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Drawings and Photographs from the Collection of Designer Kasper at the Morgan Library
Hans Hoffmann, An Affenpinscher. Watercolor and gouache on vellum, 10 x 14 1/4 inches (25.5 x 36 cm) Kasper Collection.

NEW YORK, NY.- The art collection assembled by American fashion designer Herbert Kasper—known simply as Kasper—is exceptional for its distinctive character and superb quality. The Morgan Library & Museum presents the collection to the public for the very first time, offering visitors a rare opportunity to see this extraordinary group of drawings and photographs. Mannerism and Modernism: The Kasper Collection of Drawings and Photographs is on view through May 1, 2011.

The exhibition features over one hundred works, including old master drawings, modern and contemporary works on paper, and photography. The unusual, tripartite nature of the Kasper Collection is a testament to both Kasper’s personal taste and his desire to build a truly unique collection.

A particular focus of Kasper’s activity as a collector has been sixteenth-century European art, notably drawings by masters associated with Mannerism—a style distinguished by its emphasis upon elegance, artifice, and sophistication. Dubbed the “stylish style” by art historian John Shearman, Mannerism broke with the classical restraint of the preceding Renaissance period and is represented in the exhibition by important works created by Giulio Romano, Polidoro da Caravaggio, Parmigianino, Peter Candid, Hendrick Goltzius, and Giorgio Vasari, among others. The earliest drawing on view, Fra Bartolommeo’s Figures Fighting (Study for The Rape of Dinah?), marks the end of the High Renaissance and reveals the artist’s pursuit of a dynamic composition populated with classically proportioned figures. Paolo Veronese’s arresting pen and ink studies for The Consecration of David exemplify the energetic line and complex poses associated with the Mannerist style. The exhibition also features three exceptionally fine sheets by Perino del Vaga and two by his younger Roman contemporary Taddeo Zuccaro.

Well represented are Northern artists such as Maarten van Heemskerck; his Susanna and Her Relatives Praising the Lord reveals the influence of Italian art in the sculptural treatment of the figures and classical inspiration of the buildings. In Hans Hoffmann’s charming An Affenpinscher, the artist employs watercolor and gouache in a manner reminscent of Albrecht Dürer.

Equally impressive are Kasper’s holdings of modern and contemporary drawings. This part of the collection features important Cubist works by Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris. Picasso’s Glass and Bass Bottle on a Table, for instance, combines different viewpoints and collaged materials to challenge “the reality in nature.” Juan Gris’s The Coffee Grinder destabilizes the genre of still-life by transforming household items into geometric abstractions. Also on view are significant works by Henri Matisse, Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, and Anselm Kiefer.

Photographs constitute the most diverse portion of Kasper’s collection, with excellent prints by major historical figures, in addition to numerous works by emerging artists. The photographs span the early twentieth century to the present, chronicling the evolution of the medium through works by Constantin Brancusi, Hilla and Bernd Becher, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jenny Holzer, and Vik Muniz. Man Ray’s Max Ernst Sand Painting records the appearance of a drawing of a female figure incised in the sand by the photographer’s longtime friend and fellow Surrealist Max Ernst. Brassaï’s The Imp, Belleville, Paris (from the Graffiti series) belongs to the genre of street photography, also well represented in the exhibition. Among several images by Hiroshi Sugimoto is one of his iconic, long-exposure photographs of opulent movie houses, Beacon Theatre, New York. Kasper has considerable depth in the work of a number of artists, including the innovative contemporary photographer Adam Fuss (b. 1961),whose hauntingly beautiful images include a photogram of the entrails of a rabbit from the series Details of Love and a monumental photograph of the chrysalis of a butterfly, Untitled, of 2003.

“The Morgan is delighted to make this truly exceptional private collection available to the general public,” said William M. Griswold, director of the museum. “Kasper’s drawings and photographs are exhilarating in their diversity yet unified by the collector’s distinctive vision and devotion to quality.”

Kasper began collecting drawings as a student in Paris in the 1950s and continues to add to the collection. He relies upon a process of selection that begins with a personal, visceral reaction to the work of art. He then assesses the work’s relationship to the collection overall and its importance in the artist’s oeuvre, consulting with curators, collectors, and art dealers. Kasper remarks, “Quality has always been very important to me. That doesn’t mean that the works I collect are the most well-known by a particular artist, but they have to have a sense of being something that’s original and important.”

The exhibition celebrates Kasper’s gift and promised gift of a number of major works in the show to The Morgan Library & Museum.

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