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8/1/2011 Houston— The Spirit of Modernism: The John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation Gift to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will be on view August 20, 2011-January 29, 2012, displaying the newly acquired collection of 73 paintings, watercolors, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts from the collection of the late native Houstonian and energy entrepreneur, John R. Eckel, Jr. (1951-2009). The founder of Copano Energy, a midstream natural gas company and a champion of American modernism, Eckel was actively involved with the MFAH. After his death, MFAH curators were invited to survey his collection and select works that best complement the museum‟s strengths and long-term goals.

The resulting gift to the MFAH largely dates from the 1930s through the 1980s and includes oil paintings, sculpture, works on paper, sound sculptures, furniture, and metalwork. The cross-departmental exhibition is organized by several MFAH curators: Emily Ballew Neff, American Painting and Sculpture Curator; Cindi Strauss, Modern & Contemporary Decorative Arts & Design Curator; Christine Gervais, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts; Alison de Lima Greene, Contemporary Art & Special Projects Curator; and Anne Wilkes Tucker, The Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography.

“John R. Eckel, Jr. leaves an extraordinary legacy to his hometown of Houston through this gift to the museum,” said Gwendolyn H. Goffe, MFAH Interim Director. “John was the very definition of a model citizen who, having attained great success as a businessman in the Houston community, gave back to it with great generosity.”

The majority of works will be on view in the Alice Pratt Brown Gallery and Garden of the Caroline Wiess Law Building. Additional works will be on view in the American Galleries of the Audrey Jones Beck Building.

American modernist painter, printmaker and photographer Ralston Crawford is best known for his abstract representations of urban life and industry, including bridges, cemeteries, New Orleans life and jazz, and ships and shipbuilding. The MFAH was among the first museums in the country to acquire work by Crawford, beginning in 1941, and the collection was enriched by acquisitions of ten photographs by the artist in the 1980s and 1990s. Three artworks by Crawford from the Eckel Collection include the first major oil painting by the artist to enter the MFAH Collection: Red Barge # 1 (1942), which renders a flat-bottomed boat with graphic, geometric precision and vibrant, joyful color. In addition, several other important works portray urban American themes: a drawing by George Ault, Moonlight on Fifth Avenue (1932); a watercolor by Reginald Marsh, Steam Freighter and Tug (1936); and an oil painting by Niles Spencer, Precisionist Cityscape (1950).

The Eckel Collection adds two significant photographs to the museum‟s holdings. Both complement the paintings and drawings in the estate by similarly focusing on industry, air travel, and speed. The MFAH has numerous photographs by renowned photographer Margaret Bourke-White, and U.S.S. Airship “Akron” (1931) adds to the photography collection‟s focus on Bourke-White as one of the great photographers of America, the innovative, industrial nation. And O. Winston Link‟s Birmingham Special at Max Meadows (1957), documenting a passenger train, is only the second photograph by the artist to be accessioned.

A comprehensive selection of sculpture, monotypes, and recordings by Harry Bertoia is a particular highlight of the Eckel collection. Among the leaders of mid-century modern design, Bertoia also brought a fertile imagination to his beautifully crafted metal sculptures. Taking inspiration from the gardens that surrounded his studio and exploring the essential properties of steel and bronze, Bertoia instilled his abstract compositions with the rhythms of natural growth. Among the outstanding examples featured in this segment of the Eckel collection are Bertoia‟s free-standing, monumental bronze sculpture, Untitled (Multi-Plane Construction) (c.1953), a unique Cactus sculpture, a series of his bronze Bush Forms, three of the artist‟s radical Sound Sculptures, and three monotypes from his dandelion series. Complementing this selection are ten of the artist‟s Sonambient record albums, whose covers are landmarks in photography and graphic design.

The Eckel collection adds 27 important objects to the museum‟s collection of modern and contemporary design. Eckel collected works by many of the most significant American designers of the mid-to-late-twentieth century (1940-80), often in depth. Holdings of American design from that period—including a custom clock by George Nelson, a roll top desk and contour lounge chair by Vladimir Kagan, and a chaise and occasional table by Edward Wormley—reflect the aesthetics of biomorphism as well as the age of space exploration. Objects by the legendary craftsmen Paul Evans, James Prestini, and Philip Lloyd Powell, who rose to the forefront of the designer-craftsman movement of the 1960s and „70s, are represented by furniture and objects that are the first pieces by them to enter the MFAH‟s collection.

The decorative arts segment of the acquisition also includes post-modern design by architects, an area of strength for the MFAH. Several works by Shiro Kuramata include furniture and lighting, and furniture and silver designed by Richard Meier are also important additions to the collection.