After nearly twenty years, the Museum of Outdoor Arts, whose collections have been buffeted from port to port looking for a final resting place, continues to experience growing pains. But since moving to airy new digs, the museum shows new confidence. It's put down solid roots while still pursuing the goal of placing three-dimensional artwork in public places. Now at a crossroads, the MOA is going through a collection-building period, which invites speculation both about additional sculpture-adorned satellite sites and about permanent collections to be displayed in-house.
The temporary exhibit Collection IV: International Sculpture Center Exhibition, now showing at the museum, may well represent what's in store for the future. It's a medley of artist-donated works curated annually by the International Sculpture Center in New Jersey, then auctioned off to benefit the center. MOA director Cynthia Madden Leitner hopes to acquire the collection at what's quietly accepted in the trade as a cut-rate price. The 32 relatively small pieces -- some by internationally recognized names, others by very good sculptors in mid-career, all running an incredible gamut of media, concepts and techniques -- would be a valuable acquisition. In effect, it sheds light on the entire milieu of contemporary sculpture without taking up a lot of precious space.
"Historically, they've gone to private collections," Leitner notes of past ISC collections. But as the sculpture center's Jeff Nathanson explains: "This year we doubled the size of collection. Due to the sheer volume of works, the cost of this collection is really geared to a museum rather than a private collector." And curator Terrence Karpowicz's working sensibility -- he's a sculptor himself -- as well as unprecedented dumb luck had something to do with the surprising response by invitees, Nathanson adds. "We expected half the invitees would say yes, but pretty much all of them did. That presented a challenge to us. Once we realized we had over thirty works committed, we started to rethink the ultimate goal in placing the collection."
Artists contributing to auctions often donate lesser works, according to Nathanson, but it seems that those who gave to Collection IV greatly value what the ISC -- a nonprofit organization that hosts conferences, workshops, publications and other services for sculptors -- does for them. "In this case, the artists have given significant works, really first-rate ones," he says. "They understand that this collection is destined to be acquired by a museum or collector who really appreciates quality of work.
"One reason to put these collections together is to get the work into prominent places, where it can be of benefit to the community," Nathanson adds. "The Museum of Outdoor Arts is not a new museum, but it's a growing museum. This gives them a chance to acquire works at a price vastly more affordable than what they'd have to pay if they collected them individually. And that can help them upgrade their collection and help with making future acquisitions."
Leitner thinks the MOA can live with that. She says she's grown fond of seeing Alissa Neglia's swaying rusted-steel washer baskets exhibited on the floor just outside her office. And what museum director wouldn't drool at the prospect of adding a work of delicate glass by Dale Chihuly, David Nash's graceful shaved and grooved wall-hung oak panel or a line drawing by Eduardo Chillida? Leitner's confident that the MOA will raise the funds and support to do so. Plans are already under way to place some of the pieces in a new sculpture garden adjacent to the museum, and provisions can be made for a permanent display of the indoor-only works. It's just a matter of time, she implies, before the MOA really comes of age.
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