Friday, May 24, 2013

Deaccessioning Bernard Smol

La Forêt Enchantée (The Enchanted Forest)
The Georgia Museum of Art currently owns the five paintings by Bernard Smol (French, 1897–1969), all currently on display in museum’s Martha Thompson Dinos Gallery. As the museum’s curator of European art, I have proposed removing four of them from our collection. The paintings do not align with the collection goals as defined in the museum’s mission statement and acquisition policy, the paintings have not generated any scholarly interest or interest from the public in more than 50 years, and they have not been exhibited during this time.

Les Pleureuses (The Mourners)

About the artist

“His is a world of color and dreams, of design and poetry, of music and the daily round of the circus and magic, of dance and religion.” George Huisman, Directeur Général Honoraire des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1958

Smol worked in a late post-impressionistic idiom, creating encaustic paintings with vibrant colors. Encaustic is a technique of painting with hot beeswax mixed with pigments that creates a translucent but textured surface. The jewel-like quality of Smol’s paintings often drew comparisons to stained-glass windows by critics of his day. His typical subject matter included romantic landscapes and interiors populated with harlequins, dancers, bohemian poets and mystical figures that give the viewer a sense of experiencing a dream. Still relatively unknown in the United States, Smol exhibited widely in Europe in the mid-20th century. The artist came to the attention of the Georgia Museum of Art's founding director, Alfred H. Holbrook, during a 1958 exhibition at Chase Gallery in New York, after which Holbrook visited Smol’s studio in Paris.

Le Prophète Job (The Prophet Job)


Deaccessioning is the legal and permanent removal of an object from the museum's collection in accordance with policies and procedures defined by the Board of Regents, the University of Georgia, the laws of the State of Georgia and the United States and the standards of the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors. The museum received authorization from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents to deaccession objects starting in 2011, after a process involving formal vote and input from staff members, outside experts, the Board of Advisors, and the university’s provost. Whenever possible, works chosen for deaccessioning are sold at public auction. Proceeds are reserved in a designated account to be used only for the acquisition of new objects into the collection and never for operations or other expenditures. If the work to be deaccessioned was a donation to the museum, the donor or donor’s heirs are informed, whenever possible, and the credit for the gift is applied to any new acquisition made with funds from the donated work’s sale.

Deaccessioning is a carefully and necessarily lengthy process. At this point, the Georgia Museum of Art has yet to deaccession a single object from its collection of more than 10,000 objects in the museum’s 55-year history, although other objects are currently under consideration. I am recommending the deaccessioning of all but one of the paintings by Smol in our collection, all on display in this exhibition. During the course of the exhibition, other members of the museum’s collections committee and I will pursue subsequent steps in the deaccessioning process, making all documents and information available as part of the exhibition.

Le Village Inondé (The Inundated Village)

What do you think?

We would also like your input going forward. Which paintings or paintings would you keep? Which would you deaccession? Come visit in person to vote or tell us what you think in the comment section here.

–Lynn Boland, Pierre Daura Curator of European Art

La Robe de la Mariée (The Wedding Dress)

Excerpt from May 20, 2013, memorandum from Lynn Boland to GMOA Collections Committee:

Bernard Smol (French, 1897–1969) was an accomplished artist and should remain represented in the museum’s collection; however, the evolution of our collection and collection plan for European art over the last 50 years makes it unnecessary to have five large paintings by Smol from the same period and in the same style. These paintings are highly unlikely to be requested for loan or for inclusion in any of the museum's exhibitions or other programming in the foreseeable future, with the exception of the upcoming exhibition “Deaccessioning Bernard Smol,” May 25 to July 7, 2013. These paintings have not been exhibited at the museum since 1959, they have not been on view elsewhere since two traveled to Middle Georgia College shortly thereafter, and there is no indication that information about them has been requested at any time since or that they have been viewed by anyone other than museum staff during this time. There is no indication that Smol has been included in any publication since 1959, further demonstrating a universal lack of scholarly interest in the artist and his works. They were considered for inclusion in the 2011 permanent collection reinstallation as part of the European display in the H. Randolph Holder Gallery but deemed of insufficient quality or art historical significance to merit indefinite display, especially given their large size compared to other paintings in the museum’s collection. Their size also makes them a burden on the museum’s already taxed storage facilities. I recommend that the following paintings, all museum purchases rather than gifts, be deaccessioned and, through public auction, made available to other institutions or individuals better able to display and appreciate them:

