Picasso, Pollock, de Kooning--Oh My!

by Tori Phelps
In one of the most exciting art exhibitions central Illinois has ever seen, the Peoria Art Guild is hosting 18 paintings and five sculptures from the private collection of Marsha S. Glazer January 16 to March 20.

"According to Art News, this is among the top 100 private art collections in the world," said Peoria Art Guild Executive Director Kate Zabek.

The collection includes works by Louise Bourgeois, Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Jean Dubuffet, Janet Fish, Helen Frankenthaler, Alberto Giacometti, Arshile Gorky, David Hockney, Lee Krasner, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Mitchell, Henry Moore, Malcolm Morley, Claes Oldenburg, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Kurt Schwitters, David Smith, and Wayne Thiebaud. What will be on display at the Art Guild represents the majority of the Glazer collection, though Zabek said there were pieces too fragile to make the journey from the West Coast.

"Most of the work in the collection was bought at auction or directly from other collectors and hasn’t been seen by the public," Zabek said.

She said the astonishing collection wasn’t put together by accident. "Mrs. Glazer decided personally on the artists represented in her collection. There were around 20 artists on the list, and it took almost 10 years to accomplish the task of choosing and purchasing a piece by each artist. In general, she seemed to prefer more obscure works by these famous artists. The majority of the works are either modern or post-modern."

How Peoria was chosen as an exhibition city wasn’t an accident either. Marsha’s husband, Jay, is president and owner of Super Liquors and the Wine Experience in Peoria. "Jay lived in Peoria for a good portion of his life and still owns businesses in the area," Zabek said. "The Glazers have been involved with a variety of non-profits for many years and often donate to charitable causes. They agreed to this arrangement in order to help The Peoria Art Guild with its 125th anniversary celebration and fundraising efforts. Their hope is that we’re able to raise dollars to support the educational endeavors of The Peoria Art Guild."

Zabek said the process to bring the collection to Peoria began more than a year ago, and a contract was signed in February 2003. "Since that time, efforts have been made to market the exhibit, attract tourists to the area, and plan all of the logistical demands of such a project-getting the art here, installing it properly, etc."

Part of exhibiting such a high-profile collection is ensuring the safety of the art. "We’re doing everything possible to make certain nothing happens to these masterpieces while they’re in our possession. We’ve notified all of the local authorities, installed high-level security devices-above and beyond our normal security-and will have a great deal of staff and volunteers present at all times," Zabek said.

All of that extra time spent at the Guild with the exhibit won’t be a hardship for anybody, she insisted. "This is the most thrilling exhibit to come to Peoria ever. It’s wonderful to think this organization will be the means of introducing hundreds and thousands of people to some of the great works of art. Most people don’t understand the magnitude of this opportunity. These are truly great works by great artists who helped to mold the art world into what it is today. These are the movers and shakers of 20th century art, and these are originals that have never been seen by the public."

On the other hand, the large scale of this project-which makes it so wonderful-is exactly what makes it difficult as well. "We’re a small, non-profit arts organization that’s going to display an exhibit usually handled by a multi-million-dollar museum. We’re out of our league, but there’s no doubt we’ll pull it off. However, it’s demanding more of our volunteers, more of the board, and a great deal more of the staff than has ever been asked. It’s even demanding more of our community partners as we ask for a variety of in-kind donations," Zabek said.

The exhibit of the Marsha S. Glazer Collection kicks off The Peoria Art Guild’s 125th anniversary in 2004. One highlight this year will be the Anniversary Dinner celebrated March 5. "The evening will begin with an exclusive cocktail party with the collectors in The Peoria Art Guild. This will be followed by a Gala Dinner in the ballroom of the Maxam Building. Tickets cost $500 per person for the cocktail party and the dinner or $125 per person for the dinner only. This is a major fundraiser that will hopefully create a scholarship pool for students to take art courses at The Peoria Art Guild," Zabek said.

The Peoria Art Guild was formed by a group of volunteers in 1878. The main focus of the organization, since its conception, has been on exhibiting and teaching the visual arts to the community, she said. "Over the years, the education department has grown exponentially, now offering a multitude of courses to all levels of students, as well as a large number of outreach opportunities for youth and adults. The gallery has gone from a small living room to a 3,000-square-foot exhibit space attracting artists from around the country."

Today, The Peoria Art Guild is one of the oldest non-profit visual arts organizations in the nation. "It’s located in an 18,000-square-foot restored warehouse two blocks from the Peoria riverfront in a space that was donated in 1999. This location gives The Peoria Art Guild an opportunity to be in the center of Peoria’s activities, reach youth from under-served areas, and offer interesting and diverse entertainment on the riverfront," Zabek said.

With so many arts organizations collapsing every year, Zabek said what’s kept The Peoria Art Guild going strong for 125 years is people. "Having the right people in every capacity of the organization makes it thrive. That means the right staff, a dedicated board, a large pool of volunteers, and members who believe in the organization. The Peoria Art Guild has all of those things. The staff works harder than any other, and the members of the board are extremely committed, giving generously of their time, creativity, and money. The members are supportive and proactive, and the community has embraced the organization. People make all the difference."

Though she can’t give away any secrets about The Peoria Art Guild’s future exhibits, Zabek said, "We’re constantly thinking of new ways to introduce people to art and get them hooked." AA!