African art gift, a real high for the Lowe
Museum, University of Miami
1301 Stanford Drive
Coral Gables, Florida 33124-6310
Phone: (305) 284-3535
Fax: (305) 284-3535
Major donations of art and funds will enhance the Lowe Art Museum's permanent collection, curatorial staff and future programming.
BY ELISA TURNER elisaturn*aol.com
Posted on Sun, Mar. 28, 2004 at http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/entertainment/8290443.htm
While Miami is making a name for itself in the realm of contemporary art, from the region's stunning private collections to edgy museum programming to the mega Art Basel Miami Beach, the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami has received a major boost to its wide-ranging holdings in ethnic
and non-Western art, as well as to what was formerly a tiny collection of studio glass.
Coral Gables collectors Alan and Claudia Potamkin have donated 300 pieces from their collection of African art, works that are valued at more than $1.7 million, the University of Miami announced this month.
The Potamkins also have pledged $100,000 to support an endowment for the Lowe's African art collection, which numbered 700 pieces before the Potamkin gift.
University of Miami alums and stalwart, veteran patrons of arts programs at their alma mater, Sheldon and Myrna Palley have given their approximately 100-piece collection of studio glass, valued in excess of $2.5 million, to the Lowe. Their gift comes with a substantial bonus: The Palleys are giving the Lowe $1 million to support the construction of a wing to house the museum's collection of glass and ceramic art, and another $1 million to fund an endowment for the glass collection.
At a cocktail reception to celebrate the gifts at the Potamkins' Coral Gables mansion, where a rare Nok terra cotta carving from Nigeria shared company with family photos and a tropical aquarium in a study lavishly arrayed with books and art from floor to ceiling, Lowe director Brian Dursum thanked both couples for their generosity.
In 2000, the Lowe exhibited about 40 works from the Palley collection, which includes five pieces by famously flamboyant glass artist Dale Chihuly, as well as many others by influential artists like Harvey Littleton. ''It is probably one of the best-known collections of glass in the country,'' said Dursum. ``They have been working with the university to build an art glass studio, and because of that relationship they offered to help build a wing. It's really their vision and dream.''
Both collections should enhance the Lowe's distinct identity among regional institutions. In South Florida, the Norton Museum of Art is the only other museum that has recently mounted a major show of contemporary studio glass. The only other Florida museum with significant holdings in African art is the Harn Museum at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Dursum said.
Lowe Art Museum Miami GAPS FILLED
The Potamkin gift ''is extremely important to us,'' he said. ``It raises our collection several notches in terms of its stature for the community, the state and the region. A lot of gaps will be filled with very high-quality pieces.''
Funds for the endowment would support the hiring of a full-time African art curator, he said. Such funds could also support programming to establish broad links between the collection and the traditions and art in Miami's African-American and Afro-Caribbean communities.
Each Miami couple has spent more than three decades building collections.
Pop art was high on the cultural radar in 1965 when Alan Potamkin bought his first piece of African art, but soup cans and such didn't interest him. At the time, Potamkin was a student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business before he went on to lead the huge chain of auto dealerships founded in Philadelphia by his father. ''Most people were collecting Peter Max. I was collecting more spiritual objects, things that are a part of people's daily life,'' he said.
He was especially taken with a group of small mask-like carvings of spirits.
Several of these are mounted in the family's upstairs gallery, along with an ancient terra cotta Chinese horse and sinuously curved antelope headpiece from the Bambara people of Sudan.
''When I look at a piece of stark modern art, I don't understand it,'' Potamkin said. ``This art is designed for everyday life, for events like a rite of passage or for a good day at the hunt.''
Retired UM professor and African art scholar Marcilene Wittmer has been studying the collection in preparation for a major exhibit of African art the Lowe will mount in 2005.
''People have been asking me which are my favorite pieces, and every time I have a different answer,'' she said. At the reception, she paused before a wooden divination head, incised with a braided coiffure, from the Bassa people in Liberia. It gives human form to a Bassa spirit. ''It is,'' she said, ``a masterpiece. It's beautifully carved and it has a wonderful patina. This country has been decimated by civil war, so this is something you'll never see again.''
The collection is especially strong in art from Nigeria, Cameroon and the West Guinea Coast, she said, with objects of historical significance that include the Nok terra cotta figurines, especially a rare carving of an entwined mother and child.
Sheldon and Myrna Palley bought their first piece of studio glass in the early 1970s, when glass was far less accepted as a medium for fine art than it is today. They've emphasized contemporary American artists.
''One reason glass has been so successful as an art medium is that it has gained the support of collectors like the Palleys,'' wrote William Warmus, former curator at The Corning Museum of Glass, in the Lowe catalog. ``The Palley collection, with its focus on sculptural objects of the utmost integrity, is a key for opening this new world of art created from glass.''
For Myrna, giving the collection to the Lowe, with funds to support its display and growth, is key to something else as well.
''I wish that Miami was a little more broad-minded in giving to the fine arts. I feel it's very important that collections stay in Miami, and I hope that other collectors will follow suit. This is our community,'' she said.
``[The Lowe is] our gem. We may not always do fancy galas and drop-dead shows, but we feel we have a major permanent collection.''
Elisa Turner is The Herald's art critic.
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