Degas exhibit offers student insight into the 19th century
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 23:09
Robert Flynn Johnson cleared his throat as he stepped out to speak to the more than 50 people present to see the Degas exhibit, “The Private Impressionist.”
The exhibit presented works by the French artist Edgar Degas, which, while valuable, were unknown during Degas’ time. Johnson acquired his first Degas piece in 1973, 40 years ago. Now, his collection consists of 110 works by Degas and the artist’s contemporaries.
“I was a professional art museum curator in San Francisco for 32 years,” Johnson said. “Degas was somebody I knew in a general sort of way. I found out he was much more deep and his works [were] still accessible today. Many of the acquisitions were just lucky. I was very fortunate. I would not be able to afford many of them today. One painting I bought for $2,500 in the ’70s is now $30,000.”
The exhibit, possible because of Johnson’s collection, normally hangs in his 1906 San Franciscan house by fishing line. The collection will travel to places such as Golden, Colo., Naples, Calif. and Portland, Maine.
“I am really proud that it has been going to places that normally would not have art galleries like this,” Johnson said. “It is not going to cities like Seattle, Chicago or New York. And coming from a single individual, it is much less expensive.”
As Johnson detailed in his speech, Degas had a troubled past.
“Degas was a man with wonderful qualities, but also many faults,” Johnson said. “[He had] a difficult time. Some cannot overlook his serious faults, but if his friends were able to, so can I.”
Students came to the exhibit to get an encounter many don’t get to experience in class.
“I am a science major and I never get to study art,” said Hallie Harvard, senior allied health major. “My roommate invited me since I loved Degas and I couldn’t resist.”
Some courses came together to give students an out-of-class experience.
“I am in life drawing and my class came,” said Rachel Crossman, junior university studies major. “I also wanted the free food.”
Johnson taught six classes at A&M in his short two-day stay, giving students an insight into the exhibit.
“The curator gave my color theory class a tour yesterday and mentioned he was giving a talk,” said Catherine Crozier, senior English major. “His tour was very interesting and I wanted to hear more.”
Others came for purely academic reasons.
“[I came] for extra credit for English 219,” said James McCoy, junior management major.
Johnson said he wanted students to come to the exhibit, which will be in the MSC Stark Galleries until Dec. 15, to get a sense of the period of the 19th century when modernism in art developed.
“They understand art is made by a person, and it can be the person behind the art that is the most interesting,” Johnson said. “The most important word in the appreciation of art is not knowledge, but curiosity. One of the things available to satisfy that curiosity is now online. You don’t need a book to look up artists. Now, you can YouTube Degas and find a video of him walking down a street in Paris. You couldn’t do that 15 years ago.”