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In the past two years, there has been a wave of new administrators, artists and conductors who have been hired to lead the cultural institutions in Dallas’ Arts District. The Nasher Sculpture Center is the latest, having hired Jeremy Strick from Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art.
But while Strick may be the newest arts director in town, he already calls the sculptures in the Nasher collection “old friends.”
Twenty years ago, Strick was an assistant curator at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Pretty much his first assignment, Strick says, was preparing Raymond and Patsy Nasher’s sculptures for a joint exhibition at the National Gallery and the Dallas Museum of Art. Strick flew to Dallas, he stayed with the Nashers, he helped install their artworks in Washington, he wrote about the collection for the exhibition catalog.
STRICK: “It was really an important moment for me. The first major exhibition I’d worked on, the encounter with these masterpieces, the encounter with these collectors.”
Strick says he’s was bowled over by the collection’s comprehensiveness.
For what grew out of a shared personal interest, the Nasher offers practically a classroom history of modern sculpture. It begins with early efforts by Auguste Rodin (left, Age of Bronze from 1876) and extends all the way to more current works by Jeff Koons (right, Louis XIV from 1986)
STRICK: “But it is in no way a postage stamp collection. It’s not a matter of one of this, and one of that and one of that. The Nashers had great passion for certain artists who they collected in depth. So whether it’s Giacometti or Picasso or David Smith, these concentrations really give the collection a very particular character.”
One of Strick’s personal favorites from the collection is David Smith’s Voltri VI (below). The sculptor created it for the Spoleto Festival in 1962, and it was originally displayed in a Roman amphitheater. So seeing the work in the Texas sunlight and with Renzo Piano’s marble walls, Strick says, it only heightened the sense that the piece belonged here.
Part of the Nasher collection’s character, Strick says, is its dual nature. It was a private display for the Nasher’s home; they lived with these sculptures.
But early in their arts patronage, the Nashers also started to rotate works for public view at NorthPark Mall. They also sent their collection out to museums in Florence, Israel, New York and San Francisco. Strick says Ray Nasher was so keen on sharing his favorites he often would watch people as they encountered a sculpture for the first time.
STRICK: “I think he just derived enormous pleasure from seeing people experience this collection.”
After working at the National Gallery, Strick pursued his career at the Art Institute of Chicago. But he’s best known for his leadership of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art. While Strick was there the past nine years, MOCA became a major player in contemporary art. It regularly received national attention for the exhibitions Strick put together. The ambitious museum has three facilities around Los Angeles and more than 5000 pieces in its permanent collection.
But Strick’s successes there have been overshadowed by the financial wall MOCA hit last year. The museum nearly folded. It was saved by a last-minute, $30 million grant from philanthropist Eli Broad.
Strick says he had been in talks with the Nasher months before the crisis hit. And he departed soon after the Broad grant was arranged.
From the start, Strick says, MOCA suffered from basic financial weaknesses. He had to spend so much effort just trying to keep the doors open. He couldn’t raise money to increase the museum’s endowment, which was sorely needed.
STRICK: “At MOCA, we were raising 80 percent of your annual operating cost. So it was a steep hill to climb.”
Strick notes the situation is the reverse at the Nasher – it has a small collection and a small facility. But it has a 100 million dollar endowment. MOCA’s was less than 20 million.
Strick points to the excitement in Dallas art circles these days and the beauty of Renzo Piano’s building as other reasons to take the job at the Nasher. And the Nasher, he says, is a living collection. It was never intended to be frozen. The board is interested in acquiring new works.
So Jeremy Strick may be getting some new friends to join his old ones in the Nasher collection.
Nasher Sculpture Center exterior shot by Claudio Zanotto