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Collecting and Sharing: Trevor Fairbrother, John T. Kirk, and the Hood Museum of Art

Unknown maker, pair of blown-glass bottles

Unknown maker, pair of blown-glass bottles, early nineteenth century. Lent by Trevor Fairbrother and John T. Kirk.

Robert Gober, Untitled,

Robert Gober, Untitled, 1985, graphite on paper. Lent by Trevor Fairbrother and John T. Kirk. © Robert Gober, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Andy Warhol, Jacqueline Kennedy II

Andy Warhol, Jacqueline Kennedy II, 1966, silkscreen on mauve paper, signed, edition 63/200. Lent by Trevor Fairbrother and John T. Kirk © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Hood Quarterly, autumn 2015
Katherine Hart, Senior Curator of Collections and Barbara C. and Harvey P. Hood 1918 Curator of Academic Programming

During their professional careers, Trevor Fairbrother and John T. Kirk have been curators, scholars and writers on art: Trevor on nineteenth- and twentieth-century American and contemporary art and John on American decorative arts and furniture. Describing, analyzing, and interpreting objects have been central not only to what they do but also to who they are. Over the course of the past thirty years, the Hood Museum of Art has provided our audiences, and particularly Dartmouth students, with the opportunity to examine closely and interpret actual works of art and material culture—pulling thousands of objects each year from storage for classes to work with in the museum’s behind-the-scenes Bernstein Study-Storage Center. It is, in part, the Hood’s commitment to teaching with objects that inspired Fairbrother and Kirk to give and lend works of art from their collection to the museum, including exemplary works by artists such as Joseph Beuys, Robert Gober, Mike Kelley, Glenn Ligon, Sherrie Levine, McDermott & McGough, Catharine Opie, Elizabeth Peyton, John O’Reilly, Andy Warhol, and Robert Wilson. Many of these works have already been used for teaching and exhibition, in keeping with the intention of their gift and loan.

Collecting was something that both Fairbrother and Kirk began while young. Kirk remembers first spotting two nineteenth-century glass bottles at an antique shop in Cape May, New Jersey, when he was in his early teens. Although his mother was not keen on having her son buy anything so fragile, he became so enamored of them that he went behind her back to ask his aunt to purchase them for him. They remain in his collection to this day and can be seen among the approximately 140 works in this exhibition. Kirk, who initially trained to be a furniture designer and maker, went on to become an influential authority on early American furniture, serving as a curator at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Rhode Island School of Design, as well as the director of the Rhode Island Historical Society. Later on, he taught undergraduates and graduate students at Boston University how to truly see objects and works of art in all of their remarkable particularity. He also filmed short segments on antiques for public television (WGBH) in Boston that ultimately served as the prototype for Antiques Roadshow.

A working-class child in England, Trevor Fairbrother came to collecting a little later on in his life, following his pursuit of a degree in biochemistry at Oxford. In an interview published in the exhibition’s 160-page catalogue, he mentions an abiding interest in music that eventually drew him to the designs of LP covers and contemporary music posters. He completed a Ph.D. in art history and has since written extensively on the art of Sargent and Warhol while serving as a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1981–96), and as deputy director and curator of modern and contemporary art at the Seattle Art Museum (1996–2001). Since that time, he has worked independently.

Trevor Fairbrother and John T. Kirk first met in 1973, when Trevor asked Johnfor directions to the musical instrument collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. True to form, John was examining the underside of a desk with a flashlight. Together ever since, they have long combined their collecting practice, selecting works based on mutual interest and a commitment to the work of contemporary artists. In their short catalogue essay, John O’Reilly and Jim Tellin describe their friends’ former house in Brookline as “an ideal world for modest small-scale works and for the discourse between anonymous craftsmen and artists of renown.”

The Hood Museum of Art’s relationship with Fairbrother and Kirk began in the 1980s, when the museum invited Fairbrother to give a lecture on the art of John Singer Sargent (whose work was the subject of his 1981 dissertation from Boston University). Our acquaintance was renewed in 2006, when the Hood lent two paintings to Painting Summer in New England, the large exhibition that Fairbrother organized for the Peabody Essex Museum. In 2010, Fairbrother curated Follow the Money: Andy Warhol’s American Dream for the Hood to help showcase a gift of Warhol’s photographs from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. In 2010, Fairbrother and Kirk began giving and lending art to the museum, and this 2015 exhibition features fifty-two of these gifts and another eighty-eight works they have lent.

The museum staff, in consultation with Fairbrother and Kirk, decided to foreground how these works could complement the Hood’s holdings in relation to certain pivotal themes and qualities—Histories, Wonders, Goods, Marks, Males, Geometries, and Surfaces—and chose one notable work from the Hood’s collection for display in each section as well. These non-canonical groupings demonstrate how objects in close proximity to one another can spark fresh insights, especially when they are not otherwise encountered in such contexts. Each visitor to the exhibition can explore what the alignment of a given work to its thematic area might be, in accordance with one’s personal inclination. For the Wonders section, for example, the grouping represents, among other things, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to historic cabinets of curiosities but also captures the very human desire to transcend quotidian life.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum is presenting programs that give visitors the opportunity to become more closely acquainted with the scholarship of these two remarkable individuals. One features John T. Kirk in conversation with a former student, Karen Keane, on American furniture and decorative arts, and another features Trevor Fairbrother speaking on Warhol and his legacy. In addition, Robert Gober, one of the most inventive and acclaimed sculptors working today, will discuss his work and career in a conversation with Trevor Fairbrother.

This exhibition was organized by the Hood Museum of Art and generously supported by the Hansen Family Fund and the Bernard R. Siskind Fund.

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