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Carnegie Museum acquires a collection of works from 2013 International

| Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Greenhouse Media
Vincent Fecteau's papier mâché and acrylic paint work called 'Untitled' was purchased through The Henry L. Hillman Fund.
'Noah,' an acrylic on canvas by Henry Taylor, is a gift of Nancy and Milton Washington.

In what must approach the art world's equivalent of Black Friday, the Carnegie Museum of Art has just completed the acquisition of some three dozen works by 15 artists whose pieces are part of the 2013 Carnegie International.

A second round of acquisitions will be announced in early 2014.

When completed, the newly acquired collection of sculptures, paintings, drawings, videos and photographs will represent approximately 80 percent of the 35 artists from 19 countries. The International remains on display through March 16.

“This is what Andrew Carnegie told us to do,” says Lynn Zelevansky, the Henry J. Heinz Director of Carnegie Museum of Art.

Zelevansky points out that the museum has made a point of adding significant International exhibition pieces to the museum's collection of contemporary art since Carnegie inaugurated the now-quadrennial exhibitions in 1896.

More art works may have been added to the museum's collection from other Internationals, but the percentage of artists represented in the acquisitions is unusually high this time, Zelevansky says.

She believes that's because the show's curators were particularly disciplined in choosing the artists for the show.

Daniel Baumann, co-creator of the 2013 Carnegie International, says he traveled the world looking for works to exhibit, not purchase.

“What you have to achieve first is a great exhibit,” Baumann says. “When you organize an exhibit of this scale … you bring in (artists) you think are particularly relevant at the moment. ... There is no single piece in the world that talks about the moment.”

Sculptures by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, Brazilian artist Erika Verzutti and American artist Vincent Fecteau all reflect an interest in minimalism, imperfect surfaces and a use of non-traditional materials. Female sculpture artists such as Verzutti and British artist Phyllida Barlow were making their own works and breaking away from the styles of white male artists.

But, Baumann says: “It's when they are together in a space that they talk to each other.”

Choosing works for the museum's permanent collection comes with a separate set of criteria, Zelevansky says. Some works in the International, such as Colombian artist Gabriel Sierra's Untitled (informally known as the Purple Hall of Architecture), is deliberately temporary, she says. “It will live on until we decide what we next want to do with the Hall.”

Some don't make the cut because they are made of materials that were deliberately chosen for a potential to decay.

Others are simply unavailable: All of French artists Nicole Eisenman's paintings displayed at the International were already sold, for example.

There are risks and gambles in choosing art for the long term. Even curators and art experts know the work that they love and connect with today may not withstand the tests of time and changing tastes.

“You are buying more because you don't know what will be important,” Zelevansky says.

Fortunately, museums don't have to deal with the “But where will we put it?” question.

Unlike private buyers, who may lack a wall big enough to showcase American artist Wade Guyton's 104-square-foot inkjet-on-linen “Untitled,” museums have expansive galleries as well as storage space that allows them to collect enough contemporary art to rotate gallery installations.

Fortunately, she adds, works such as Barlow's 2,023.54-cubic-foot sculpture “Untitled: upturnedhouse” can be disassembled for storage.

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