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Made in the UK: Contemporary art British art at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design
Patrick Caulfield, Still Life with Bottle and Two Glasses, 1965. Bequest of Richard Brown Baker. © Patrick Caulfield. Courtesy Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.

PROVIDENCE, RI.- The Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design highlights its extraordinary collection of contemporary British art in a major exhibition this fall. Made in the UK: Contemporary Art from the Richard Brown Baker Collection richly captures Britain's contemporary art scene as it emerged from World War II to become a prominent force on the world stage today. Made in the UK opened to the public on September 23.

Made in the UK celebrates works by British artists from the 1950s through the present and includes such major figures as Tacita Dean, David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin, Anish Kapoor, Jim Lambie, Julian Opie, Bridget Riley, and Yinka Shonibare. Many of the artists in the exhibition are represented at the Tate and other important British collections, but are not seen in depth in American museums. This exhibition of approximately 100 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and more, focuses on Baker’s collecting, decade by decade—revealing important British contributions to and the international nature of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Geometric Abstraction, Optical Art, and Photorealism. It culminates in conceptual works by the Young British Artists (YBAs) —including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread—who took the art world by storm in the 1990s and are still highly influential today. Made in the UK is co-curated by Jan Howard, Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and Judith Tannenbaum, Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art.

“Richard Brown Baker possessed a daring and finely-tuned eye for collecting works by gifted young artists on the verge of success,” says Museum Director John Smith. “He not only donated outstanding works of art to the Museum, but also provided acquisition funds to allow us to build on his remarkable legacy. Thanks to his generosity, the RISD Museum’s collection of contemporary British art is one of the finest in the United States.” Gifts from Baker to RISD include important works by Prunella Clough, Alan Davie, Hockney, Hodgkin, Peter Lanyon, Ben Nicholson, Riley, and William Scott.

Baker (1912-2002), a Providence native, member of the Museum’s Fine Arts Committee, and important collector of contemporary American and European art was renowned in the arts as a “collector’s collector” (New York Times). Based in New York after 1952, his reputation was built by quietly supporting emerging artists, many of whom have become the most influential artists of their time.

“He never lost the thrill of discovering new talent, and, as he could afford it, continuing to support those whose work he had previously collected,” says Howard. “Because the British works would be separated from the bulk of his collection, he was eager that they be judged of importance as a group.”

Baker—a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford who later lived in London during World War II—donated 136 works of British art to RISD, so that the Museum now has one of the strongest collections of modern and contemporary British art in this country. In his diaries he wrote, “As I obtained my Rhodes Scholarship from Rhode Island, I feel that I am making a kind of gesture to England and to my native city by this gift.”

RISD Museum curators continue to collect in the spirit of Baker through the Richard Brown Baker Fund for Contemporary British Art, which enables the Museum to purchase paintings, sculpture, and drawings by living British artists. Recent purchases underscore the tremendous diversity of contemporary British culture and include works by Fiona Banner, Martin Boyce, Dean, Emin, Mona Hatoum, Roger Hiorns, Hirst, Shirazeh Houshiary, Kapoor, Lambie, Hew Locke, Richard Long, Opie, Kathy Prendergast, and Shonibare. A gift from Baker in 2000 established the Museum's Contemporary Art department and endowed the curator's position.

“Richard Brown Baker’s passion for contemporary art and his generosity to the RISD Museum continue to have an invaluable impact on our community,” says Tannenbaum. “His prescient focus on the work of British artists creates a distinctive strength for us to build on for generations to come.”

A 64-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition, concentrating on Baker’s British art and including the works acquired by RISD since 2005 with the Richard Brown Baker Fund for Contemporary British Art. Curators Judith Tannenbaum and Jan Howard also contributed to the book Get There First, Decide Promptly: The Richard Brown Baker Collection of Postwar Art, by Jennifer Farrell, et al. (Yale University Art Gallery in cooperation with Yale University Press), forthcoming in 2011.

Concurrent with Made in the UK are three new exhibitions at the Museum that include works purchased through the Richard Brown Baker Fund for Contemporary British Art. Journeys: Conrad Shawcross and Tavares Strachan, on view through October 23, features a multimedia documentation of British artist Conrad Shawcross’ expedition of New York City’s Gowanus Canal. Recent works by two British artists are included in Building Blocks: Contemporary Works from the Collection, on view through March 25: Parkhaus (2008), Lucy Williams’ mixed-media collage, and Private: Office (2006) by painter Andrew Grassie. Opening in the Spalter New Media Gallery on November 18 is Jeremy Deller: Manchester Tracks, a multimedia exhibition by English conceptual, video, and installation artist Jeremy Deller. The Museum also draws attention to earlier British art in the permanent collection, called out with a special icon on the objects’ wall labels. In the Porcelain Gallery, Distant Climes assembles beautiful watercolor views of Italy, as painted by prominent British artists. Look for important works in the European galleries, including a striking 17th-century, full-length portrait of a young Elizabethan-era woman that once hung in Hampden House; a sumptuous mid-18th-century Orientalist tea service; and William Powell Firth’s novelistic The Salon d’Or—which was the talk of the Royal Academy’s 1892 exhibition.

Museum of Art Rhode Island | British art |

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