Arts History Out the Window at the Tacoma Art Museum
And yet this is starting to seem like the panicked prediction that refuses to die. I heard it first in the comments section on this blog, and now I see it quoted on Seattle Art Blog from Regina’s P-I review of the 19th-century French drawing show at TAM, which ends with this: “Those who like this show and others of its ilk have every reason to fear we aren’t likely to see many more from Tacoma, now that Patricia McDonnell has left the museum. What a pleasure they have been.” (Emphasis mine.)
The truth is, I’ve heard nothing to indicate that the Tacoma Art Museum is changing its balance of contemporary and historical shows. It is true that historical shows have flourished during the tenure of recently departed Patricia McDonnell, including exhibitions of Hudson River School landscapes and early American modernism. (The latter is McDonnell’s specialty; it’s specious to speculate that she must be responsible for the importing of a touring 19th-century French drawing show just because she is interested in artists from a completely different time and place, but who also just happen to be dead.)
But there’s a good reason why historical shows have seemingly come out of the woodwork: TAM’s new building. McDonnell started at TAM just before the building opened. Prior to this building, TAM was in an old bank building with a cramped elevator, no loading dock, and variable climate control. That meant that works of greater value — most often, those are historical works — could not be seen there, because the museum did not meet the minimum requirements of lenders of those works.
I agree that TAM’s historical shows have been a welcome addition in the past three years, and I sincerely hope that McDonnell’s seriousness will continue to be reflected at the museum. But let’s not assume that everything is ruined just yet.