Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Poindexter, George

George Poindexter
Hidden Treasure

"The Poindexter Collection of Modern American Masters," on display at the Denver Art Museum from October 1998 through May 16, 1999, in the Close Range Gallery was the brainchild of Montana - born New York commodities broker named George Poindexter. How it wound up at the Montana Historical Society, of all places, and the shameful way it's been treated since make for a ripping yarn.

Poindexter was born in 1900 in Butte, Montana, into a prominent family; his father was a respected lawyer and later a federal judge. He grew up in Montana, moved to New York to attend Columbia University, graduated in 1922 and founded his own business, Commodity Brokers, Inc. Poindexter was a whiz in the commercial world, but he had an interest in painting as well. This was perhaps inspired by his wife, Elinor, who had studied art history at New York's prestigious Finch College.

After World War II, Poindexter took some time off from his business to learn to become an artist. He went to study in Paris with Elinor, but according to show curator, Nancy Tieken, "he was terrible at it." Back in New York, he took a class from abstract artist Jack Tworkow, whom he had known since his college days. "Tworkow suggested that instead of trying to make art, Poindexter should buy it. Nobody was collecting wildly experimental paintings when George started in 1956. This kind of work was available at the time for a small price and right from the source.

Though Elinor Poindexter had opened the Poindexter Gallery in 1955 (the year before George started collecting), the curator established through research and interviews that the Poindexter Collection was George's individual creation. Elinor put together her own modernist painting collection, which she donated to the Yellowstone Arts Center in Billings, Montana.

In 1960, George began to cede his collection to the Montana Historical Society, giving an abstract painting in memory of his father. (The gift caused some consternation for his relatives, who had little affection for abstraction.) By 1963, the 100 plus piece collection was ensconced in the historical society in Helena, Montana then Montana's only museum of any kind. Prior to its current appearance at the DAM, it was displayed only twice -- once on the occasion of the gift in 1963 when it traveled statewide, and again in 1965 at the then new Yellowstone Arts Center, the second museum to open in Montana. In the more than thirty intervening years, the Poindexter Collection has been put away -- and that's what makes this current show such a rare, exciting treat.

Poindexter was an adventurous collector, and his choices "provide a snapshot of art on the cusp from the late Fifties and early Sixties," the currator said.

After he gave the collection to the Montana Historical Society in 1963, Poindexter apparently lost interest in it, since correspondence in the files after that time remains unopened. It's unclear why Poindexter suddenly dropped his hobby. (Source: Extracted from "Hidden Treasure," by Michael Paglia, which appeared in the 22-28 October 1999 "Westwood" section of a Denver paper - furnished by Robert Guilinger)

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