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Salmagundi Club: An American Institution Curator’s Collection Exhibition

By Raymond J. Steiner
ART TIMES June 2004

WITH A ROSTER of notable artists that stretch back through its 132-year history, there is little wonder that a selection from its permanent collection might well become an exhibition representing a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ in American art. Mounted under the guiding hand of Gary Erbe who both initiated and curated the project, “An American Institution Curator’s Collection Exhibition” gives every indication that this was a labor of love, a gleaning that could only have been put together with the discerning eye of a fellow painter. A “painter’s” show, Erbe has brought together the work of some sixty or so past Salmagundians, the high level of the work exhibited clear testimony to the overall quality of the Club’s membership.
            Although there is no explicit indication as to the precise range of years represented by the work in the show, both style and subject offer clues as to its wide reach. Titles such as “1939 World’s Fair” (by Hobart Nichols) fix a definite date of reference, but generally it is more often dress (e.g. In portraits such as Samuel Isham’s “Portrait of a Lady,” Charles Chapman’s “Portrait of a Woman,” Howard L. Hildebrandt’s “Mother and Two Girls,” Howard Chandler Christy’s “Portrait of a Young Girl,” Harry Roseland’s “The Preacher (Black Orator) or Albert Rosenthal’s “Portrait of C. Wiggins”) and setting (e.g. in Giovanni Martino’s “Street Scene,” Frank Russel Green’s “Horse & Cart,” or Charles Gruppe’s “Leading Cows Home”) that indicate a span of time that clearly covers a good portion of the 1900s.
            In addition to the several portraits and city and/or landscapes that are in the show, there are also a fair sampling of still lifes, seascapes and studies that show the Salmagundian strong commitment to traditional craft and realism in art. Non-figurative and abstract art is still largely absent from the exhibitions at the Salmagundi and this show highlights just how long this custom has been diligently honored among its members. Alongside those mentioned above, one can also find the works of such past members as John Costigan, Emil Carlsen, Hugh Bolton Jones, John Noble, Robert Blum, Frank Mason, Guy Wiggins, John Carlson, Daniel Greene, Charles Hawthorne, and many more.
            The first of its shows ever to travel, the exhibit also includes a favorite Salmagundian touch — the inclusion of artist’s palettes (Gari Melcher, Emil Carlsen, John Francis Murphy, William Merritt Chase, Ralph Blakelock, Carl Blenner and Ernest Lawson are represented) and some of the famous Salmagundi drinking mugs — in this case those of such notables as W. Granville Smith, John Francis Murphy, F. Ballard Williams, Carle J. Blenner and Charles Volkmar.
After it closes at the Club on Fifth Avenue, the show will travel to the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, Owensboro, KY (Aug-Oct ’04); Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke, VA (Nov ’04); Dubuque Museum of Art, Dubuque, IA (Jan ’05); Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville, AL (Apr ’05); Cheekwood Museum of Art, Nashville, TN (Sep ’05); Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA (Jan ’06); Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, WV (Apr ’06); Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art, Collegeville, PA (Oct ’06); Muskegon Museum of Art, Muskegon, MI (Dec ’06); and Bergston-Mahler Museum, Neenah, WI (Mar ’07).
            Though the Salmagundi Club’s long history and standing as one of America’s oldest art clubs have assured its everlasting place in the history of American art, this exhibit and its long tour to a wider audience will surely add to its luster. Kudos to Gary Erbe and his co-workers — Ruth Reininghaus, Kenneth W. Fitch, Allan Smith and Ilene Skeen — who have worked to put the show together and to Richard Pionk, President of the Salmagundi Club, for overseeing the entire project.
*“Salmagundi Club: An American Institution Curator’s Collection Exhibition:” The Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Ave., NYC 212-255-7740.