Athena Society buys 2 new works for Art Museum

John Sloan, Reddy in the Cellar, 1917

You could think of the annual Athena Society dinner at the Vero Beach Museum of Art as the culmination of a small scale Fashion Week of art. The catwalk is the museum lobby where works on loan from galleries and collections from around the country on put on display. As the paintings arrive, they are hung for the public to view, but the front-row seats on Athena night are reserved for top-dollar donors – individuals and couples giving $5,000 “dues” to have a voice in the festive acquisition decision.

Like buyers perusing Paris collections, each has his or her own tastes, and each has to consider the stock on hand – the museum’s permanent collection, which focuses on 20th century American art. Much of that work is done ahead of time by the museum’s director, Lucinda Gedeon, and its curator, Jay Williams, who typically travel to preview the works in person.

This year, the Athena Society voted to buy two works with its budget: “Reddy in the Cellar,” the 1917 oil on canvas by John Sloan; and another oil on canvas, “Bar Decoration 1,” by Jack Tworkov, done in the early 1960s.

Sloan is an urban realist, part of group of artists known as The Eight. This work depicts a red-haired child with a shovel and a bucket of coal. The subject was a neighborhood boy from Gloucester, MA, where Sloan in middle age began to spend his summers.

The largely self-taught painter who worked as an illustrator was greatly influenced by Robert Henri, the American painter who was part of the Ashcan school. Sloan met him in 1892, and eventually both were part of The Eight.

The Polish-born Tworkov was an important influence in the American abstract expressionist movement. He arrived in the U.S. at age 13 in 1913, the same year modernism arrived in America with the famous New York Armory Show. Known all his life for his great intellect, Tworkov studied English at Columbia College, intending to become a poet, though he dabbled in sketching and painting. It was after seeing the works of the French impressionist Paul Cézanne that he began to study art in earnest.

He took studio classes at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League. He met Willem de Kooning while working in the WPA Federal Art Project. In the period that followed, he and de Kooning were painting in adjoining studios in Greenwich Village.

In 1964, when he was finishing “Bar Decoration 1,” he was invited to have a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. For a time, Tworkov chaired the art department of Yale University, after teaching at Pratt Institute, Black Mountain College and the American Academy in Rome.

Left behind by the vote, which took place April 11, were two small oils on canvas: one by Marguerite Zorach titled “Mother and Child,” from 1919; and a Willem de Kooning painting, “Untitled (Still Life with Eggs and Potato Masher)” painted in the late 1920s.

Last year the group purchased Leon Kroll’s “Sonata,” a 1922 portrait of a violinist by a painter known for his nudes.

The Athena Society, now in its 11th year, has around 85 household members, giving it about $425,000 to spend. Funds not spent are rolled into the next year’s spree. Voters can opt to buy one or more paintings with their cash, or decide to wait for the offerings the following year. In previous years, options included not only paintings, but sculpture, collage and video art.

The newly acquired paintings are on display in the museum lobby.

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