National Gallery of Art to get 250 works from Virginia Dwan Collection


Dan Flavin (American, 1933 - 1996). “‘monument’ for V. Tatlin,” 1966, cool white fluorescent light. (Joshua Nefsky/Collection of Virginia Dwan)
September 26, 2013

The National Gallery of Art has received a promised gift of 250 paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs from American art collector and gallerist Virginia Dwan.

The pledge includes works by 52 modern artists, such as Robert Smithson, Yves Klein, Ad Reinhardt, Sol LeWitt and Agnes Martin. The gallery noted that the gift will enhance a number of areas in its permanent collection, including postwar abstraction and minimalism.

Dwan is the former owner and director of the Dwan Gallery, which had locations in Los Angeles and New York in the 1960s and ’70s. Among her most famous group exhibitions was “My Country ’Tis of Thee” in 1962, one of the earliest pop art shows.

“The National Gallery of Art is thrilled to be the beneficiary of Ms. Dwan’s seminal collection,” gallery Director Earl A. Powell III said in a statement. “The pledge will significantly strengthen our holdings of art from the 1960s and 1970s.”

The works will go on display for the exhibition, “From Los Angeles to New York: The Dwan Gallery 1959-1971,” when the East Building galleries reopen in 2016 after a planned closure for maintenance and expansion beginning next year. Among the most important parts of the bequest are more than 30 works by Smithson, one of the leading figures in land art. The gallery will also receive prints from Smithson’s 1970 film “Spiral Jetty,” commissioned by Dwan.


Yves Klein (French,1928 - 1962). “Blue Monochrome,” 1960 IKB on board 15 3/4 x 14 inches. (Dorothy Zeidman/Collection of Virginia Dwan)

James Meyer, curator of the exhibition, said the works “fill in areas that really needed to be filled [at the gallery]. The gift includes five monochrome paintings by Yves Klein. We had none before. ”

Meyer, an associate curator of contemporary art at the gallery, met Dwan while researching his book “Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the 1960s,” and helped to facilitate Dwan’s gift. Before the announcement, Dwan had given only two Smithson sculptures to the gallery, announced in July. The bequest marks her largest pledged gift to any museum.

“She has been very generous over the years, giving to the Weatherspoon Art [Museum] and the Walker Art [Center] in Minneapolis, where she was originally from,” Meyer said. “But this gift represents the bulk of her collection and the most personal works — her legacy.”

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.
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