Friday, January 29, 2010

SFMOMA: Amazing Grace McCann Morley, (II)

  "If art of today is overlooked, or misunderstood, the loss is serious. Art fails then to give its full value to daily life." * Grace McCann Morley.

 When Morley retired, she left behind a thriving organization with forty-four hundred members and a collection of over three thousand works of art. She tacked San Francisco's provincial outlook with missionary zeal. When she purchased Klee's painting "Fast getroffen" (Nearly Hit, 1927), a disgruntled anonymous museum member sent her a note, "What a disgrace for a choice." She responded with grace, courtesy and a clear-eyed goal of broadening the museum's vision. There are numerous examples in the exhibit of her friendly but non-nonsense answer to these critics, from typewritten letters (no typos!) to the education programs and films at the museum. Her reply to another letter questioning the purchase of another piece of modern art was to suggest a course and a reading list. She was no pompous elitist nor did she sneer at those who didn't immediately share her goals of promoting cultural democracy - "that art should be available to everyone. She held firm convictions about the crucial role that museums could play in this endeavor: "If art of today is overlooked, or misunderstood, the loss is serious. Art fails then to give its full value to daily life." *

Picasso, La Cruche Fleurie, 1937

While never being condescending, Morley's "something for everyone" philosophy paid double dividends when she presented a Picasso retrospective in 1940. There was such great public interest that, on the last day of the show, thirteen hundred visitors refused to leave "until they had had their fill." The event was so amazing that it was reported in over fifty newspapers all over the country.

Fast Getroffea, 1928

The article accompanying this piece was written by Grace. It's one of the clearest and most eloquent pieces on both Klee and art that I have ever read. "Art is not always solemn. Artists often invite the public to laugh with them.." On this particular piece, "..the colors and brush strokes create a background full of life; the direct, economic lines produce a shorthand symbol of narrow of a narrow escape...Much of Klee's work has this power of symbol and art." (Life Magazine, 1935).

Braque, Vase, Palette et Mandoline, 1936
*Bishop, Janet, Keller Corey, Roberts Sarah (eds). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 75 Years of Looking Forward. Catalogue to the exhibition.  2010. Essay by Kara Kirk, pp 71-76.

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