Can we borrow your Monet? How the Cleveland Museum of Art built its fall blockbuster
Posted October 01, 2015 in Articles
Author: Steven Litt
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Organizing a blockbuster exhibition of Impressionist and early modern paintings can cause at least a few queasy moments.
William Robinson of the Cleveland Museum of Art, who co-curated the upcoming "Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse" exhibition, recalls that as of just 18 months ago, the museum had received signed loan agreements for only about a third of the 107 works in the show.
Curator William Robinson at the Cleveland Museum of Art with a certain widely known sculpture by Auguste Rodin.(AP Photo/Ken Blaze)
"We were wondering, 'why aren't we hearing from our colleagues?' [at other museums] Robinson said Monday in an interview. "And you'd call and they'd say, 'you know we have seven requests for this painting.' "
In the end, the museum got most of the loans it sought, but Robinson, the curator of modern European painting and sculpture and a 30-year veteran at the museum, said it wasn't easy.
The cost of such exhibitions can run into the millions for shipping, art handling, insurance, travel expenses for couriers and other items.
Robinson declined to say how much "Painting the Modern Garden" cost.
But he said that with new art museums opening up around the world, especially in China and the Persian Gulf, demand is growing fiercer for loans of Impressionist masterpieces or great works from other popular periods.
"The money isn't the major factor," he said. "If you're asking for a Van Gogh, a museum may have a stack of requests for that painting."
The art of persuasion
To build a case for "Painting the Modern Garden," Robinson said he had to overcome suspicions that Cleveland wanted to show some of the world's most popular and valuable paintings by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and others just to boost attendance.
"I would sit down with colleagues at other museums and they'd say, 'oh, this is going to be very popular,' " Robinson said, pronouncing the word "popular" with a condescending tone.
What's going up: "Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse."
Venue: Cleveland Museum of Art
Where: 11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland.
When: Sunday, Oct. 11 through Tuesday, Jan. 5.
Admission: Adults, $18. For information, call 216-421-7340 or go to clevelandart.org.
But Robinson and the show's co-curator, Ann Dumas, of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, eventually assembled 150 paintings including rarely loaned treasures from private collections.
The scale of the show will make it the biggest displayed so far in the museum's new special exhibit galleries, which total 12,000 square feet and which were built as part of the $320 million expansion and renovation completed in 2013.
Building the case for such a show depends "upon the quality of the exhibition, the freshness of the ideas, the new research that you're bringing to the topic," Robinson said.
"Painting the Modern Garden" combines new research about the popularity of gardens as subject matter and gardening as a pursuit among early modern artists with new scholarship about the explosion of popular and scientific interest in gardening in the late 19th- and early 20th centuries.
It's widely known that the French Impressionist Claude Monet was a passionate gardener; his mural-sized paintings of water lilies were inspired by his large garden in Giverny, about an hour's drive northwest of Paris.