Perhaps no single individual has done more to lead the Huntington Museum of Art in the growth and development of a contemporary art collection than longtime Board of Trustees member Alex Booth. His role as a trustee began in the early 1960s, and he immediately began to steer the museum toward contemporary art work, beginning with a significant gift to help fund the purchase of an Alexander Calder mobile in 1964. He quickly followed this donation with the provision of funds to acquire a drawing by Georges Braque, as well as a gift of historic works by John Singer Sargent and Samuel F. B. Morse. It was Mr. Booth’s appointment as Building Committee chairman during the 1960s, however, that seemed to galvanize his resolve to push for a collection that reflected the modernist spirit in 20th century art. His work with architect Walter Gropius during the design and construction of the Museum’s 1970 addition served as a strong inspiration, and he worked with diligence to see that the new space would include work by contemporary artists.
When the museum sought to match acquisition funds that were available through grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Mr. Booth supplied the financial resources that allowed for purchases of work by contemporary sculptors Seymour Lipton, Leonard Baskin, Harry Bertoia and others. Many of these works would reside in the courtyard space that was a featured component of the new addition. He also provided funds to acquire paintings by two of the giants of mid-century American art, Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, and would later enrich the collection with an eclectic assortment of gifts that included a George Bellows drawing, a painting by the American impressionist Edward Henry Potthast, and historic sculpture from Asia, ancient Rome and the Americas.
A more recent gift, from 2004, was a pastel drawing that depicted Huntington’s Ritter Park. It was done by the artist Wolf Kahn while he was a workshop leader in the museum’s Walter Gropius Master Artist Workshop series in 1994. The Gropius program, which has brought contemporary artists to teach classes and exhibit their work at HMA for more than 20 years, was funded by a bequest from Alex Booth’s mother, Roxanna Booth. The program acknowledged the inspiration that was provided by Gropius during his time in Huntington and his desire that art should be taught, as well as exhibited, in the museum. The Gropius Workshop program has spurred an initiative to acquire works by artists who have been part of the program, once again reflecting the desire of Alex Booth to see the Huntington Museum of Art embrace the works of contemporary artists.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website