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Lurking in the MFA's basement...

Posted by Sebastian Smee  February 10, 2011 10:05 AM

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york.jpgAlbert York, a painter born in Detroit, died last year at the age of 80. Described by Calvin Tomkins in The New Yorker back in 1995 as "the most highly admired unknown artist in America," his paintings have been intermittently championed by critics such as Fairfield Porter and John Russell, and owned by the likes of Jacqueline Onassis (she had five of them).
The Boston poet William Corbett tells a perturbing story midway through his leisurely but riveting essay on York in a slim new monograph published by Pressed Wafer. Preparing to write on York for "Modern Painters" magazine in the late 1990s, he had tracked down one of his characteristically small, obdurately mysterious paintings, "Landscape with Two Indians," (pictured) to the basement of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
"The employee who showed it to me," writes Corbett, "herself about to leave the museum because of a shake-up brought on by the new director [Malcolm Rogers], told me that the York would never hang in the museum again. She gave no reason but spoke in a flat, authoritative way, and to this day the York has remained in the basement."
Corbett wrote his essay before seeing the MFA's new Art of the Americas Wing, which opened in November last year. The wing has vastly increased the space available for the display of American art at the museum. And yet all that extra space has made no difference to the fate of York's "Landscape with Two Indians." It is still in storage; the MFA staffer's bleak prophecy still holds.

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