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Landscapes and Livestock

I’ve seen a large part of the Agincourt collection—the part that isn’t total fiction—and believe you’re in for a treat. The new exhibit—”Homecoming/Coming Home”—opens eleven months from now at the Plains in Fargo, and this show-within-the-show will constitute about fifty works from this collection, lent to us through the courtesy of our friends in Iowa. Looking at what’s in hand, I’m struck by two things: 1) the cohesiveness and quality of the earliest acquisitions, and 2) the enormous gaps in work representing the years after 1950. It’s embarrassing how little I know about the art of my own lifetime, though it may be fair to say that we are far less objective about that which is closest. Perhaps some of you will be willing to lend a few pieces and fill the cracks.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

“Tell me what you collect, tell me how you collect, and I will tell you who you are.” —Jean-Willy Mestach 

On the eve of its hundredth birthday, the Agincourt Collection (displayed in the Tennant Memorial Gallery) has reached a milestone. The gallery is too small for all 200 pieces to be hanging, so only fifty, more or less, are up at any one time. We cycle through the collection about once a year. Next March, however, it’s all coming out of storage and being hung in European style—cheek-by-jowl, one above and beside another—for a gala public opening. For the first time, all of our cultural laundry will hang at once.

Sunsetfieldfence

Late next year, about twenty-five percent of the collection will also hit the road: between forty and fifty pieces will travel—again, for the first time—to the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota. Ron Ramsay, a friend of Agincourt and professor of architecture at North Dakota State University, has arranged the loan exhibit. I’m curious about two things: what we’ll send and how the folks in Fargo (and her sister city, Moorhead, Minnesota) will react. If Jean-Willy Mestach is correct, what and how we collect will have much to say about who we are.

Categories, clots and clumps

Like the Japanese renga and jenga, any collection—of art, coins or pogo sticks—is a living thing. It grows through time and its character thereby changes; nuanced, each new piece alters our perception of what has come before and changes the direction it might take. Looking at the Memorial Collection last weekend (not all of it at once, but in bits and pieces, and not knowing completely the order of acquisition), I can report the following:

  • Portraits are a small but significant segment. I’ve known some of the subjects and one of the artists.
  • Landscapes play a big role—no surprise there—because we live on, of and off the land. Several pieces pay poetic homage to that which sustains us—and that which we have all too often abused in return. They also record the vastness of our weather conditions (bucolic, threatening, elegiac….) and make me glad I live here.
  • Then there are several pieces without an easy explanation: views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, for example, American icons that exist despite not seeing it from my kitchen window. And portraits of sheep. And stuff from Europe that must have traveled here by steerage. Each and every one tells a story worth knowing.

Some of us (though not me) have called our collection “Landscapes and Livestock”; disparaged it as a waste of money (though no public funds are used for either acquisition or upkeep) and suggested it be sold and the proceeds used for band uniforms or a hockey rink or to buy better art! Luckily cooler heads prevail and the collection grows, one or two pieces a year. The folks in Fargo are in for a treat.

If the choice were mine….


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