Master strokes
AGWA Director Stefano Carboni and New York Museum of Modern Art director Glenn D. Lowry with Jasper John's map. Picture: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian.

Glenn D. Lowry runs one of the most highly respected and progressive art museums in the world. The director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York presides over a staff of 750 and the world's most comprehensive collection of contemporary art, which encompasses many of the masterpieces of the past century among its 200,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, multimedia, architectural and design objects.

For the next three years, MoMA effectively will maintain a revolving-door branch in Perth as six exhibitions drawn from its vast collection follow in quick succession at the Art Gallery of WA.

The MoMA series begins in spectacular fashion this week with Picasso to Warhol: Fourteen Modern Masters, a feast of more than 130 major works from the 20th century on a scale never before seen in WA.

Chronologically sandwiched between the works of Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol are those by Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Fernand Leger, Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio De Chirico, Joan Miro, Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock.

Many of the works in this exhibition toured to Atlanta, Georgia, but Perth is their only southern hemisphere destination before they return to New York.

Walking through the exhibition yesterday, Dr Lowry said the MoMA-Perth partnership epitomised how institutions overcame the limitations of their physical space by increased collaborations across international boundaries.

"Works of art, I believe, are meant to be shared," he said. "They are meant to be seen and enjoyed by people around the world. The way we can learn about each other is to look at the most important manifestations of our own creative expression and to share those with each other. It becomes incumbent on us as cultural institutions to find ways of moving objects from one place to another so they can be seen and enjoyed and appreciated by as many people as possible."

"I happen to be one of those people who believe there are no centres and there are no peripheries. We are all interconnected and Perth is part of a complex network of places in the world that are interesting to explore and our pleasure is to be able to keep building audiences for modern art."

Dr Lowry's affinity with AGWA director Stefano Carboni, a former curator of Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few blocks from MoMA in Manhattan, had been the key to securing what he called a well-rounded and well-founded relationship.

"Stefano is an old friend and great colleague and were it not for him, we would never have agreed to lend so many of our cherished and important works of art here," he said.

Having partnered with the Perth gallery in the past, such as in the 1996 touring exhibition of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works from the William S. Paley Collection, MoMA was primed to take the next step by way of the six- exhibition agreement.

"Western Australia is a fascinating place," Dr Lowry said. "It is kind of a pivot point between different parts of the world. So it seemed a natural, given Stefano's experience in New York and our friendship."

Such is the peerless breadth of its collection that MoMA is the only institution in the world able fully to tell the story of the development of modern art.

The museum was founded in 1929 with that very purpose. Its first director, Alfred Barr, was evangelical about modern art at a time when few people knew that such a thing existed.

When Barr began buying art, the competition was minimal, as were the costs; in bidding for many of the early modern masterpieces that make this collection so special today - the major Matisses and Picassos, the works of the Russian Constructivists - he was up against only a handful of private collectors.

Barr was the first head of an institution to see that modern art should be museum art, too, and he saw it as MoMA's job to create an audience where none existed. Other institutions around the world were remarkably slow to catch on and, as a result, could never hope to catch up.

Born in 1954 in New York City, Dr Lowry has masters and doctoral degrees in art history from Harvard University.

Since becoming just MoMA's sixth director in 1995, his major initiatives include leading a $900 million capital fundraising campaign to renovate and expand the museum, and to build its endowment.

He was encouraged by the way the State gallery here was building a coalition of public and private support through corporate sponsorship and philanthropy.

"I think in the end we get remembered as a civilisation by our commitment to culture. That is what we have to pass on to the next generation and the generation after that. I think that every one of us has a major role to play in that. Private philanthropy always has to work in some form of partnership with public interest." <div class="endnote">

</div>

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

More from The West