First Words

Art Purchase

By Purcell Scheu Palmer '62

On April 16th, Members of the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center attended a gala dinner and enthusiastically participated in the museum's art acquisition process. They voted for one of three works of art to be donated to the center in honor of its 10th anniversary.

The three artworks under consideration were brought to the campus for the "View and Vote" evening. The attendees in time-honored Vassar tradition were presented with the opportunity to see for themselves what the director, James Mundy '74, and curators, Joel Smith and Patricia Phagan, had selected as desirable additions to the collection. An open forum prior to the vote allowed for an enthusiastic exchange of viewpoints. The Friends gave an important gift to the Art Center, and the Art Center gave the Friends an opportunity to reconnect with the roots of their own interest in the arts in the context of Mundy's lecture, "Building a Museum Collection: An Inside View." The winning selection (pictured above) was Alfred Leslie's Self-Portrait, 1982, which is now hanging in the permanent collection galleries. (The other two pieces under consideration were Robert Colescott's Knowledge of the Past is Key to the Future: The Other Washingtons, 1987, and Richard Serra's Spiral Cord, 2001.)

Leslie was born in the Bronx in 1927 and studied art briefly at the Art Students League and New York University (where his teacher was Tony Smith) in the late 1940s under the G.I. Bill®. His first paintings were cast in the mold of the Abstract Expressionists, and he was regarded as one of the most talented of the second generation. He turned away from abstraction in the early 1960s in favor of portraying everyday people in an heroic manner steeped in tenebrism, a style inspired by Caravaggio. Among his best-known images are the standing self-portraits he began painting in the late '60s, to which this image of the artist relates. The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center has a strong core of mid-to-late 20th century realism. (A key, early exhibition of this material, entitled Realism Now, was organized at Vassar by Linda Weinberg Nochlin '51 in 1968.) Other realist works in the collection from this period are by Jane Wilson, Jane Freilicher, Don Nice, Alex Katz, and William Bailey. The Art Center owns two lithographs by Alfred Leslie.

Purcell Scheu Palmer '62, chair of the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center