Saturday, November 24, 2012

The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio

An idiosyncratic Texas institution that needs to be considered on the national and international art radar

The Grounds of the McNay Art Museum
     The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio is one of those institutions that I cannot believe I hadn’t heard of before because it’s one-of-a-kind both in terms of its setting and its collection.  Former high school teacher Marion Koogler McNay inherited a fortune from her physician father, who
owned land in Kansas that happened to have oil, bequeathed her 1930s Spanish Colonial Revival style mansion and 700 piece art collection to the city.  She also persuaded her friends to sit on the museum’s board and give their collections, resulting in what is now over 20,000 works.  

Contemporary Wing of the McNay Art Museum
     Coming in from the parking lot, visitors are greeted by a multi-level sculpture garden that recalls the Fondation Maeght in Provence, though the works at the McNay are more recent and edgier.  The main building suggests the Vizcaya Museum
Pieces in the Courtyard
in Miami, but instead the McNay’s collection and staff trump the surroundings.  The female staff members from the front desk to the gallery guards were the friendliest, most knowledgeable group we have ever encountered and we’ve visited many museums both home and abroad.  Quirkily, people always have a connection to Cincinnati around North America whenever we mention it.  The current presidential election came up a number of times in Texas because the feeling was that Ohio was the deciding state.  

Delfina Flores by Diego Rivera
     The McNay is unexpected because of its various foci.  Although there is an extensive modern selection including Henri Rousseau’s Landscape with Milkmaids, Picasso’s Woman in a Plumed Hat (the first time I’d seen this work), and the first painting Ms. McNay purchased, which was Diego Rivera’s Delfina Flores, the Southwestern American pieces are even more remarkable because that movement has not merited the international attention it deserves.  Works by José Aragón and Rafael Aragón

Mourning Madonna by José Ortega
combining two and three-dimensional elements are on a par with the Georgia O’Keefe paintings, but José Ortega’s Mourning Madonna is in another class since it looks like both an icon from a Romanesque cathedral and a contemporary naïve folk art sculpture.  Usually, we run through the Romanesque and Medieval galleries quickly, but there are a number of Flemish and Danish wood sculptures that arrested our attention.

Entrance to the Theatrical Wing
     Robert Tobin, heir to the Tobin Map fortune, had close connections to the museum and donated his theatrical library, set renderings, and costume collection even though he was on the boards of both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera.  The library is extensive and comprehensive.  There were three different exhibits, though the history of Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera in various production incarnations from 1928 to 2010 took center stage.  This was also where we encountered a museum guard, who was a Texas charmer filling us in on the history of the McNay and San Antonio and recommending some places to eat.  

Special Exhibit Estampas de la Raza
     The special collection area hosted an exhibition that again was eye opening with Estampas de la Raza:  Contemporary Prints from the Romo Collection.  Drs. Ricardo and Harriett Romo have collected prints over the past thirty years by emerging Mexican American and Latino artists.  Critics usually classify a number of artists from a specific era and codify their works as a movement.  I’m not going to do that exactly, but I will say that the startling day-glow colors and images of contemporary icons follow in the look of ‘60s Pop Art, but the juxtaposition and tweaking of those images realize social and political concerns that strengthen the content in a style that is more uniform than that of the members of Chicago’s Hairy
Works by Vincent Valdez
Who.  I’d seen a few of the images before, but it was the first time I’d encountered Vincent Valdez, a 35 year old San Antonio resident, who’s already a major artist.  He’s a realist who primarily concentrates on the figure in pencil, ink, oil, and video.  His series of boxers from various ethnic backgrounds place issues of diversity, difference, and masculinity front and center; his elegiac series both celebrating and mourning his late friend Lt. John Holt confronts how veterans are treated and how they react after their service.  Lovers of contemporary art need to remember Vincent Valdez.

The works of art in the courtyard really are quite wonderful!

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