his museum … So, our debt to John is great: a great friendship, of encouragement … John the visionary, John the comrade, the acute observer. There will never be anyone like him.”

Then director emeritus John Leeper (left), trustee Robert Tobin and Blanche Leeper attend the dinner hosted at the McNay in honor of the Leeper's 37 years of service to the museum.

Then director emeritus John Leeper (left), trustee Robert Tobin and Blanche Leeper attend the dinner hosted at the McNay in honor of the Leeper’s 37 years of service to the museum.

 

60 Weeks of 60: Paul Gauguin’s “Portrait of the Artist with the Idol”

60 weeks of 60 Template-Gauguins Self Portrait

On January 4, 1954, Dalzell Hatfield, a prominent Los Angeles art dealer and friend of Mrs. McNay, wrote a letter to the Board of Directors at the museum, detailing the steps he thought needed to be taken in order for the museum to become “the artistic force [Mrs. McNay] had envisioned.” He also described her devout interest in Modern French Art (he described it as her “specialized field”) and her philosophy on collecting:

“[Mrs. McNay] believed and stated often that it is the duty of collectors to preserve and hand down to future generations the great art of their own time. Among the artists she had already collected were many contemporary with her. In fact, at the time of her birth, most of the artists in her collection were still living: Cezanne, Renoir, Gauguin—and many such as Matisse, Picasso, Rouault and others are living today. Therefore, the Board will see that hers was no idle theory; she acted upon what she believed.”

 

Paul Gauguin, "Eve," 1889. Watercolor and pastel on paper. Collection of the McNay Art Museum. Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

Paul Gauguin, “Eve,” 1889. Watercolor and pastel on paper. Collection of the McNay Art Museum. Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

Among the many French masterpieces Mrs. McNay collected, were three by Paul Gauguin: Sister of Charity, Eve, and Portrait of the Artist with the Idol. All were painted in the late 1880s/early 1990s.

Paul Gauguin, "Sister of Charity," 1902. Oil on canvas. Collection of the McNay Art Museum. Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

Paul Gauguin, “Sister of Charity,” 1902. Oil on canvas. Collection of the McNay Art Museum. Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

According to a November 1946 article by the San Antonio Light, in which Mrs. McNay is pictured standing next to Gauguin’s self-portrait, Eve hung in the living room.

"San Antonio Light," November 1946.

“San Antonio Light,” November 1946.

Gauguin often described his face as that “of a savage” and in his many self-portraits made no attempt to soften that image. His striped shirt and polka-dot tie vividly represent the bohemian lifestyle that he traded his conventional life as a stockbroker for. The idol pictured in the right hand corner is a nod to the artist’s time spent in Tahiti, where he studied  ancient Polynesian deities. The idol represents the goddess Hina, who was a symbol of happiness and peace. The figure not only appears in his paintings, but also in the wooden sculptures that he carved.

Portrait of the Artist with the Idol is currently on view in the Zoch Gallery.

Stay tuned for more history and weekly highlights of works in the McNay’s permanent collection in honor of the museum’s 60th anniversary.

 

60 Weeks of 60: From Mansion to Museum

60 weeks of 60 Template.The Mansion

The McNay Art Museum’s building and grounds are often thought to be a work of art in and of themselves. In 1927, Mrs. McNay and her then-husband, Dr. Donald Taylor Atkinson, a renowned San Antonio ophthalmologist, began building the Spanish Colonial-Revival home on 23 acres in an area known as Sunset Hills.The McNay mansion after it was built in Sunset Hills. You can easily see how much the area has changed since then.

The McNay mansion after it was built in Sunset Hills. c. 1940s.

Architects Atlee B. Ayres and Robert M. Ayres, a father-son duo, were tasked with building the 24-room mansion, which now comprises the core of the museum.  During the thirty-two months of construction, Mrs. McNay kept a close watch over every detail. At one point she requested that the stucco on the outside be completely redone with more texture and she may have had a hand in the design of the decorative stenciling seen throughout the home, specifically the entrance hall (see below).

