Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

“Panza Collection” @ the Hirschhorn Museum (Washington, DC)

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on January 29, 2009

image_1_175Bathed in the immersive humming blue light emanating from Doug Wheeler’s Eidhoven, Environmental Light Installation, the passion Guiseppe Panza had held for contemporary art for well over fifty years becomes glaringly apparent. Wheeler, a California artist who has still not received his full due locally alongside contemporaries such as Robert Irwin and James Turrell, stands quite powerful amongst the strongholds of Environmental, Minimalist, Conceptual, and Light-and-Space movements shown in the Hirschhorn exhibition “Panza Collection.” It begs the question – just how did an Italian art lover come to know of Wheeler adn subsequently amass one of the thoroughly best collections of traditionally difficult, and most American, art?

Quite simply, the answer lies in Panza’s acceptance and keen interest in an age when artists were dismissing traditional values and models of creating art. In a recent interview Panza expressed that the success of his collection of these artists was due to a very focused approach, one that involved in-depth collecting of a certain period of time. Essentially, he embraced artists who were bucking against popular artistic conventions. Leaning towards a more experimental and conceptual, artists such as Sol LeWitt, Joseph Kosuth, and Hamish Fulton (all in this exhibition) were making up new rules of how art is conceived, created, displayed, and read. 

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There are thirty-nine artists in the Hirschhorn’s “Panza Collection” – now held within the museum’s permanent collection – smartly presented where conversations between disparate pieces thrive. For instance, Richard Long’s 47-foot marble rock installation, Carrara Line, neatly divides the room while, walking with it seemingly hand-in-hand along the wall, is Jan Dibbet’s The Shortest Day of 1970 Photographed in My House Every 6 Minutes from Sunrise til Sunset. This juxtaposition between the static and the immovable with the static representing movement is stunning. Appropriately nearby are Hamish Fulton’s photographic/text works tracing and documenting his exploratory walks. They are surprisingly warm in character. Time, history, and memory weights heavily in these rooms and continues with On Kawara who reminds that the days/minutes/hours/events of our lives continue to tick on by. Speaking of moments, an entire room is dedicated to the sculptures, wall paintings, and neon signs by Joseph Kosuth, text master general and conceptual artist poster-child.

Utilizing the Hirschhorn’s circular architecture, Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #3 (number three!!) is viewable in the central lobby as it curves along the exterior exhibition walls with its mathematically precise and elaborately executed marks just begging to be mucked up by curious fingers. Near the entrance, seen from the escalators, is a large obligatory Lawrence Weiner yelling at us REDUCED. Clearly it’s anything but. Back inside, one of Robert Irwin’s best paintings (he famously abandoned painting in favor of non-traditional spatial works), Untitled (1963-65) vibrates off of Painted Aluminum Disc (1966-67) while Larry Bell’s vacuum-plated glass panel, Untitled (1973), functions quietly in-between Irwin and Wheeler. These three artists in particular excel at altering visual playing fields thus creating incredible new ways of seeing and shifting our expected relationship to objects.

Of course not everything is successful. Hanne Darboven’s typed sheets of paper more than border on tedious and Richard Nonas’ steel and Wood sculptures don’t seem to have retained any of the rebellious nature in which they were born. But you can’t always pick a winner.

Historically, museum exhibitions of private collections can be problematic and rife with conflicts of interest, incompleteness, and lack of curating (to name a few) but remarkably the works in the “Panza Collection” are so extraordinary that they never lose out to thoughts of ownership. This is an incredible feat and a testament to the quality of the art and the thoroughness of the collection. And while certain mega-collectors today re-route convention by managing their collection in their own fashion, take for instance Eli Broad or Charles Saatchi, Panza has embraced the more traditional avenue. Nearly half of his collection is already housed in museums and this donation to the Hirschhorn makes the following point: ultimately the responsibility of the collector owes more than to one’s ego and entrusting one’s collection to a public institution can be most vital in sustaining the relevance of art history. Therefore, it’s not only the Hirschhorn that benefits but rather all art lovers gain something invaluable thanks to the Count Guiseppe Panza di Biumo. For that Panza, we salute you.

“Panza Collection”
October 23, 2008 – January 11, 2009 
@ Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden 

Image: Joseph Kosuth’s Box, Cube, Empty, Clear, Glass—a Description, 1965, from the Hirshhorn’s Collection, The Panza Collection, photo by Giorgio Colombo, Milan.

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