The Spoils of Ward

The Spoils of Ward

When Swiss artist Uwe Wittwer (*1954 in Zurich) vis­ited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford last year, he was fas­cinated by a par­tic­u­lar hang­ing: the 94 Dutch still lifes of the 17th century, all col­lected by the Wards, an Amer­ican cou­ple, and bequeathed to the museum in 1939. Accord­ing to the donors’ wishes, the col­lec­tion must be on view per­ma­nently and in its some­what overwhelm­ing entirety. This results in an inter­est­ing cross-sec­tion of this often over­looked genre: great mas­ters and sec­ond-league artists hang side by side, as do large-format elab­o­ra­tions on the life­less sub­ject-mat­ter and charm­ing cab­i­net pie­ces. The Ward Col­lec­tion exempli­fies that the history of art and cul­ture is always more than just the history of the great mas­ters and grand formats. It also brings to mind the enor­mous pop­u­lar­ity that art enjoyed in 17th-century: never before had so many paint­ings been cre­ated as in the Dutch „Golden Age“.

The encounter with the Ward Col­lec­tion inspired Wittwer to update his own artis­tic work. He set out to transfer each and every of the 94 works into his own artis­tic lan­guage, adopt­ing the orig­inal paint­ings’ dimen­sions, and pro­vid­ing these new paint­ings with an elab­o­rate artist’s frame—an interpreta­tion of the clas­sical Dutch ebony frame. In doing so, he inci­dentally achieved a complete­ness that no longer exists in the Ashmolean Museum: Wittwer also included a small paint­ing by Rachel Ruysch (one of only two female artists rep­re­sented in the col­lec­tion) that was stolen from the museum in the 1940s and has not been returned to this day. Wittwer’s se­ries also includes two paint­ings with which the Wards had strayed away from the still-life genre: the por­trait of two (liv­ing!) ducks and an inte­r­ior. The artist reflected their solitary sta­tus with an appro­pri­ate devia­tion from the se­ries style.

Wittwer sees the pre­senta­tion of this exten­sive group of works at Galerie Judin as an exam­ina­tion and updat­ing of muse­ums’ tra­di­tional forms of pre­senta­tion: fol­low­ing the clas­sical wall cov­er­ings of tra­di­tional Old Mas­ter gal­ler­ies—in col­ors ascribed to per­i­ods in art history—he has picked a differ­ent color for each wall of the gallery from Le Corbus­ier’s „Poly­chromy“ color sys­tem. The result is a refresh­ing jour­ney through the still-life genre and a col­lector’s obses­sion—and thus an encounter of two „Gesamtkunst­w­erke“: that of the Wards and that of Wittwer.

The exhi­bi­tion is accompa­nied by a comprehen­sive exhi­bi­tion cat­a­logue with a text by Dr. Lena Fritsch, curator at the Ashmolean Museum.

The Spoils of Ward

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