Two soon-to-close Princeton University Art Museum exhibits offer visitors the opportunity to consider artistic exploration — as both a collector and creator.
“Legacy: Selections from the Gillett G. Griffin Collection” is a celebration of the life and career spanning from 1928 to 2016.
A Princeton University and community member, Griffin was also a noted artist, curator, scholar, teacher, and collector.
And while he donated thousands of artworks and artifacts to the museum, this exhibition contain only 55 pieces. But they represent his range of interests and include Greek, Roman, Egyptian, ancient Near Eastern, Islamic, African, Chinese, Japanese, and Pre-Columbian antiquities, as well as European and American prints, drawings, and sculptures.
Also included are some of Griffin’s paintings and drawings that museum organizers say “attest to Griffin’s own talents as an artist.”
A PUAM biographical statement on Griffin says the former museum curator of Pre-Columbian and Native American art had a passion for collecting that began “while he was a student at Yale University School of Art, where he studied painting and graphic design and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1951. He wandered into a New Haven junk shop and purchased a tiny ceramic head for 25 cents. Showing it to George Kubler, a renowned professor of art history at Yale, he learned that the head came from the Valley of Mexico and dated to before 400 B.C. So began a lifetime of collecting that would later inform his scholarship and teaching,” one that also included co-discovering the cave paintings by Mexico’s Olmec people that were identified as the oldest paintings ever seen in the New World, 800 and 400 B.C.
In addition to leaving his work, Griffin also left a statement regarding the art of collecting. It appeared as the introduction to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 1964 publication “The Guennol Collection.”
True collecting is an intensely personal and private adventure. The collector, giving emphasis to certain specialized forms of art or to a specific artists, can be as creative in his pursuit of his quarry as the artist who unfolds his own vision of the cosmos to the rest of the world.
It may be that only the collector can truly appreciate the whole of his collection. For, apart from the intrinsic beauty of each object, collecting is an experience to be remembered – possibly preceded by a long search, frustrations, then the locale where the piece was first encountered and the personalities involved in its discovery, and , perhaps, a final anguish whether to purchase or not. The collector usually sees many things before the right one appears, but it can be — with luck — love at first sight.
The collector must be self-educated and one must know and feel a great deal about a number of disparate fields. A collector must occasionally rely on professionals to authenticate a purchase, but whether or not to acquire an object is ultimately dependent upon the integrity of the collector.
Legacy: Selections from the Gillett G. Griffin Collection is on view through Sunday, October 6. A tour and reception take place Friday, September 27, at 4 p.m.
Elsewhere “Helen Frankenthaler Prints: Seven Types of Ambiguity” allows the PUAM to display several art works gifted by the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation to the museum as well as commemorate an artistic adventurer.
The exhibition combines the new work with other museum holdings and uses 50 pieces spanning more than five decades to examine “Frankenthaler’s compositional language, working process, collaborations, evocations of place, and historical referents” and “the vitality of the artist’s work in prints throughout her remarkable career.”
Frankenthaler (1928 to 2011) was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The daughter of Alfred Frankenthaler, a New York State Supreme Court judge, she was encouraged to study and pursue professional careers. That led the artist to study art and find herself as part of the groundbreaking American Abstract Art movement.
In 1968 Frankenthaler was the subject of a Smithsonian Institute interview and in the following excerpts talks about her state of mind after leaving Bennington College and the various mid-century art approaches she was learning and leaving behind:
It was Picasso and then there were all the others that I was learning to see and digest. But I think what got to my particular sensibility was, aside from learning Cubism, [Wassily] Kandinsky.
The next step was just to do it myself or teach it, or do something else. But not to learn anymore, except in my own terms.
And I was painting and changing and developing and going through that bridge from early Kandinsky and (Arshile) Gorky to my own thing. And I was just starting to part totally with subject matter.
In 1956 and 57 I think I let a lot of things come out in pictures (and) get simplified and simplified and simplified.
I went through something around 1959, 1960, where I was really using — something like orange green (probably Orange Breaking Through, 1961), black with shadow (probably Winter Figure with Black Overhead, 1959?). And then one that is clearly a nude (Nude, 1958), I mean anybody who knows pink and breast shape, the feeling of body being seen. Now it isn’t a figure in a room or in a landscape, but it is very much that feeling . . .
And then I first started working on the floor. . . I know that (Jackson) Pollock’s pictures and his method and material affected me greatly. . . I might have thought working on the floor is the way to do what I’ve got to do and keep doing it and I’m going to try it. But I don’t remember, say, coming back with a decision of, this is my mentor and I’m not going to do it. But if it did come from someone certainly it came from him no doubt.
I’ve always thought that with (Willem) de Kooning you could assimilate and copy. And that Pollock instead opened up what one’s own inventiveness could take off from. In other words, given one’s own talent for curiosity that you could explore, originate, discover from Pollock as one might, say, Picasso, or Gorky or Kandinsky in a way that de Kooning was a closed oeuvre.
I didn’t paint new long canvases until I had seen his and I’m sure that Pollock’s ambience affected me tremendously. I was much more drawn to Pollock’s painting on the raw canvas than I was to de Kooning’s easel cuisine and there it’s a matter of sensibility. Aesthetically, socially, in every way the de Kooning thing seemed to be much more productive, planned, admirable at the time. But I didn’t think so. I thought that Pollock was really the one living in nature much more than de Kooning.
I knew that what I was making was not what others were doing. I was embarking on sort of discovering what I was about.
I mixed funny shades of colors and used them but I used them because they made the drawing in my picture move. It wasn’t because I was in love with the idea of putting color down. But these colors were the expedient things to use for the way I drew and I say “draw” not meaning line, though it might have included line. But the way I drew or envisioned or made my work. And it happened that it came out stressing color. But I did not have a vision or a notion about color per se being the thing that would make me or my pictures work or operate.
I think as in anything involving work, experience, trial, error, accident, that suddenly there is an oeuvre and you read signs in it and then you either pick up or follow those signs or reject them and a strain or a sensibility or a wrist or an eye develops that becomes what a style is.
Helen Frankenthaler Prints: Seven Types of Ambiguity on view through Sunday, October 20. A free exhibition tour takes place Saturday, October 6, at 3 p.m. Additionally, a free symposium on Frankenthaler titled “A Vital Legacy” features a trio of conversations with artists, art historians, and others on Friday, September 19, at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday, September 20, from 9 a.m. to 12:30.
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton campus. Free. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Mondays. 609-258-3788 or artmuseum.princeton.edu.