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Great Debate

what’s your favorite work at the joslyn?

Touch it. Experience it. Own it.

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FOR EIGHT DECADES, it has been home to great debate in arguments that play out in hushed tones saturated with a reverence normally reserved for whispers in grand cathedrals, mosques or synagogues. Gallery chatter at the Joslyn Art Museum may be in undertones, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be as animated as the vibrant bronze and steel sentries standing guard in its outdoor sculpture garden.

For this writer, there can be no debate.

My favorite piece in the Joslyn collection is the Jackson Pollock. The Jackson Pollock has always been my favorite piece. The Jackson Pollock will always be my favorite piece.

Galaxy was created in 1947 and is particularly notable because it came at a turning point in Pollock’s career when he first moved away from thickly painted…

Wait a minute. Scratch that. Let’s reboot.



Martin Puryear’s Self has always been my favorite Joslyn piece. A minimalist monument rendered in red cedar and mahogany, Self resonates as a primitive nod to existential themes of being and nothingness.

What’s that? We’re also including older works in our survey? In that case, Grant Wood’s folksy Stone City would clearly rate as… uh, no, I meant Degas’ Little Dancer, which is most surely my hands-down fave…

Impossible. Utterly impossible.

It is madness for a writer to interject himself into a story, especially one in which he has such strong opinions. No, I meant to say one in which he has such obviously wishy-washy opinions. No, what I really meant to say was… oh, never mind. (Note to Editor: Aaargh! Delete copy above and launch article with text below)


This is the story of a quest.

With the Joslyn celebrating 80 years in advancing great art and its power to inform and transform, metroMAGAZINE set out to poll the galleries in search of favorite works.

And who better to ask than an artist? I found Peter Sakievich wandering the Joslyn Treasures: Well Traveled and Rarely Seen (running through August 28). The exhibition features prominent works that recently returned to their marbleclad home after doing a bit of globetrotting. The Utah-based artist was on a whistle-stop, cross-country tour of five museums in different cities as he made his way east to accept a Hudson River Fellowship at the prestigious program in the Catskills-girded town of Hunter, New York.

“That’s not fair,” Sakievich protested. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been here and I just started to check things out, but I do love both of these Jean-Léon Gérômes,” he said in admiring a pair of portraits from the French master.

“Yes, yes, but which one?” I queried. “Which is your favorite?”

“You’re kidding, right?” came the reply. Next!


“I do have a favorite piece,” explained Toby Jurovics. The curator of the museum that is adorned in Native American motifs led me to Donald Judd’s untitled amalgam of brass and blue anodized aluminum.

“We recently re-installed this gallery of 20th century art,” he continued, “and the whole idea was to showcase the building itself and how well it works with postwar American painting. Having moved this piece here to a more prominent position with better lighting, it now seems to just float in space and has stirred a reawakening in me where I see it in a completely new and different context. I can just stand here and stare at it all day and… did you say favorite piece?”

Uh-oh. Here it comes.

“No, no, don’t print that,” Jurovics said in shaking his head as my eraser did its dirty work. “Okay, let’s do this. We can call this my favorite piece this week. Are you getting this down? Better make that my favorite piece today because it can change so quickly.”


That’s when Jack Becker ambled around the corner to join the debate just when I was beginning to think that my task was one of Sisyphean futility.

“I can help you there,” explained the executive director of the venerable institution known for its emphasis on 19th- and 20th-century European and American art.

He was taking a break from surveying progress on the major re-installation of the museum’s American and American Western galleries that will debut on Tuesday, August 9th. The effort highlights the history of American painting from 1800 to 1950 and presents a new interpretation of the museum’s famed collection of art of the American West and Plains Indian cultures.

“It’s the building itself,” he chirped. “That’s my favorite work of art. My favorite individual work changes every time I walk the galleries, but the building itself remains in encapsulating all the treasures within it.”


Three strikes and you’re out, I guess, especially with deadline looming.

Becker dashed back to his duties and I was about to accept defeat when I stumbled upon Rachel Gibson, the smartly uniformed art school grad and recent Chicago transplant who was working the gallery that day.

“I’m completely spoiled,” Gibson beamed, “because I get to help all of our great guests in the shadow of this beautiful work,” she said in gesturing to an untitled painting by John Walker. “I see something new in it each and every day. It’s my very favorite. Is that what you wanted to know?”

Thank you Rachel Gibson! And “thank you” to the Joslyn Art Museum for 80 years of great debate.

-end- metroMAGAZINE




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