After devoting the spring and summer to contemporary art in the form of the North Atlantic Triennial and the superb Katherine Bradford exhibition, the Portland Museum of Art is delving into the past in a serious way with a trio of fall exhibitions featuring gifts and loans from some of its biggest patrons.
“Presence: The Photography Collection of Judy Glickman Lauder” (Sept. 30-Jan. 15, 2023) is a survey of some of the greatest 20th-century photographers featuring 150 prints by some 70 photographers, among them Berenice Abbott, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, and Sally Mann.
“Surrealist Play Gone Astray” (through Oct. 23) is a feast of surrealist fantasies by the likes of Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Joan Miro, and Yves Tanguy. The show features 20 objects from the collection of Isabelle and Scott Black.
“It’s a good cross-section of how Surrealism helps to get us to think more freely about how you can make art,” PMA chief curator Shalini Le Gall said of the Black collection.
And “The Draftsman in Society: German Expressionist Prints” (through Dec. 11) is a dark and intense exhibition of prints that are gifts of David and Eva Bradford.
Taken together, the photographs, Surrealist works, and Expressionist prints are a fitting fall transition, offerings made to a season of dying light, drying air, and cooler temperatures after a long, hot summer of colorful whimsy.
“We love it when the shows talk to one another,” Le Gall, who came to PMA in 2020 from the Colby College Museum of Art, said.
Glickman Lauder may be the museum’s chief patron these days. She has given not only some 650 photographs to the museum – which increased the museum’s photography holdings by about 25 percent – but has also endowed both the Judy and Leonard Lauder director of the museum and the Judy Glickman Lauder associate curator of photography, a position filled last fall by Anjuli Lebowitz, formerly a photography curator at the National Gallery of Art.
“The theme that runs through ‘Presence,’” Lebowitz said, “is what drew Judy to these photographs, what moved her.” As to the impact of the Lauder gift, Lebowitz believes, “This will put PMA on the map in the photography field.”
Glickman Lauder is no stranger to local audiences, her own haunting photographs having been shown in 2010 at the University of Maine Museum of Art and in 2012 at the University of New England. Works from her collection were shown at PMA in 2017, and in 2007 she published a book about photographs by her father, California pictorialist Irving Bennett Ellis.
Lauder is originally from California and came to Portland when she married Albert Glickman, a Portland native who made his fortune in Los Angeles real estate. Glickman died in 2013 and two years later Judy Glickman married Leonard Lauder, director emeritus of the Estée Lauder cosmetic company.
Scott Black is a native of Portland, where his family owned a wholesale grocery business. He founded Boston-based Delphi Management, a money management and investment firm, in 1980. Black began collecting Impressionist art and has expanded over the years into early 20th century European modernism.
Works from the Blacks’ collection are almost constantly on view at PMA. In 2017, the museum mounted “The Mistress and the Muse: Selections from the Isabelle and Scott Black Collection.”
David and Eva Bradford are not as well known locally as Glickman Lauder and Black, but they have given more than 150 prints to the museum. The Bradfords live in Berkeley, California, and summer near Wiscasset.
The coincidence of these three patronage shows demonstrates how much the Portland Museum of Art, like almost all art museums, depends on the generosity of its collectors and donors. Museums have to take what they can get. These autumnal shows provide an excellent opportunity for the public to see what that is.
Edgar Allen Beem has been writing about art in Maine since 1978. He also writes the weekly opinion column, The Universal Notebook.