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The Collector

About Jeri L. Wolfson

After more than 40 years of collecting art, I now recognize that the paintings in my collection carry unifying and significant themes. Some of these themes explore areas that reveal our relationship to nature, some themes turn to a redefining of faith that becomes identified with the study of spirit or life force. Though in theory I’m shaping this collection I continue to find evidence that the collection is shaping me. I’m interested in considering the reasons we connect with these images rather than justifying my reasons for collecting works solely by women artists. For me, a compelling answer lies in the power of these paintings to reveal truths about our connection to nature and to spirit. I started looking seriously at art in 1982 while on the board of The Women’s Building in Los Angeles. I was astonished to learn that, at that time, 51% of all art students were women, but only 10% were getting museum shows. That made little sense to me. The truth is I didn’t set out to collect, but, in a small way, to challenge and change the canon by seeking out work by women artists. That initial act of activism has evolved into a passion that has been a central focus of my life for the past 40 years. I owe a great debt to my Uncle, Micky Wolfson who founded the Wolfsonian in Miami Beach, where I now serve as a Board member. While I had no formal art history education, Micky was hugely influential in cultivating my passion for Modernism (1890-1950), the time period of his greatest interest and of my collection. My gratitude goes to Kristin Poole who recognized that I was building a collection even when I didn’t, and for continuing to contribute to this website and my personal knowledge and understanding of art history. Together we discovered how little scholarship there was on women modernists and how the assumption has been that the men were shaping the canon. For me, the action of collecting is really about discovery. It is a physical, emotional and spiritual experience. The hunt requires curiosity and patience but the real work is in the commitment to creating education around and exposure for these artists who have, for the most part, been sidelined by history. It is tremendously rewarding to witness a recent shift in focus by the art establishment. Over the past ten years artists for whom there was little to no scholarship are now benefitting from the light cast on them by museum exhibitions. There remains much work to be done to not only research and integrate these women’s histories but also to reconsider assumptions about who influenced who and who were the innovators. I am buoyed by the attention many marginalized artists are receiving and confident that the artwork will continue to inspire as well as help us reflect on our past, present and future.

Kristin Poole is an independent curator and art historian who has been working with Jeri Wolfson as a curatorial advisor since 1998. She continues to research, write and lecture about the Wolfson collection and is thrilled to witness the growth in interest and scholarship for women artists. The talent and tenacity of these artists and Jeri Wolfson’s commitment to sharing their work and histories is nothing short of inspiring. ​ For over twenty-five years Poole served as Artistic Director and Director at the Sun Valley Museum of Art (SVMoA) in Ketchum, Idaho where she led programming for the accredited museum. She developed the Museum’s multidisciplinary approach which involves exploring topics of relevancy through visual art exhibitions, lectures, seminars and music and theatre performances. During her tenure she curated over forty exhibitions including two of the Wolfson Collection. Prior to her role at SVMoA, Poole worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and directed the New Art Forms Exposition, Chicago (now SOFA). ​ Poole writes and lectures on Modernism, contemporary craft and art and the environment for museums and universities around the country. She works as consultant, curator and registrar for select private clients who are building collections of contemporary or modernist art. She is also artistic consultant to The Foster Museum in Palo Alto, California. ​ In 2018 Poole’s work in Idaho was recognized with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. She holds an MA in Modern Art History from the University of Chicago.

About Kristin Poole

The Artists

About The Collections

While the Jeri L. Wolfson Collection originated in the mid 1980s as a conscious political choice to confront the marketplace, it has developed into more than an illustration of the inequities of the art world. Wolfson’s desire to expose the work of women artists quickly developed into a personal pursuit rooted in instinct and intellect as well as a cultivated and intuitive aesthetic. At its core is a group of painters who were active between 1880 and 1950 and who represent modernism’s breadth and depth as well as its innovative approach. While the main collection is works on canvas, Wolfson also has a number of important sculptures as well as works by twentieth century ceramists and photographers. Most of the artists in this collection witnessed the horror of two world wars and were confronted with the evils of fascism. Almost all came of age at a time of tremendous change when traditional assumptions about how art should be made, who it was made for and what was appropriate subject matter were being challenged. It was a time of exploration and many artists were reexamining their role in society. Additionally, artists benefitted from new exposure to cultures and spiritual practices from around the world which were moving into the collective consciousness and fertilizing new ways of approaching art. Modernism took many forms from cubism to surrealism to abstraction and the artists in the collection demonstrate a broad range of approaches. Within that range, there are some commonalities that highlight the personal imprint of the collection. From the beginning Wolfson has been interested in artists that have a spiritual and intuitive response to nature. Additionally, she is attracted to color and to artists who used their canvas to explore ideas about the human condition as well as those who are investigating the principles of structure and form. Wolfson’s desire was to find artists who were underrepresented and those who needed scholarship. At the beginning of the collection’s development, there were only a handful of artists who were internationally recognized. Most of the artists in the collection were trained in the schools of Western Europe and the majority are American. There are also many artists from around the world some of whom were instrumental in introducing Modernism to their countries. While many of these artists struggled for recognition or were themselves victims of marginalization as a result of their gender and or religious affiliation, their steady and committed work affirms the existence of a transcendent human spirit. Through the language of oil or clay, metal or ink they ask us to look beyond everyday existence and see the dynamism, abundance, diversity and beauty that gives meaning to daily life.

Jeri L. Wolfson Collection 

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