Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Art Museum Makes a Deal: Lending Richters for Borrowed Rothkos

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Art Museum Makes a Deal: Lending Richters for Borrowed Rothkos

Article excerpt

The St. Louis Art Museum will have a small but special exhibition of works by abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko, a key figure in American art, running May 24 through Sept. 14. Therein lies a tale.

The museum's collection of paintings by German artist Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) was installed in the museum's new East Building in the spring of 2013. Richter, whose work includes both abstract works and photorealism, created one of the most striking pieces in the collection, "Betty," a portrait of his daughter, turned away from the camera, wearing a red-flowered jacket.

Then Fondation Beyeler, in Basel, Switzerland, came calling. Representatives wanted to borrow the Richters for a significant retrospective of the artist's work, this November through January.

"Typically," said museum spokesman Matthew Hathaway, "we would say no to a request like this. The Richter paintings seldom travel, as many people plan their visits to the museum specifically to see them." Besides, they'd just been installed in their new home.

This particular request demanded more consideration, Hathaway said. "These are among the most important examples of Richter's oeuvre, and it's important to us and, presumably, the artist, that they be included in a major retrospective. The Beyeler is a world- class institution, and their exhibition will overlap with Art Basel, which will give our paintings considerable visibility." But the St. Louis Art Museum was unwilling to lend them without something of similar significance to hang in their place.

There matters stood for several months. Finally, in November, museum director Brent Benjamin and his counterpart at Fondation Beyeler, Sam Keller, met in New York to discuss the loan idea. Keller proved open to a collection exchange. The answer: Four paintings by Rothko (1903-1970), in exchange for four Richters.

It's all come together quickly by art museum standards. "You have to be nimble and adapt," said Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art at the St. Louis Art Museum. What he called a mini- retrospective of Rothko's work is coming together quickly. "It's a great opportunity for the museum to have all these Rothkos on exhibit. …

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