Thursday, January 3, 2019

My Tour of Menil Drawing Institute - An Unguarded Picasso - Where is Edouard Kopp - Essay

Image: Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881 – 1973, Portrait of André Salmon,
1907, Charcoal on paper, 24 ¾ × 18 ¾ in. (62.9 × 47.6 cm),
Work on paper (Drawing), V 9100. (Courtesy of the Menil Collection)

"It was a surprise to come upon a gazillion-dollar Picasso drawing propped up on..."

My Tour of Menil Drawing Institute - An Unguarded Picasso - Where is Edouard Kopp

It was a surprise to come upon a gazillion-dollar Picasso drawing propped up on a ledge near a table, unusually accessible.  Ordinarily the Picasso would have been displayed in the gallery with a guard not far from it and staring at you, or stored in the dark vault.  Except that things had not officially cranked up in the Menil Collection’s new 30,000 square foot $40 million Drawing Institute, two days before it opened to the public on November 3.  That day, the Picasso served as a prop of sorts, to illustrate the space in which visiting curators, scholars and collectors would be allowed to study drawings.

Like everyone else at the press preview, I should have been listening to Menil Director Rebecca Rabinow describe the manner in which architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee modulated skylight illumination with “fritted” glass and “sail cloth” scrim in that “Study Room.”  Instead, I had my nose a few inches from the Picasso.

At first glance I believed I was looking at Picasso’s 1907 “Head of Josep Fontdevila.”  The Menil however labeled the drawing “Portrait of André Salmon” (1907).  My confusion, I believe, came from the fact that Picasso rendered a similar head onto both figures.  Picasso sketched the cranky old innkeeper Fontdevila in the summer of 1906 during a visit to the Catalan village of Gósol.  After he returned to Paris, he continued to depict Fontdevila with increasingly stylized cranial features.  Attracted to its totemic quality, he appropriated Fontdevila’s abstract head for André Salmon’s portrait.

Regardless of the figure’s identity, the "primitivism" with which Picasso articulated the head, in my opinion, links it to the standing tribal-mask whore in “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.”  Even without cubist fracturing, the Menil’s drawing takes a proud place alongside the savage 1906 portrait of Gertrude Stein and other epic underpinnings of modernism, as Picasso unleashed it.

Don’t overlook the fact that visiting scholars and collectors who utilize the Menil Drawing Institute’s Study Room would potentially be permitted to put their paws on the entire drawing, including the back, where markings might identify the portrait as that of André Salmon, instead of Fontdevila.  The Picasso drawing casually propped on a ledge near the table which distracted me from the building’s architectural details was indeed a brilliant choice to represent the intended use of the Study Room.

It would be a mistake though to think a visitor can handle a drawing with greasy fingers or while holding his or her Starbucks.  As Rabinow told us, the Study Room will naturally “be monitored.”  Liken it to elementary school study hour with a teacher watching for misbehavior.

Our tour moved on to a small courtyard called the Scholars Courtyard, where lizards had taken up residence among Japanese magnolias and gravel mixed with marble fragments.  This space, which Rabinow described as “hushed and beautiful,” forms the view from the Curator’s office.  During our tour architects Johnston and Lee told us that “cloisters” were among the sources of inspiration from which they drew to design the building.  This clarified why the Menil’s press release called the inner sanctum interior space near the Curator’s office with a view of the Scholars Courtyard the “Scholars’ Cloister.”

While I was walking home from the new 30,000 square foot $40 million Menil Drawing Institute, it occurred to me I had seen the Curator’s view of the Scholar’s Courtyard but I had not seen the Curator.  So I immediately contacted Tommy Napier, Associate Director of Communications, who is always kind to me when I bother him with a question.

Virginia Billeaud Anderson: Hey Tommy, quick question - we saw Drawing Curator Edouard Kopp's beautiful office and his view of the garden, but was he present?  I don't recall meeting him.

Tommy Napier: He wasn’t there this morning ... he doesn’t start until January.  Thanks again for coming today! Tommy

Edouard Kopp, John R. Eckel Jr. Foundation Chief Curator 
of the Menil Drawing Institute, Photo by Mary Kocol. 
(Courtesy of the Menil Collection)

So I pulled out the Menil’s September 2018 press release to learn more about Edouard Kopp who is about to inhabit his cloister office. His official title is John R. Eckel Jr. Foundation Chief Curator of the Menil Drawing Institute, and as one would expect, the native of Lyon enters carrying a six-pack of education and curatorial experience.

Kopp earned his Ph.D. from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London in 2013, and has a master’s in Modern Art, also from Courtauld.  Additionally, he holds a master’s in management from the Grenoble School of Management.  His published works include a book about the eighteenth century French draughtsman Edme Bouchardon and another on the 20 th century Austrian draftsman and printmaker, Alfred Kubin.  Previously, Kopp worked as Assistant and Associate Curator of Drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum for nearly seven years where he oversaw French drawings from the 16 th to 20 th centuries and Germanic drawings of the 18 th and 19 th centuries.  Since 2015 he worked as the Maida and George Abrams Curator of Drawings at the Harvard Art Museums where he was responsible for European and American drawings from the 14 th century to 1900, and advised the Contemporary and Modern Art departments regarding loans and acquisitions of drawings.  Throughout he curated important shows and oversaw notable art acquisitions through gifts and purchases.  Wouldn’t it be fun to know his package?

It would take another essay to tell you about the Menil Drawing Institute’s Conservation Lab which includes a high tech exhaust system to prevent conservators from passing out when they breathe chemicals.  Or about the enormous flat files, bins and work tables in the underground, flood-controlled Storage Basement.  I’ll simply say the architects designed the Storage Basement with a double wall of concrete, as well as flood gates and drainage.  They called it “a vault within a vault.”

And there is marble in the ladies’ room.

Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Lab, Photo by Richard
Barnes (
Courtesy of the Menil Collection)
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