ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Degas in Petaluma—Robert Flynn Johnson’s impeccable collection of Degas drawings are at the Petaluma Arts Center, opening festivities Saturday evening

Degas’ portrait of Mlle Dembowska, black crayon on pink paper, 1858-1859, 17.5 x 11.5 inches, is one of the most important works in Robert Flynn Johnson’s collection of Degas drawings, on display at Petaluma Arts Center through July 26, 2105.  Flynn Johnson acquired this work in 1978.  Degas used black crayon, a medium he was not very familiar with (he normally used pencil) and the heavy shadowing emphasizing the young woman’s face and its positioning vis a vis the angle of the chair, upsets the strict conventions of portraiture.  The catalogue entry associated with this drawing cites 1858 correspondence from Auguste De Gas that suggests the young artist was bored with drawing portraits to satisfy familial obligations. Image: Robert Flynn Johnson, Petaluma Art Center

Degas’ portrait of Mlle Dembowska, black crayon on pink paper, 1858-1859, 17.5 x 11.5 inches, is one of the most important works in Robert Flynn Johnson’s collection of Degas drawings, on display at Petaluma Arts Center through July 26, 2105. Flynn Johnson acquired this work in 1978. Degas used black crayon, a medium he was not very familiar with (he normally used pencil). The heavy shadowing, emphasizing the young woman’s face, and the head’s positioning vis a vis the angle of the chair, upsets strict conventions of portraiture. The catalogue entry associated with this drawing cites 1858 correspondence from Auguste De Gas that suggests the young artist was bored with drawing portraits to satisfy familial obligations. Image: Robert Flynn Johnson, Petaluma Art Center

 “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle or shorthand…“Degas in Petaluma”…. is Petaluma Art Center’s (PAC) biggest coup to date.  Featuring 100+ works on paper, the exhibition includes 40 drawings, prints, pastels, and photographs by Degas from his early days of making studies of works at the Louvre to late in his career.  Also included in the show are works on paper by artists in his circle, including Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this exhibit is that gives me another chance to meet the collector, Robert Flynn Johnson, and hear him hold court on his favorite subject, his art and his thought processes about art and collecting.  I met him 20 years back when he was the curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He was one of their most interesting and knowledgeable curators then, always giving us the juiciest tidbits, enlivening the small victories and defeats in the artist’s daily struggle and reveling in the connections between artists. His own eclectic collecting habits were revealed to us with his marvelous photography show, “Anonymous: 19th and 20th Century Photographs and Quilts by Unknown Artists from the Collection of Robert Flynn Johnson,” at PAC in August 2011. (Click here to read ARThound’s review of that show.)  And late last year, Joe McDonald’s Ice House Gallery featured some of Flynn Johnson’s even more eclectic works in “Catch and Release: Works from the Robert Flynn Johnson Collection.”  It was there that we all had a chance to preview the chic and wonderfully informative catalog for Flynn Johnson’s Degas collection that Joe had shot the images for.  Flynn Johnson’s writing in this catalog represents decades of scholarly research and rumination and reveals Degas as a fascinating young man, oddly rebellious and immensely talented.  As Flynn Johnson explores the fine details and artistic choices in these artworks, they come to life.  He wrote the wonderful wall captions for the show too, so prepare to be wowed on all fronts.

You won’t want to miss the opening party or his two talks at PAC—

Edgar Degas'

Edgar Degas’ “Study for Plough Horse,” ca. 1860-61, graphite drawing, is part of the Petaluma Art Center’s summer show, “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle.” Forty drawings, prints, pastels, and photographs by Degas and over 100 works on paper from the private collection of Robert Flynn Johnson, through July 26, 2015. Photo: courtesy Robert Flynn Johnson

Saturday, June 20—Opening Reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres (5-8PM) (click here to buy $10 tickets if you are not a member of PAC; free to members)

Thursday, July 2, 2015—Chasing Degas:  My Four Decades Collecting this Artist and his Circle – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM).  $15 General, $10 PAC members.

Thursday, July 16, 2015—Public/ Private: Collecting for the Community while Collecting Personally, a Balancing Act  – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM).  $15 General, $10 PAC members.

Details:  “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle runs through July 26, 2015.  The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma’s historic former train depot.  Hours 11-5 PM Thursday through Monday, open until 8PM Saturdays.  Admission for this special exhibit: $10 General.  PAC members, FREE.  Tickets may be purchased in advance, here.

