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Highlights of RISD Museum’s “Made in the UK” Exhibit

Friday, September 23, 2011



Collector Richard Brown Baker

This week marks the opening of the fall exhibition, “Made in the UK” at the RISD Museum.  There has been buzz about this show for weeks and it definitely will impress. The show features the collection of Richard Brown Baker, a Providence native who passed away in 2002.  Baker’s life work focused on assembling a museum-quality collection of work by artists from the United Kingdom, which he did so successfully since the show displays perhaps one of the strongest UK collections in the United States.  While you are exploring the show, there will be plenty to see, but while you peruse, be sure to spend some time with these five key works in the show.


J.M.W. Turner “Dazio Grande” 1843  
This is one of the first works Baker ever collected.  Turner is often credited as the grandfather of the impressionist movement and certainly, with this late career watercolor, early elements of abstract expressionism can be found in Turner’s brushstroke.  It is a special occasion to have this work out of storage and required special lighting to keep it safe because of this watercolor’s delicate nature.     


Abstract Expressionist Peter Lanyon

Peter Lanyon “Airscape” 1961 
After World War II, a group who emerged from the St. Ives School in post-war Cornwall, England called the “Middle Generation”. This long-standing artist commune was home to several artists, including Peter Lanyon, who created of some of Britain’s finest abstract expressionist work.  Lanyon became one of the leading painters from this school and was fortunate to enjoy success in his own lifetime.  Lanyon became interested in hang gliding as a pastime and used the experience extensively in his work, including this one included in the exhibition.  “Airscape” features swirls of blue and a slight green horizon line, which hint at the experience of returning to earth.  The artist sadly died in a gliding accident in 1964.   


Forward-thinking David Hockney

David Hockney “Plastic Tree Plus City Hall” 1964 
It would not be an exhibition of British art without David Hockney, recognized as one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. It is always interesting to think about the art movement overlaps.  While most of the world is still caught up in abstract expressionism, the Brits have already moved onto dissecting mass produced images and products, leading the pack of the Pop Art movement.  Hockney had already moved onto his California cool color palette by the mid 1960s.  This work features another different take on the term “landscape” and it is an early example of the use of a new introduced material, acrylic.  Baker clearly had an eye for unique pieces within an artist’s body of work.   


John Parks' Camden vista

John A. Parks, “Camden Town” 1980 
The appearance of photo-realism in the collection is evidence of Baker’s eclectic taste all under the umbrella of British art.  Parks’ cityscape of the high street in the Camden neighborhood in outer London was part of a body of work that was created while Parks was living in New York.  Parks, homesick, spent several years trying to capture a landscape in the UK that had never been paid any real mind before.  Two years after this painting was completed Parks’ style would completely alter.  Baker must have seen some of his own time in London within this painting.  












Martin Boyce “Punching through the Clouds” 2004 
It may take a minute or so to locate these four ventilation grills in the room, but it is an extra treat to be the one to actually realize that they are artworks and not part of the museum's air circulation system. Boyce is an artist that cannot be defined by just one medium, making him truly an artist of the contemporary age. This work was purchased with the Richard Brown Baker Fund for Contemporary British Art. This is a fund, not an endowment, that was established to be spent during the fifteen years after Baker's passing. The fund keeps the acquisitions in this area exciting, edgy, and representative of the time in which they are collected. 
In addition to these five works, there is much more in this beautifully curated exhibition, as well as within the museum. The museum staff has added a special marker to signify if an English artist made the work, showing the United Kingdom’s presence all over the museum.  It is a great scavenger hunt to go on once you have viewed the new show.  Started this fall, the museum will also be open until 9 pm on Thursday nights.  Richard Brown Baker may have relocated from our city for a period time, but he always made room for Providence in his heart. With this exhibition, Baker’s legacy lives on and puts the “Creative Capital” again on the map. Made in the UK opens to the public on September 23, 2011 and will be up until January 8, 2012.


RISD Museum, 224 Benefit Street Providence. Museum entrances are located on Benefit Street and in the Chace Center at 20 North Main Street. Open: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am-5 pm, Thursdays, 10 am-9 pm


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