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Mint acquires massive work, launches acquisition drive

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- MINT MUSEUM
More than a story tall, the Sam Francis modern untitled acrylic on canvas will be donated to the Mint Museum on Tuesday by Bank of America.

Charlotte’s Mint Museum will announce Tuesday the launch of an initiative to expand its collection largely through gifts of major artwork and has already landed its first acquisition – a billboard-sized abstract familiar to visitors.

Bank of America has agreed to donate the 1979 painting by the late California artist Sam Francis called “Untitled (Seafirst),” which has been on loan to the Mint since 2010 when the museum’s uptown galleries opened. At 19 feet tall and 38 feet wide, the piece has a commanding presence on the eastern wall of the Mint’s five-story atrium, one of the few gallery spaces in town big enough to display the vast canvas.

Commissioned for a private collection and never assessed for its value on the art market, the piece is considered among the most significant works to enter the Mint’s collection. It came to Bank of America in 1983 when it acquired Seafirst Corp., a Seattle bank holding company that had the piece in its corporate collection.

Charles Bowman, N.C. and Charlotte president for Bank of America, said Monday that the donation was timed to kick off the Mint’s acquisition drive and hoped it would spur others to contribute. He said the bank believes that art helps communities connect, provides cultural identity and brings economic benefits.

“I’m not an art critic, but I think it’s a neat display,” Bowman said. “It’s grand.”

Drive slated to last for years

Kathleen Jameson, the Mint’s president, said the painting is representative of the kind of works that will elevate the museum’s stature internationally. Other key pieces are already in the pipeline for the acquisition drive and will be announced soon, she said.

Jameson, who took over the Mint in 2010 when it added the $60 million uptown museum to augment its historic building on Randolph Road, said the drive will continue through 2016, when the institution celebrates its 80th anniversary.

One challenge the Mint has long faced is its relatively small endowment for buying new pieces. At $1 million, the endowment tends to throw off about $50,000 annually. Museums the size and prominence of the Mint tend to have acquisition endowments around $25 million. Jameson has said that about a $50 million endowment is needed for museums competing actively in the rising art marketplace.

But expanding the acquisition endowment has not been a priority for the Mint, which has been more focused on fundraising for operational needs, Jameson said. She reported to the Mint’s board Monday that in the first quarter of the fiscal year, the Mint is already 38 percent of its way to its annual operational goal of $2.3 million without factoring in grants from government sources or the Arts & Science Council.

In all, there are 35,000 objects in the Mint’s various collections, which range from pre-Columbian works estimated at more than 4,000 years old to contemporary decorative arts in its Craft and Design collection.

BofA, Mint longtime partners

Bank of America has made other major donations from its corporate collection to the Mint, beginning in 1978 with “Il Grande Disco” by Arnaldo Pomodoro, the futuristic disc in the banking district at Trade and Tryon streets. In 2002, it donated six paintings by Romare Bearden, the celebrated 20th century African-American artist who was born in Charlotte. Bank of America also made a key donation of its Hewitt Collection to the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture for the center’s 2009 opening.

Bank of America’s art holdings, largely acquired from corporate collections held by banks it acquired, is considered one of the largest and finest in the world. Strongest in contemporary American art, its size and value have never been disclosed.

Since 2008, BofA has been packaging shows from its collection and loaning them to museums as turnkey exhibits. Through its “Museums on Us,” the bank offers free admission to more than 150 cultural institutions, including the Mint, to Bank of America Merrill Lynch cardholders the first weekend of every month.

Logistics of the painting

Jonathan Stuhlman, the Mint’s senior curator of American, modern and contemporary art, said the Francis gift is a monumental addition, “one that animates the atrium in an utterly dynamic fashion.”

When the Mint asked to borrow the massive Francis painting for its uptown opening, it posed logistical problems. Allen Blevins, director of Art and Heritage Programs for BofA, went to Seattle to oversee the project.

After the painting was inspected and its rear frame, called a “stretcher,” was dismantled, the work was delicately rolled up and shipped to Charlotte. It barely fit in the freight elevator that brought it to the atrium floor.

There, the stretcher was reassembled and the painting reattached. It was carefully elevated on an industrial lift and attached to the wall, where it has hung ever since.

And there it will stay, “unless somebody wants to build us a new wing,” Jameson says.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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