Collector Robert Flynn Johnson. San Francisco artist Josephine Coniglio’s portrait “Robert Flynn Johnson, the Picture Inspector,” oil on panel, 24 x 20 inches.  Photo: © Josephine Coniglio

Collector Robert Flynn Johnson. San Francisco artist Josephine Coniglio’s portrait “Robert Flynn Johnson, the Picture Inspector,” oil on panel, 24 x 20 inches. Photo: © Josephine Coniglio

June 20, 2015 Posted by | Art, Petaluma Arts Council | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anonymous but unforgettable: the collections of Robert Flynn Johnson, opening at Petaluma Arts Center Saturday, talk Sunday

When the facts are unknown, the imagination takes over. Robert Flynn Johnson's superb collection of anonymous 19th and 20th century photography is on display at the Petauma Arts Center through September 18, 2011. image courtesy Petaluma Arts Center

If you love compelling photography, drop by the Petaluma Arts Center this weekend for its latest fête – an exquisite and intriguing selection of photographs from unknown photographers from the private collection of Robert Flynn Johnson.  Johnson, recently retired as curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, is a consummate collector of many things and, along with these photographs, 12 of his 19th century quilts are on display.  The exhibition is aptly named “Anonymous: 19th and 20th Century Photographs and Quilts by Unknown Artists from the Collection of Robert Flynn Johnson.”   Flynn bought most of these exquisite photos years ago and for a song, before they became collectible.  He frequented estate sales and flea markets all over the world and acquired some through serendipitous channels in his day job as a curator for the Achenbach Foundation. Several of the photographs will pull their weight along side the photos of the great masters and the collection, in its entirety, has a solid place in the history of photography. 

Robert Flynn Johnson will speak about his collection of anonymous photography and quilts at the Petaluma Arts Center Sunday, August 14, 2011. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The images assembled at the Petaluma Arts Center make the cut for their formal and aesthetic qualities as well as visually exciting bizarreness, and social interest.  The take-away depends entirely upon your taste, but there is something for everyone.  Along with stunning Victorian portraits, whose soft lighting evokes the romanticism of Julia Margaret Cameron, there is a diptych of a bullfight in a stadium somewhere in Spain and the audience is a dizzying sea of Nazi soldiers enmeshed in the spectacle of a slow blood fight.   And if you’re intrigued by bravado bordering on foolhardiness, Johnson’s grouping of photographs of gravity-defying balancing acts from NY rooftops will leave you utterly queasy.

Several of the photographs convey a special emotional or spiritual aura and others are special because their compositions are interrupted by some unforeseen but gripping action, such as a cat racing through just as the photo was snapped, leaving a streak across the foreground. And, if you love dogs, be prepared to be charmed by some stunning old portraits, in particular a Victorian-era portrait evoking pure love between a woman and her dog, both seated on her velvet couch.  All of the works on display are portals to the lyrical, humorous, sad and transcendent aspects of our humanity.  Oddly, not knowing who took these photos or why, doesn’t strip them of any of their poignancy, it seems to enhance our access to deeply-held, even repressed, sentiments.  

The hand-made quilts too are fabulous and the few on display, excellent examples of abstraction, speak to Johnson’s fine collecting eye.  Often velvety with wear and pieced together from family clothing and cherished fabrics, they play well with overall theme of memory-gathering coming through in the photos.

A portrait from the collection of Robert Flynn Johnson on display at the Petaluma Arts Center through September 18, 2011.

Johnson is an informative and engaging speaker.  On Sunday he will be in conversation with prominent vernacular photography collector Robert E. Jackson, who is coming from Seattle for the talk, and San Francisco gallerist and collector, Robert Tat, owner of Robert Tat Gallery.   In 2007, Robert E. Jackson’s collection of anonymous snapshots was the subject of an important exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888–1978: From the Collection of Robert E. Jackson, the first major exhibition, accompanied by a scholarly catalogue, to examine the evolution of snapshot imagery in America.  That show began with the invention of the Kodak camera in 1888 and extended through the 1970s, tracing a rich vocabulary of shared subjects, approaches, and styles.

ARThound will soon be publishing a full interview with Robert Flynn Johnson but is waiting for permissions to reprint the accompanying photos. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011,  4-7 p.m. opening reception to coincide with Petaluma Downtown Art Walk

Sunday, August 14, 2011, 2-4 p.m., Panel Discussion—Robert Flynn Johnson in conversation with vernacular photography collector Robert E. Jackson and gallery owner and collector Robert Tat.

Details:  The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma, CA  94952. (707) 762-5600.  “Anonymous” ends September 18, 2011.

August 11, 2011 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment