1st December 2012

Moonlight in Providence

Moonlight in Providence

Made in the UK, an exhibition at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence (until 8 January 2012) includes this painting by Howard Hodgkin, Moonlight, 1972. The show celebrates the strength of contemporary British art but it also tells the story of a remarkable collection of 136 works that was bequeathed to the museum by Richard Brown Baker (1912-2002). A Providence native, member of the Museum’s Fine Arts Committee, and important collector of contemporary American and European art, he was renowned in the arts as a collector’s collector’ (New York Times). Based in New York after 1952, his reputation was built by quietly supporting emerging artists, many of who have become the most influential artists of their time.

He eventually amassed a collection of more than 1,600 works from the postwar period, including works by such groundbreaking American artists as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Morris, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, and James Rosenquist, as well as European and Asian artists such as Alberto Burri, Jean Dubuffet, Georges Mathieu, and Kurt Schwitters.

Baker bequeathed the majority of his collection to the Yale University Art Gallery and the balance to the Museum of Art, RISD.

He never lost the thrill of discovering new talent, and, as he could afford it, continuing to support those whose work he had previously collected, says curator Jan Howard. Because the British works would be separated from the bulk of his collection, he was eager that they be judged of importance as a group.

As I obtained my Rhodes Scholarship from Rhode Island,” Baker himself explained, “I feel that I am making a kind of gesture to England and to my native city by this gift. He later lived in London during World War II.

A 64-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition, concentrating on Baker’s British art and including the works acquired by RISD since 2005 with the Richard Brown Baker Fund for Contemporary British Art.

Curators Judith Tannenbaum and Jan Howard also contributed to the book Get There First, Decide Promptly: The Richard Brown Baker Collection of Postwar Art, by Jennifer Farrell, et al. (Yale University Art Gallery in cooperation with Yale University Press), forthcoming in 2011

Photo courtesy Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.

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