Columbus Museum's annual program welcomes William Beckman, Smithsonian curator

acarlson@ledger-enquirer.comMay 14, 2014 

Thursday night, several things that rarely happen at the Columbus Museum will happen all at once.

As part of its Annual Meeting Program, the museum will unveil “William Beckman: Drawings, 1967-2013,” featuring almost 50 of the artist’s trademark charcoal portraits on paper.

Beckman will attend the opening reception — a rarity on the museum’s calendar.

But the night will begin with a talk by the Smithsonian Museum of Art’s Chief Curator Virginia Mecklenburg, appearing as part of the Annual Rothschild Distinguished Speaker Series.

And it is likely, though not certain, that this will be the final curated exhibit by Tom Butler, who will soon retire after more than 20 years as the museum’s executive director.

Butler is “always reluctant to say ‘my last,’” but he said the Beckman exhibit is “certainly my last major show.”

Butler will retire after the museum board has selected his successor, probably near the beginning of 2015.

The Beckman exhibit is almost four years in the making, after it was passed on from a previous curator who’s stamina was failing.

Butler is passionate about drawing; the museum is a major drawing center.

“An artist drawing is about as close to seeing how his or her brain works as anything that is produced,” Butler said.

But many of Beckman’s pieces are giant — one of them, of a bull named “Cody,” is done on a thrilling, larger-than-life scale, Butler said.

Beckman’s pieces do not travel easily.

But with time, the museum has collected an authoritative collection of works through the years. One of Beckman’s most impressive traits, Butler said, is his honesty about aging.

“I want (attendees) to experience the fact that it is a lifetime of drawing,” Butler said. “This is not a mid-career retrospective. (Beckman is) well into his 60s. His career is a full career and this exhibition documents that fullest career of his drawings.”

Before Beckman debuts, Mecklenburg will speak on his artistic importance and the powerful provocations of realism.

The scheduling synergy was intentional.

“(I thought), wouldn’t it be nice if our speaker could speak to the concept of what the exhibition is about?” Butler said.

A reception will end the evening, with Beckman available for attendees.

“He’s not just excited, he’s ecstatic about this,” Butler said.

IF YOU GO

Rothschild Distinguished Speaker Series — Virginia Mecklenburg

When: 6:15 p.m.

Where: The Columbus Museum, 1251 Wynnton Road

A reception will follow that, attended by both Mecklenburg and Beckman. The exhibit will be previewed during the reception.

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