Nasher’s national mark

Nov. 16, 2013 @ 11:14 PM

With the onset of basketball season, it’s easy to focus on Duke University’s long-standing stature in the world of college basketball.  And with the football team bowl-bound for the second consecutive year -- and assured of its first winning season since 1994 -- the sports excitement among Duke fans is unusually high-pitched.

Of course, Duke plays on the national stage in countless areas -- granted that few of them are commonly featured live on national television.

Another reminder of Duke’s many areas of prominence was the announcement last week the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University will organize a major exhibition early next year that then will tour some of the country’s top museums.

“Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist,” opening Jan. 30, will be the first retrospective of that America painter’s work in two decades.

In announcing the exhibition, the Nasher noted that “despite the broad appeal of his paintings, Motley is one of the least visible 20th-century artists,” in part because many of his most important works are in private collections and rarely viewed publicly.

“Motley’s body of work spans 40 years, and ‘Jazz Age Modernist’ will introduce wider audiences to his colorful work,” the Nasher release said.

The exhibition certainly should provide a wider audience for Motley’s paintings. Once it finishes its run at the Nasher May 11, 2014, the exhibit will travel to the Amon Carter Musuem of American Art in Fort Worth, Tex.; the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; the Chicago Cultural Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

The exhibit continues the Nasher’s growing portfolio of exhibitions organized here and then making a splash in the larger art world. Perhaps the most noted was 2008’s “El Greco to Velazquez: Art during the Reign of Phillip III,” organized in concert with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The subject matter of the Motley calls to mind other major exhibits organized here, “The Jazz Loft Project” and “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool.” The Nasher has placed considerable emphasis on acquiring and showcasing contemporary artists.

The Nasher has once again drawn on a Duke faculty member to put together a major exhibit. The Motley show has been organized by Richard J. Powell, John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke, and recipient of the Smithsonian’s Lawrence A. Fleischman Award for Scholarly Excellence in the Field of American Art History.

Powell and his students curated another exhibition at the Nasher, “Conjuring Bearden,” in 2006 shortly after the museum’s opening.

In announcing the Motley exhibit last week, Sarah Schroth, the Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher, said the museum is “extremely proud to present this dazzling selection of paintings by… a master colorist and radical interpreter of urban culture. We are honored to introduce this important American artist to the general public."

We share in the museum’s pride and are honored to have had this gem added to the city’s cultural landscape less than a decade ago.