Hopefully, by the time you read this – or shortly thereafter – the Cincinnati Art Museum will have opened Imperishable Beauty: Art Nouveau Jewelry, the twice-delayed exhibition of over 100 turn-of-20th-Century pieces from the finest American and European designers and jewelers. On Nov. 3, Director Aaron Betsky said it would open “by the 18th.”
This is a touring exhibition organized by Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts from a private collection. Cincinnati is the only venue, besides Boston, to present it, and it hasn’t been on display since it closed there almost a full year ago. As you can see, people are being very careful with displaying it, given the value and fragility of the precious objects.
The show was supposed to open here first on Oct. 24 and then Oct. 31. But it has been delayed twice, highly unusual, as the museum struggles to get the “proper environmental conditions” for the display, according to a press release it issued last week.
This week a spokesperson for Boston’s MFA said that “installation will resume when the galleries are prepared and meet conservation standards needed for the works of art. Everyone wants it to open.”
In a telephone interview last week, Betsky explained the complications, leaving some of it vague because of security-related issues.
Imperishable Beauty is poised to be a crowd-pleaser, given the interest in such beautiful and precious objects. Roaring Tigers, Leaping Carp: Decoding the Symbolic Language of Chinese Animal Painting, opened Oct. 9 in the museum’s primary 10,000-square-foot temporary-exhibitions gallery.
Imperishable Beauty was assigned to a smaller nearby gallery, across the Great Hall, where the recent Bessie Potter Vonnoh sculpture show was held. But size isn’t everything. The museum’s exhibitions staff set out to make the installation worthy, of an exhibit that includes, for instance, a 1904 dragonfly pendant brooch of platinum, gold, enamel, diamond, ruby and pearls.
Betsky said the installation design features a long spine-like Plexiglass case running down the middle of the gallery, with individual wall cases also being used. The exterior of the cases were painted blue. “It was the painting of the cases that was the initial issue,” Betsky says.
Simply put, it took that paint longer to settle down (become chemically inert) than the original schedule allowed.
“It’s dry,” Betsky says. “It was a question of reaching a certain state. It has to be no longer off-gassing. When you walk into a room and it smells like it’s been painted, even though the paint is dry, what you’re smelling is the off-gassing of paint. You have to be very careful of that because this particular art is more delicate than most.”
But the paint issue was settled in time for the Oct. 31 opening, Betsky says. Then new problems emerged because the supervising Boston installers wanted some physical changes in the actual cases.
“There were various adjustments they wanted to the way mounts were made, the way cases were going to be sealed, even the way screws were placed,” he says. “These all sound very minor, but to people who really care about the correct environment for these pieces, they were very crucial. We understood their concerns.”
As of now, Imperishable Beauty is still scheduled to close on Jan. 17. Meanwhile, the museum has augmented the exhibition with related material from its own collection. This is already on display, outside the gallery in the balcony area overlooking the Great Hall.
CONTACT STEVE ROSEN: [email protected]