Dahesh Museum of Art

dwin Long, José Tapiró Baró, Ernst karl Eugen Koerner, Aguste Bonheur
One of the problems confronting small museums, that are most often originally based on the art collection of an individual at their inception, is the question acquiring and maintaining a physical space in which to display the works.

Maintaining a physical space is often more difficult for small museums than large ones. Even though large museums have much higher expenses, they also have larger support and financial structures. There is a balancing point museums must reach in terms of support to make the operation of a physical museum viable. This is particularly difficult in places where real estate is at a premium, as in New York City.

Such has been the struggle for the Dahesh Museum of Art, which moved between several venues, and left its last one due to the high cost of renting the space. It is currently a museum without a physical home. But the good news is that the Museum has put some of its collection online in a virtual exhibition.

This is particularly nice because of the museum’s rather unique mission, as the only museum in the U.S. devoted to 18th and 19th Century European academic art.

This, as fans of the genre(s) will tell you, is important because this art often gets short shrift among the larger art establishment. It is seen as the stodgy, formulaic art that post-war 20th Century Modernism (the pinnacle of all artistic achievement) came along to save us from (as well as liberating us from the associated stifling conventions of draftsmanship, perspective, representation and such outmoded concepts as “beauty”, but I digress).

The Dahesh collection started with Lebanese writer and philosopher Saleem Moussa Ashi, whose pen name was Dr. Dahesh. His collection of more than 2,000 academic paintings, sculpture and works on paper form the core of the collection.

It is worth noting that the museum has also paid attention to illustration (an equally bankrupt form of making images, even more reviled among the modernist factions, and obviously “not art” – sigh).

Not having the museum in a physical space for the time being is unfortunate, but as they look for a new home for the collection, parts of it travel on loan; and the online presence gives those of us who love this misunderstood and neglected chapter of art history a source of inspiration.

Most of the images are zoomable, which, while not as satisfying as full high-resolution images, is still better than just small ones. The collection is a little awkward to browse, the only alternative to a search is alphabetical arrangement; and someone had the misbegotten idea to watermark some of the smaller images (please stop demonstrating your ignorance, whoever you are), but the zoomable images can be enjoyed.

The museum shop does currently has a physical presence, at 55 East 52nd St. in Manhattan. They have an interesting selection of books, prints, posters and exhibition catalogs.

(Images above: Edwin Long, José Tapiró Baró, Ernst Karl Eugen Koerner, Aguste Bonheur)


6 Replies to “Dahesh Museum of Art”

  1. Quite a few of the prime paintings from the Dahesh collection (and from the Kelly Collection of American Art) are currently on view at the “Enchantment” exhibition at the Joseloff Gallery at the University of Hartford in Connecticut through January 17, 2010.

  2. For those of us particularly passionate about Nineteenth Century Orientalist art, the Dahesh online is a godsend. That this wonderful collection is having such difficulties in finding a “home” is a disgrace to our era.

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