John F. O’Brien Fund Educates Students and Expands Center’s Print Collection
In 2014, John O’Brien, a longtime Friend of British Art, established a fund that created a program in support of arts education at the Center. The program aims to increase undergraduates’ appreciation of, and commitment to, the arts by involving them in the acquisition process. “I want to provide students with the confidence to join the world of collectors,” said O’Brien.
During the fall semester of 2015, the second time that this program has been offered, five of the Center’s student guides, Irene Chung (BR ’17), Anna Meixler (ES ’16), Zoe Doebler (TC ’17), Claire Goldsmith (ES ’18), and Ari Zimmet (CC ’17), became familiar with the Center’s rich holdings of contemporary prints. Working under the guidance of Gillian Forrester, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings; and Linda Friedlaender, Senior Curator of Education; with assistance from Lisa Thornell, Senior Curatorial Assistant of Prints and Drawings; and Jaime Ursic, Assistant Curator of Education, the students experienced a full immersion into the history of prints and the Center’s acquisition process. A series of recommended readings, group discussions, lectures, and excursions outside the museum led to a visit to the International Fine Print Dealers Association Print Fair in New York in November. At the fair, students viewed contemporary British prints available for sale and met with London-based print publishers, including David Roberts of Alan Cristea Gallery, Florian Simm of Paragon Press, and Paul Stolper of Paul Stolper Gallery.
Each student selected a work to propose as a potential acquisition. In the process of researching their chosen work and preparing a presentation, an important component was communicating directly with the printmakers. “I was able to have many of my questions answered by the artist directly through e-mail or Skype,” said Goldsmith. The students gathered detailed information about the artists’ processes, material choices, and backgrounds. Many of these conversations were highlighted in the student presentations. “Gordon’s work offers cross-pollination, an Eastern perspective applied to the dialogue found in Western art,” said Chung, explaining the artist Gordon Cheung’s global view and cultural connection to the United Kingdom and China. The five student guides persuasively presented to an acquisitions committee comprised of Amy Meyers, Director; Gillian Forrester; Linda Friedlaender; Scott Wilcox, Deputy Director of Collections; and Matthew Hargraves, Chief Curator of Art Collections and Head of Collections Information and Access.
Following the presentations and deliberation, the committee selected two digital prints by Gordon Cheung, Jan Davidzs. De Heem I (Small New Order) (2015) and Jan Davidsz. De Heem II (Small New Order) (2015), proposed by Irene Chung (BR ’17), and a linocut by Marie Harnett, Costume Party (2015), chosen by Anna Meixler (ES ’16). These works were acquired with funds from the John F. O’Brien endowment, generously augmented by additional gifts from both John O’Brien and his brother, Francis.
Amy Meyers noted with appreciation, “The magnanimous gift of Mr. O’Brien’s endowment, and this splendid added support, enabled the student guides to learn about the collecting processes of a museum firsthand, while honing their skills as collectors in their own right. The experience was exciting and enjoyable for everyone involved, and resulted in superb additions to the Center’s holdings of contemporary prints.”
While the inaugural year of the program focused on historic drawings, future years will concentrate on photographs, rare books, paintings, and sculpture. “This is a unique program among universities” added Friedlaender.