One of the things I love about an exhibition of a private collection — as with the Pruzan collection now on view at the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) — is that you get to wander around and imagine yourself as a collector. Would I buy that? Where on earth would all of this art go in my little house?
In fact, how does all of this art fit in the Pruzans’ presumably quite big home on Queen Anne, in Seattle?
Herb and Lucy Pruzan own a lot of art. Really good, often great, art by Northwest artists. The catalog that accompanies the show has some wonderful photos of the Pruzan home, chock-a-bloc with paintings, prints and sculpture by some of the biggest names to come out of the area: William Cumming, Sherry Markovitz, Alden Mason, Ginny Ruffner and Preston Singletary, to name just a few.
There are several reasons for devoting a big chunk of museum space to a private collection.
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Certainly wooing has something to do with it. Curators want this art to end up in their institutions. Look carefully at the labels and you can see that a few works have already been given, or promised, to TAM and Seattle Art Museum. TAM is lucky to be receiving, among other gifts, a stunning, abstract (untitled) painting by William Ivey and a fantastic, cartoonishly surreal Gaylen Hansen painting titled “Four Fish and a Girl on a Blanket.”
Also among the promised gifts is one of my favorite works in the whole collection: Akio Takamori’s “Actor,” which pairs one of the artist’s always-interesting ceramic figurines with a large-scale print of the same work.
The collection is strong on ceramics, a testament to the vibrancy of ceramic activity in the region. In addition to several works by Takamori, there are excellent pieces by Claudia Fitch, Jeffry Mitchell and Jamie Walker.
Regional strengths are reflected in other areas of the collection: glass, landscapes, abstract paintings and twisted-but-playful figurative paintings by such artists as Fay Jones and James Martin.
So, the collection is great and the exhibition looks great. (I particularly like the way some sculptures are placed high on the walls.) But the framing of the show is a bit of a stretch. Does the Pruzan collection fully “trace the rapid evolution of Northwest art,” as the PR materials suggest? Not really. There are big categories missing: photography, installation and the high-tech stuff that’s been so important to the area.
And that’s fine. A private collection does not need to be deep and wide. The beauty of a show like this is getting a sense of a well-loved, personal accumulation of works.
Long before “buy local” was a catch phrase, the Pruzans agreed that they would buy edgy contemporary work made in the Northwest, rather than looking to New York, as most collectors did in the late 1950s when the Pruzans got started. They also made the forward-thinking decision to collect emerging artists, not the already-established Northwest mystics (although there is an appropriately moody painting by Guy Anderson in the collection).
I also love that the Pruzans started collecting early in their marriage, buying a painting for their first apartment to “make it a home.” The process of collecting and the collection itself are intertwined with domestic life.
Which brings us to another reason why museums mount shows of private collections. While I’m sure the Pruzans throw some great parties, there are only so many people who get to enjoy the art in their home. Now, we all get to take a good long look.