Getting on the Map: Everson one of five U.S. museums for Turner to Cezanne

Nancy Keefe Rhodes 10/14/09More articles
Everson's Turner to Cezanne opens
Everson's Turner to Cezanne opens
5 images in the Everson's Turner to Cezanne opens album

“The sun is God,” the painter J.M.W. Turner said in 1851, just before he died. His paintings are drenched in light and it’s hard to see how this exhibition could start with anyone else’s work.

If you walk straight into the first of three galleries housing the traveling exhibition from Wales, Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, Turner’s painting “The Storm” is what you encounter first. There are other Turners there, both oil and watercolor.

But this one hangs at an angle on one of the free-standing partitions in the center of the room, jutting a little into the space like a ship itself. Lit perfectly from above so that it’s almost iridescent – Turner seems to have caught the scene at the instant of a lightning flash – the painting depicts a ship sprawling way too far on its side to ever recover, floundering, breaking up, amidst heaving swells, gale-whipped sea spray and, near the frame’s edge, a bottomless dark green ocean.

Beginning with Turner as it does, the Everson Museum’s new exhibition had me at hello. A few minutes beyond the Turners, though, Everson’s director Steven Kern said that the Daumiers coming up were pretty good too. Downstairs at the press briefing, Kern had eschewed naming any personal favorites, and he had said right away about this clearly landmark exhibition, “I try to delicately side-step the notion of blockbuster.”

“Broad appeal” is the phrase Kern prefers and if you spend a couple hours in these galleries you understand how come Kern expects in the neighborhood of 58,000 people from across the northeastern U.S. and southern Canada to visit Syracuse in the next three months. It’s a project three years in the making, to bring these 53 paintings by 29 artists to Syracuse, one of only five venues on the tour – not, as Kern said, Boston, New York City, San Francisco or Chicago, but Columbia, S.C., Oklahoma City, Syracuse, Washington, DC, and Albuquerque.

Kern points out that this exhibition’s tour “cuts deeply into middle America” on purpose, as a way of reaching “our innate connection with the arts.” This is fitting, given that the Davies sisters, Welsh spinster heiresses who used their fortune to buy paintings that nobody else in Britain yet appreciated, are now respected as having their own taste and preferences instead of simply – as long believed – following the suggestions of expert investment advisers.

The Everson raised over $800,000 to make this happen, including physical up-grades to the building itself, and has created partnership for supporting events with more than a dozen others arts organizations. Kern dismisses the notion that in a recession you have to collaborate anyway.

“This is about thriving – not surviving,” he says, which has been his credo since he got here. “We are leading the way in re-asserting the importance of the arts in this community, this region.”

When Kern got here a year ago, he had come from a university setting; so he appreciated keenly what a university’s resources can provide for “broad appeal” exhibitions in terms of supporting and reinforcing events surrounding an exhibition’s run. We are used to that phenomenon in this area - for example, Syracuse University’s Michelangelo exhibition last year. Now, a free-standing private museum here has mounted something on the same scale. This is as important for how we see our community and each other, and how we proceed with the arts, as it is in making the national “map.”

To put that in more personal terms, that very evening an acquaintance told me, with an odd expression on her face, “My husband said he wanted to go to this. Can you imagine! I don’t think he’s ever been inside the Everson in his life!”

There will be something for most comers, scheduled over the three months – three films, all on Sunday afternoons, over the next three months (winding up with The Sun is God in December, which we’ll review here in advance), three lectures, demonstrations of painting, story events for young people, monthly special “uncorked” events, performances at Syracuse Stage and Syracuse Opera and elsewhere.

Speaking of art-loving sisters, once years ago my younger sister, who then lived in southern Maine, invited me to Boston to see the “King Tut” touring exhibition. We were inveterate museum-goers while she still lived, but she grew irritated with me that afternoon.

“Do you really have to look at everything?” she said finally with some exasperation before heading for the museum shop.

“Yes,” I said then, and that’s my advice when you go to this show too.

“Turner to Cezanne” is on view until January 3, 2010, at the Everson Museum, 401 Harrison St., Syracuse. Public tours Tuesday-Thursday at 2:00 PM and Saturday at 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM, free with same-day admissions ticket. Please visit everson.org for more information on programs and tickets. A complimentary audio cell phone tour is available at the exhibition and can be downloaded at everson.org. Nancy covers the arts. Reach her at nancykeeferhodes@gmail.com.

TAGS: Everson Museum, Turner, Cezanne, Manet, Monet, Daumier, Corot, Van Gogh, National Museum Wales, Davies Sisters
EDITION: The Eagle

Rating: 3.1/5 (11 votes cast)

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