A view of the entrance hall. Mrs. McNay reported help paint the stenciling pictured in the archways and on the wooden beams.

A view of the entrance hall featuring the stencils (in the archways and on the wooden beams) that Mrs. McNay helped design.

A formal opening occurred in June of 1930, followed by a wedding for Marion’s cousin in 1932. The home would continue to serve as a setting for parties and events. When World War II prevented the Witte Museum from hosting art classes, Mrs. McNay invited the San Antonio Art Institute into her home. She built a library and studio classroom on the McNay grounds; paid for art supplies, salaries for teachers, and exhibitions; and housed visiting instructors, so that the San Antonio community could share in her love of art.

Students from the art institute sketch a live model.

Marion passed away in 1950 having assembled an extensive collection of modern art, and left very specific instructions in her will as to how the home would need to be converted in order to make way for the first modern art museum in Texas.

Between 1950 and 1954 (when the museum opened) major renovations were undertaken, overseen by the museum’s first director, John Palmer Leeper, and the board of trustees. They once again enlisted the help of the original architects, Atlee B. Ayres and Robert M. Ayres.

Director John Palmer Leeper (left) and architect Atlee B. Ayres (right) worked together on converting Mrs. McNay's home into an art museum.

Director John Palmer Leeper (right) and architect Atlee B. Ayres (left) worked together on converting Mrs. McNay’s home into an art museum.

A special air-conditioning system was installed in order to maintain ideal conditions for the artwork. In order to do so, workmen had to blast, shovel, and scoop out six feet of earth from under the entire museum to make room for a basement that would house the unit. Windows were closed up, chimneys uprooted, and walls torn down to make room for gallery space. Special lighting was installed in the patio gardens and the galleries in order to better illuminate the space, and a state-of-the-art fire detecting system was created. When all was finished, it was estimated that almost 75 percent of the home was involved in what the San Antonio Light called the “metamorphosis” of
the mansion.

An article published in the "San Antonio Light" in June of 1954 describes the extensive remodeling process that took place before the museum could open that fall.

An article published in the “San Antonio Light” in June of 1954 describes the extensive remodeling process that took place before the museum could open that fall.

Even today, work continues to be done on the museum’s exterior and interior, but Mrs. McNay’s original intent remains clear. When she died, she left a collection of more than 700 works, among them furnishings and decorative arts that she felt would give the museum the feeling of home. A home to Picasso, Renoir, and Van Gogh year round, we hope the museum is also a home for artists and art enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds to come and enjoy what Mrs. McNay left behind.

Mcnay

Stay tuned for more history and weekly highlights of works in the McNay’s permanent collection in honor of the museum’s 60th anniversary.

60 Weeks of 60: Diego Rivera’s “Delfina Flores”

60 weeks of 60 Template.Deflina Flores

This oil painting by Diego Rivera was a prized piece in Mrs. McNay’s collection and one of her first major purchases. Mrs. McNay purchased it from another San Antonio collector, probably not very long after it was painted. We believe it was exhibited at the San Antonio Art League in 1927, and Diego Rivera himself may have visited San Antonio for the show.

Delfina Flores, the girl depicted in the painting, was the daughter of one of Rivera’s housekeepers, an Otomi Indian. Rivera painted Flores several times over the course of her life, even painting her with her own child.

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Delfina Flores originally hung in Mrs. McNay’s dining room, but she loaned it to the Witte Museum in 1946 for an exhibition.

low res Dining Room

“Delfina Flores” can be seen hanging on the far wall in this picture of Mrs. McNay’s dining room.

A news clipping from the "San Antonio Light" about the Witte exhibition and the role of the painting. November 1946.

A news clipping from the “San Antonio Light” about the Witte exhibition and the role of the painting. November 1946.

When Mrs. McNay died in 1950, the painting, was given, along with a bequest of 700 objects, 23 acres, and her home, to create the first modern art museum in Texas. The painting continues to be an important part of the museum’s permanent collection and is currently on view in the Lang Gallery.

Stay tuned for more  weekly highlights of works in the McNay’s permanent collection in honor of the museum’s 60th anniversary.