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The fine art of  running a gallery

April 26, 2001

Arthur Nead

The Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Uffizi in Florence. These museums are among the usual destinations for people who want to view great works of art. Recently, Tulane students, faculty and staff have had an attractive option closer at hand--they can experience the best of the world of art at the Newcomb Art Gallery in the Woldenberg Art Center of Newcomb College.

During this academic year the Newcomb Art Gallery has showcased a series of eye-opening exhibitions. Currently the gallery is filled with some 30 bronze sculptures by Auguste Rodin (1840 1917), all part of an exhibition called "Rodin's Obsession: The Gates of Hell." The show includes several of his most famed works, including The Thinker, The Kiss and The Three Shades.

Gallery director Erik Neil says, "We think this is a great opportunity for people not only at Tulane, but in New Orleans and the region to see works by one of the greatest sculptors of all time." Rodin was hugely popular in France during his lifetime, and, indeed, he was revered by the world at large.

"We talk about artists going in and out of favor," says Neil. "Rodin is an artist who was in favor in his own lifetime and really has never stopped being admired during the last century or so." How does Newcomb Art Gallery land world-class exhibitions like "Rodin's Obsession: the Gates of Hell?" "Exhibitions come to the gallery in different ways," says Neil.

The first show of this academic year featured a series of large-format photographs by Theodore Lilienthal that vividly pictured the now-vanished vistas of mid-19th century New Orleans.

"The Theodore Lilienthal show was one that was essentially prepared within the university, by Gary Van Zante, director of the Southeastern Architectural Archive," says Neil. "He had been involved in a project with these photographs for a number of years and came to us with the idea of exhibiting them here." Neil was delighted.

"It seemed like a great project," he says. "We're very happy that someone from within the university said, 'I want to curate a show.' I'm very open to that idea."

More typical of how exhibitions are acquired, according to Neil, was the presentation of metal sculptures by abstract artist David Smith. "This was a show that was prepared by an arts management organization, and they market the show." Neil, as director of the gallery, receives a stream of catalogues and proposals for exhibitions.

"They come with a certain fee and with different options-catalogs and so on," he says. "And you try to find the good ones, the interesting ones, before they are gobbled up."

Ideally exhibitions are booked approximately two years in advance, but circumstances can cause that to vary, according to Neil. Cost and availability on certain dates are the keys to choosing exhibitions, he says. The Rodin exhibition is different from the earlier shows in that it comes from a foundation-the Cantor Foundation, headquartered in Los Angeles.

"One of the good things about the Cantor Foundation is that we pay for things like shipping, and so on, but they are not charging us a rental fee," says Neil. "This opportunity was brought to our attention by one of our board members, Joyce Menschel. I really have to thank her for helping to make the contact."

The foundation has a large collection of material relating to Rodin, and it is possible to curate a show out of their collection, says Neil, who had been talking to foundation representatives about staging and exhibition at Tulane.
"Then they told us they were preparing this show about The Gates of Hell," he said. "That seemed like a great idea. They have curators who really are Rodin experts, and they also know what they've got."

Neil is planning a string of promising exhibitions for the Newcomb Art Gallery for next year. Beginning in the fall, there will be a collection of Italian Renaissance and Baroque old master drawings, he says.

"The drawings are from the collection of Albert Moir, who was once a faculty member in art history here. He's going to come and talk about his collection." Next, there will be an exhibition of African art from the personal art collections of New Orleans residents, which will be curated by a prominent local collector, Tom Lewis. "Following that, we'll have a contemporary show," says Neil, adding the specifics of the show have yet to be determined.

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