La Forêt Enchantée (The Enchanted Forest), n.d.
Encaustic on canvas
34 1/2 x 50 3/4 inches
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Museum Patrons Fund purchase, 1959
GMOA 1959.683

Les Pleureuses (The Mourners), n.d.
Encaustic on canvas
31 1/2 x 39 inches
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Museum Patrons Fund purchase, 1959
GMOA 1959.684

Le Prophète Job (The Prophet Job), n.d.
Encaustic on canvas
31 1/2 x 39 inches
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Museum Patrons Fund purchase, 1959
GMOA 1959.685

Le Village Inondé (The Inundated Village), n.d.
Encaustic on canvas
34 1/2 x 50 1/2 inches
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Museum Patrons Fund purchase, 1959
GMOA 1959.686

I propose keeping one painting to represent Smol in the GMOA collection:

La Robe de la Mariée (The Wedding Dress), n.d.
Encaustic on canvas
31 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Gift of the artist and Chase Gallery, New York
GMOA 1959.651

La Robe de la Mariée was a gift of the artist and the Chase Gallery as well the personal favorite of the museum’s founder, Alfred H. Holbrook, according to a March 25, 1959, letter from Holbrook to Smol. La Robe de la Mariée is also the only painting of the five exhibited in Chase Gallery’s 1958 exhibition featuring Smol, which Holbrook visited. Three of the four paintings proposed for deaccession have no exhibition history other than the 1959 exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, and Les Pleureuses (The Mourners) appeared only in the exhibition organized by the museum that traveled to Middle Georgia College.


scott redford said...

I think these works are best as a set. Initially I wasn't drawn to them as small jpegs but looking again and then considering their size and medium I hunk they could be very impressive together. I would warn against the self fulfilling prophesy approach that they aren't exhibited etc. that is just reinforcing what may be narrow taste. Where's the curatorial bravery? I now wantn to know more about this artist and his circle and influences. Too many artists are consigned to the bin because of prevailing tastes.

Anonymous said...

The news of deaccessioning anything from GMOA was surprising because its administration has declaimed frequently and negatively about that process. I must confess I have no problem with deaccessioning, but I would prefer it to begin with American works rather than with European. The "backyard" art at the rear of the Swanson Gallery would be a good example. Thank you for putting the Smol paintings on exhibit so that we may make informed decisions.

Georgia Museum of Art said...

That's a good point, commenter from 4:55, but the administration isn't opposed to _responsible_ deaccessioning, just to the many examples of irresponsible monetization of collections.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, Bernard Smol has almost vanished from the history of art. And yet: that makes the GMA a leading repository of Smol's work. My inclination is to vote against any deaccessioning. Smol's work, much like the better-known Bernard Buffet, very much represents a period taste, and represented what I am sure the GMA felt was the best and most progressive art available in 1959. I, for one, am very grateful to have been introduced to Smol's work. I don't like it at all, but I am fascinated that he was working in encaustic in the exact years that Jasper Johns adopted that medium. It certainly makes Johns' choice of encaustic seem less esoteric when we know that a belated School of Paris wannabe was using that as his trademark medium.
Now, if you are going to dump four of these pictures, and I expect that you will, I think that La Foret Enchantee is by far the best of the group for teaching purposes. It is easy to see how Smol rooted his work in well-worn traditions of French landscape painting, but also how the vivid color of encaustic, and the unusually sharp facture that it creates, places his work in the broader taste for expressionist treatment seen in Rouault and Soutine from before the 1939-45 war, and the tachisme of people like Nicolas de Stael after it. And then there's the link to Johns I've mentioned. It seems unlikely that these pictures will sell for much at auction, anyway. Will the public be informed about the amount of revenue generated? And what about purchases made from those funds? How far will the GMA take crowd-sourcing curatorship?