WFU to Host First Public Exhibit of Nichols Collection

John Ferren's Lutte as Ciel, 1937, oil on plywoodThe first public exhibition of the J. Donald Nichols collection of “American Abstract Art of the 1930s and 1940s” will be held at the Wake Forest University Fine Arts Gallery Aug. 28-Oct. 11.

Considered the best and most comprehensive private collection of abstract art from that era, the collection features more than 200 paintings, drawings and sculptures by such artists as Willem de Kooning, Joseph Albers and Stuart Davis.

An opening reception, featuring a discussion of the collection by Nichols, will be held from 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, in the gallery’s lobby.

While attending Wake Forest on a baseball scholarship in the 1960s, Nichols took an art appreciation class that sparked his interest in modern art. After a short career in professional baseball, he switched to the real estate business and began developing shopping centers. He started building his art collection by buying a painting after completing each shopping center. He is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of JDN Realty Corporation, a publicly traded company in Atlanta, Ga.

“I was drawn to these bold and innovative abstract paintings, and interested in this more direct experience of space, order, form, symmetry and color,” said Nichols. “I was also excited about being a pioneer in a new field of collecting.”

“For many years the American abstract artists of the 1930s were much neglected while the main focus of attention was on the social realists and “American Scene” painters of that same time period,” according to Robert H. Knott, curator of the exhibit and Wake Forest professor of art.

The nucleus of the collection is work that was being done by abstract artists in New York, including members of the American Abstract Artists group, those exhibiting at the Museum of Non-Objective Art (which became the Guggenheim Museum), and other independent artists working in the New York area. Nichols has also systematically collected the best examples of abstract art from the Transcendental Painting Group in New Mexico and the New Bauhaus school in Chicago centered around L·szlÛ Moholy-Nagy. Also included in the collection are “Regional Modernists” who were working in such diverse places as Pennsylvania, California, the Pacific Northwest and the South.

“The breadth and diversity of this growing collection now paints a broader picture of what was happening with abstract art throughout the country and calls for a re-assessment of the entire art scene at this time,” says Knott.

The exhibit includes early works by such familiar artists as Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Stuart Davis, Alexander Calder and Ad Reinhardt. Many of the artists, including John Ferren, Irene Rice Pereira, George L. K. Morris and Albert E. Gallatin had lived in Europe where they were exposed to the latest developments in modern art. In Paris, they met and in some cases exhibited with such important abstract artists as Mondrian, Kandinsky, Leger and Malevich. “The American abstract artists of this time provided an important bridge from the avant-garde ideas developed in Europe in the early part of the century to the next generation of abstract artists in the post World War II era in the U.S.,” notes Knott.

A 200-page book with more than 100 color illustrations will accompany the exhibition. The book will be available for sale at the Wake Forest Fine Arts Gallery. Published by Harry N. Abrams Inc., it will be released across the country this fall.

Admission is free to the exhibit and opening reception. Hours for the Wake Forest University Fine Arts Gallery are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1 -5 p.m. For information, call 336-758-5585.

Categories: Arts & Culture, Events