Some collector’s homes look like museums. Other collector’s homes look like homes.
Like the multiple residences of Peter and Carolyn Lynch, well-known philanthropists and collectors who filled their houses in Marblehead Neck, Boston, Scottsdale, and elsewhere with art.
Not that we’ve actually been invited into those homes. Just to an exhibition of the insightfully collected work that filled those homes. The late Carolyn Lynch was a solid supporter of the Peabody Essex Museum for decades, and her husband and the museum staff have organized a substantial exhibition, “A Passion for American Art,” which is on view at PEM now through Dec. 1.
“A Passion for American Art” shows two sides of the Lynch collections: vintage New England artwork, paintings and furniture; and southwestern American art, more contemporary, with pottery and more furniture.
Imitating a house showing, the exhibition is mostly built around multiple of nooks and corners, like old New England rooms. The works are arranged as the Lynches arranged them. It’s really more of a house tour than a museum tour.
Three houses, actually. Focusing on earlier Americana work for their historic homes in Massachusetts (Marblehead and Boston), the Lynches collected outstanding work by Heade, Hassam, Sargent, Frieseke, Lane, Kensett, and Bradford, along with vernacular paintings by a nineteenth century artist known almost exclusively in Marblehead, J.O.J. Frost. And furniture—gorgeous furniture—from a distinguished list of makers: Bright, Savery, Willard.
The Lynch’s Jeff Biever–designed mission style home in Scottsdale, Arizona holds a great deal of contemporary furniture. Large pieces by Sam Maloof predominate, as well as some stunning pottery from various eras. Pieces by Nampeyo (attributed), by Maria Montoya Martinez, and by Lonnie Vigil signify a general shift from historic collecting in New England to more contemporary art in the Southwest.
Maintaining the integrity of the Lynch’s own aesthetic is helpful, and makes the exhibition feel personal. But some of the viewing spaces are poorly conceived. Their extensive collection of the Natzlers’ pottery fills an awkward corner. A huge walnut dining room table (Maloof) and all ten of its chairs claim too much attention, looming above and alongside other works from the Scottsdale residence. The exit way nearly hides two flamboyant glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly.
But the purpose of the exhibition—to pay loving tribute to a generous museum supporter—gets achieved. “A Passion for American Art” is a collaboration by many members of the PEM curatorial team, headed by Dean Lahikainen of PEM’s American decorative art collection, and was clearly guided by Peter Lynch as well.
The exhibition shows how ideas about what a couple finds dearest to them can change. It reveals an organic intention to collect works that respect the locale. And it provides an intimate look at a couple who obviously knew how to enjoy their art, and who certainly knew how to help others enjoy it as well.
“A Passion for American Art”: The Collection of Carolyn and Peter Lynch, runs through Dec. 1 at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. For tickets and information call 978-745-9500 or visit www.pem.org.