An art legacy worth viewing

April 24, 2001|By Doreen Bolger

IN THE early 20th century, two Baltimore sisters -- Claribel and Etta Cone -- amassed one of the most important art collections in the world. The Cone Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art reminds us that great art is timeless.

In 1957, when French artist Henri Matisse's works were first hung in the BMA's Cone Wing, the baby boomers of my generation were still reading books about how Dick and Jane ran and watching black-and-white television.

In 2001, we will see these modern masterpieces with very different eyes and expectations. The museum must always find dynamic ways to bring art to life. Even this timeless collection must be experienced in new ways to inspire and engage us.

We are exhibiting some of the actual contents of the Cone sisters' apartments where these works originally hung, and presenting them beside a touch screen, activated virtual tour -- a "time machine" that shows us that these works were collected for a home and not a museum.

Children and their parents can team up to discover more about Matisse's use of pattern in the "Matisse for Kids" family guide. Visitors to the museum's Web site can see how an artist goes about creating a masterpiece in 22 photographs documenting the stages of "The Pink Nude."

The Cone Collection's new gallery space has been transformed and filled with masterworks that express the visual richness and intellectual complexity of some of the greatest art of the last century.

Thematic groupings of work and new interpretive materials foster a greater appreciation of the genius of Matisse and the remarkable sisters with a passion for collecting.

The galleries will be ever-changing as art is lent or returned from major exhibitions at museums across the world or as curators make new discoveries about these masterpieces.

With more than 3,000 works in the Cone Collection, from Picasso prints to Matisse sculpture to paintings by CM-izanne, van Gogh, and Renoir, there will be something different to see with every visit.

We hope the Cone Collection at the BMA will be a destination where we find unexpected rewards in the quiet contemplation of great works of art that remain unchanged, yet transform us.

This is the true legacy of Claribel and Etta Cone and the artists they loved.

Doreen Bolger is director of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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