For the John Buck show at the MAC, Jordan Schnitzer is the hero of the story. He owns most of the 50 works on display (others are on loan from Buck himself). In the tradition of Annenberg, Carnegie and Getty, Schnitzer's family generously supports the arts. Father Harold is former chair of the Portland Art Museum and started the multi-million dollar Harsch Investment Properties. Mother Arlen opened a Portland gallery after taking art classes for years and inspired her son's love of art. After an exhibition at his alma mater, the University of Oregon, Schnitzer was electrified about sharing his artwork. His foundation brings artwork to smaller institutions, often on his own dime, including developing educational programs for children, guest lectures and workshops.
Schnitzer's connection to the MAC is via Ben Mitchell, art curator there for more than a year. The two were acquainted from a Schnitzer exhibition at the Billings, Montana-based Yellowstone Art Museum, where Mitchell formerly was curator. They paired up on a comprehensive exhibition of Andy Warhol screenprints, which Mitchell curated while at Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, Wyo. Mitchell's background is an ideal match for the Buck exhibit, partly because of his Western experiences in Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Oregon. Mitchell also has the academic background, having taught art classes, edited magazines, and published numerous books and articles.
Coordinating the exhibition involved Mitchell visiting Buck's Montana studio and communicating with the artist, museums and Schnitzer. When he picked the selections he considered them -- and their placement in the MAC's main gallery space -- not just individually, but as a complete exhibition. After that, he worked on the minutiae: framing, crating, arranging for travel, insurance and reams of paperwork -- from finances to catalog work to press and media relations promoting the exhibition.
The exhibition was, from the outset, intended for travel to other institutions. In other situations, Mitchell might have "shopped" an exhibition from a vendor like Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibitions or Exhibits USA, but Schnitzer relied on his association with Mitchell much as Mitchell would rely on his art contacts to place the show. One such contact was Greg Kucera, whose Seattle gallery specializes in prints and works on paper and has exhibited artists like Ed Ruscha, Helen Frankenthaler and Deborah Butterfield, wife of John Buck and best known for her equine sculptures.
After it leaves the MAC in November, the Buck exhibit will travel to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Next up is Cedar Rapids, Iowa, significant because Buck is an Iowa native and because the University of Iowa in particular has a long history of printmaking, including Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry. In November 2009, the show travels to Bellevue, which is grounded in craft traditions, then on to Yellowstone, which is near where Buck and Butterfield live. The exhibition trail concludes at Sacramento's Crocker Museum.
When all is said and done, the exhibition will have traveled thousands of miles over several years, reaching potentially thousands of people in diverse communities. The catalog, with its emphasis on scholarly information, will live beyond the 2010 closing date. And there's another way the exhibit will make an indelible impact: the unusual inclusion of several artworks-in-progress and an activity room where the audience can learn how relief prints are made and even make some hands-on rubbings from woodblocks. Memories of experiencing the artwork of one of America's icons should last even longer.