Tuesday, October 30, 2012

David Mirvish offers glimpse of hidden art gems

Wikipaintings.org Jules Olitski Purple Golubchik (1962)

By Martin Knelman Entertainment Columnist

For more than 30 years, the vast and exquisite art collection of David and Audrey Mirvish has been mostly an underground thrill for those who were lucky enough to savour it.

Most of it has been stashed away in various far-flung warehouses. Art experts, visiting VIPs, special friends and groups of college students have from time to time been taken on special expeditions to view it. And many treasures from the collection have travelled to important museums all over the world, as loans to prestigious exhibitions.

But for most art lovers, the collection has lingered somewhere between an intriguing rumour and a tantalizing off-limits attraction.

Five years ago I suggested during a lunch with David Mirvish, during which we were discussing Ken Thomson’s gift to the Art Gallery of Ontario, that it would be a fantastic gain for Toronto if the city could have a special museum to show off the Mirvish collection.

At the time, he rejected the idea, saying he intended to keep the collection private, and leave it as a legacy to his family.

But since then, he has changed his mind. And as this week’s bombshell announcement made clear, a dedicated museum for the Mirvish collection is a key part of the mega culture-and-condos project that he and Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry are proposing for a huge stretch of King St. W.

There is no guarantee that the project will be approved, and David Mirvish is not in any rush to publicize the collection, but he’s agreed to give Star readers an exclusive peek at some of this city’s most stunning and little-known art treasures that could be seen at a new museum.

“We won’t be able to go through everything today,” David Mirvish warned as we entered a non-descript, purpose-built east-end warehouse, accompanied by Eleanor Johnston, the curator of the collection. “We’ll just scratch the surface.”

Epic-scale paintings, mostly from the late 20th century by major artists of that period, such as Jules Olitski’s Purple Golubchik (1962), Morris Louis’ Kaf (1959), Kenneth Noland’s That (1962), and Robert Motherwell’s Figure With Blots (1943), are concealed among many racks until something is pulled out to be viewed by a visitor. In this group of international stars that includes Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler and Hans Hoffman, there’s one Canadian — Jack Bush — who gets a major role.

The collection also has some great sculpture of the same era, notably by the British artist Anthony Caro.

“Color Field works represent the core of the collection,” David Mirvish notes. That’s a movement that began in the early 1950s, flourished in the 1960s and lasted until the late 1970s.

Closely associated with abstract expressionism, with the line sometimes blurred, it’s based on the notion that colour alone can carry the weight of emotion. And in a spirit of wanting to explore how far they could take this concept, many of the most gifted artists of their era, especially in the United States, developed new methods, such as letting paint with vivid colors stain or soak into a canvas.

“The connection between Abstract Expressionism and Color Field is similar to the link between Impressionism and Post-Impressionism,” David Mirvish explains.

In a way, these works of art tell the story of David Mirvish’s own career first act, before he went into partnership with his father, Ed, and became Canada’s dominant theatre tycoon.

Anne Mirvish, David Mirvish’s mother, had been a practising artist for years. And it was with her encouragement that at 18, David Mirvish decided to open his own art gallery on Markham St.

Looking at pictures in New York, Venice and Paris, he was drawn by the romance and excitement of artistic breakthroughs. It wasn’t the old masterpieces that gave him a rush of adrenalin, it was the ones that pushed the boundaries and opened new frontiers.

It was his first encounters with the pictures if Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Frank Stella that had that elusive quality he loved — images that thrilled him, moved him deeply and spoke to him in a new language, without telling stories in the usual sense.

This was the work he wanted to exhibit, to sell, to own, to share, and to champion. He proceeded to do so, encouraged by the New York critic Clement Greenberg, and an exhibition called “Post-Painterly Abstraction,” organized by Greenberg, that visited the AGO in 1964.

It came as a shock to the Toronto art world when in 1978 Mirvish closed his gallery, which by then had become a local institution. His reason was while growing into a big business, being an art dealer and gallery owner had stopped being fun.

“It’s very unusual for a major collection to be created by an individual as a reflection of his own personal taste,” says Gehry. “David puts his own feelings on he table. That makes it very special, and now he wants to share it with Toronto.”

It could be coming soon to a museum near you.



No comments:

Post a Comment