GLENS FALLS — The art story of The Hyde Collection on Warren Street has long been told through the fruitful works of the Old Masters like Botticelli, Rembrandt and Rubens.
And such historic pieces are often cherished for their mysterious and storied depth, inviting onlookers into intricate details given breath by burnt umber and raw sienna brush strokes dipped in boiled walnut oil and thickened with chalk or wood ash.
“For years The Hyde was described as the ‘hidden gem,’ lauded for our collections of the Old Masters like Rembrandt, Rubens, and (our) collections of 19th-century art and French paintings — Renoir, Degas, Picasso — and Americans like Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins,” said Erin Coe, the director of The Hyde Collection. “The story often stops around 1900, pre-modern art before modernization.”
But an $11 million gift — $1 million in cash and a collection of modern artwork valued at $10 million — by Schenectady architects and life partners, Werner Feibes and the late James Schmitt, is changing The Hyde Collection’s story.
“The Hyde is at a turning point and we are at the beginning of writing a new chapter. The museum is publicly embracing contemporary art,” Coe said. “The Hyde is embracing the art of our time.”
According to Coe, with the opening of the new 1,500-square-foot Feibes & Schmitt Gallery, made possible by the gallery namesake’s gift and dedicated to modern and contemporary art, there will be regional access to collections previously available only in much larger urban centers.
“We’re talking about 20th-century, post-war, non-objective art,” she said. “I am so excited. With this gift, we have become a regional hub for post-war (after World War II) art. It is rare for a museum to have modern art alongside of the Old Masters. You would have to go to New York City.”
Non-objective art means wholly abstract, not representing something, Coe said. “It challenges those traditions in art and upends them,” she added. “Non-objective art is a rejection of landscapes or figures.”
And this year’s recently released 2017 exhibition schedule marks the beginning of The Hyde’s transformation with shows curated to create a dialogue.
“The 2017 calendar is where we are headed, putting these different art forms side-by-side and (talking about) how they relate to one another,” Coe said. “The other day I was in the museum and I sat next to a woman who was on a bench resting. She was from Geneva, New York. And she said she loved the pieces by the Old Masters but said ‘this contemporary art is not for me.’”
Coe said she enjoyed her conversation with the visitor. “I want all visitors to feel as though they got something. They have Degas and Rembrandt and while here they are looking at modern pieces,” Coe said. “I want people to reflect on it to say, ‘It made me think.’”
On New Year’s Eve, The Hyde’s MHR-80 exhibit closed. And curator Michael Oatman had a similar goal. The way Oatman explained it, as he selected pieces and started thinking about placement, themes and relationships emerged.
“It was about creating a dialogue between works, between artists,” he said in an earlier interview. “I am hoping to start discussion about the artwork, but also about the political implications of the works and the historical value of their display.”
The photo murals and montages of New York City artist Lorna Bieber opens The Hyde’s new season on Jan. 21. Running Bieber’s show, “Forces of Nature,” alongside “Marking the Moment: The Art of Allen Blagden” was intentional in the hopes of inspiring dialogue.
“Juxtaposing Blagden with Bieber is evocative,” Coe said.
Both artists envision works tied to nature and landscapes, but their interpretation of those subjects is very different. Bieber creates enormous ethereal, often dreamlike photo composites of nature, while the more traditional Blagden paints realistic images of Adirondack wildlife and natural settings.
“We live in a world inundated by images they make us question,” Coe said while talking about how onlookers might question various works. “Do you believe this? What do you see? Questioning the whole idea of what you see. Is Blagden interpreting something? Is that what he really saw?”
The scheduled summer show pairs the work of late modern artist Ellsworth Kelly with selections from the Feibes & Schmitt Collection, and what makes it particularly interesting is that Feibes and Schmitt, who were friends with Kelly, have 12 of his works in their collection.
There will be more than 100 works by Kelly — most borrowed from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his family foundation and some from the Feibes and Schmitt gift — which Coe said is very exciting.
“’Ellsworth Kelly: Slow Curve’ focuses on his experimentation with curved fields of color, from tight ellipses and shapes with rounded corners to broad arcs and segments. This is a very important show,” Coe said, adding that The Hyde will also have 26 lithographs from his plant series drawings of leaves, flowers and fruit. “He is considered one of the great abstract artists of the 20th century. He was an avid bird watcher. He lived in nature, he loved nature. And he distills and extracts those curved forms.”
Feibes and Schmitt, who had been together for nearly 60 years and married in 2013, so loved Kelly’s work that they reportedly bartered architectural services, designing Kelly’s studio in Spencertown, New York, for art.
The Hyde’s 2017 exhibition schedule ends with a major show, “A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America.” This exhibit has traveled to several larger museums, such as the American Folk Art Museum in New York, and will end its tour at The Hyde from October through December.
Coe said the show’s 60 pieces — drawn from the collection of Barbara L. Gordon and organized by Art Services International in Alexandria, Virginia — presents paintings, drawings, sculptures, furniture, painted chests and knickknacks made between 1800 and 1920.
“We’ll be ending with a major show,” she said.
The Feibes and Schmitt gift is the largest gift The Hyde has received since Charlotte Pruyn Hyde bequeathed her home and artwork to establish the museum in 1952. The gift is also believed to be one of the largest gifts to any Capital Region arts institution in over a decade, Coe said.
The story of the Feibes and Schmitt gift started years ago, and as they came to be friends with The Hyde, their affection grew. In 2015, after Schmitt’s death, Feibes told Coe that he was bequeathing their entire personal collection of 162 artworks to The Hyde Collection.
“We have 60 works of 162 that are coming to us,” she said. “He lives with the remainder of the promised gift that will come to The Hyde upon his death.”
In early 2016, Feibes told Coe he would give a half a million dollars to support The Hyde. He then changed it to $1 million, and in March 2016 they signed the gift agreement.
Coe’s New Year’s vision for The Hyde?
“That The Hyde is this beautiful hybrid not bound by an ‘ism,’” she said.