August 12, 2021

Looking in detail

Celebrating the Addison Gallery's legacy and impact
by Bill Agee ’55

Congratulations and Happy Birthday to the Addison on its 90th birthday! At age 84, I am only a few years younger than the gallery—and recognize that it has been an important part of my life since I was 15.

Stuart Davis Red Cart, 1932 Oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 50 inches Museum purchase, 1946.15

I entered Andover in the fall of 1952 a scared kid, a lost soul, who really didn’t want to be there. On top of this, I learned that I had to take an art class at the Addison. Say what? I had never been in a museum and had no background in art. But the moment I entered the gallery, my life changed, although I didn’t know that at the time.

I liked it the moment I walked in—there was the Manship fountain, Venus arising fresh born from the water, as I was too at that moment, I later came to understand. The gallery was a magical place; it had everything I didn’t have: calm, peace, harmony, order, purpose, and vast new worlds to explore. As I walked to class downstairs I peeked into the galleries. There I saw Homer’s Eight Bells, Eakins’ Professor Henry A. Rowland with its mysterious frame, the Stuart Davis Red Cart, and the 1948 Pollock. I liked them all. They are still compelling.

The gallery was a magical place; it had everything I didn’t have: calm, peace, harmony, order, purpose, and vast new worlds to explore.

I can’t say I decided to be an art historian then and there. But that was what set me on the path.

To this day, these works are the core of what I understand to be great art. I have written on them all, have done exhibitions around them, and I continue to see new things in them. I come back often to check them out, “to make sure I got it right,” as Cézanne did in visiting the Louvre in his old age.

That art class so many years ago was taught by Patrick Morgan. He was my first mentor and taught me to see by looking at everything in detail and describing what I saw. Not what I thought it might be, but what I saw. I still teach that way. Thank you, Pat and Bart and Diz. Thank you, Andover and the Addison.

Bill Agee ’55 is an art historian and curator. He taught at Hunter College until his retirement in 2014 and was awarded the Evelyn Kranes Kossak Endowed Chair as Professor of Art History. He has held directorships at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and at the Pasadena Art Museum; his publications include American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning, and Their Circle, 1927-1942 (2011) and Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s (2006).

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