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By Way of Paris

An overseas opening for “Tiffany: Color and Light” bodes well for museum.



If the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts needed the perfect show to call attention to its James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Wing, opening May 1, an international Tiffany exhibition would do it.

“Tiffany:  Color and Light,” a show in which the museum is one of three international sponsors, dazzled Paris last week with its world premier at the MusAce du Luxembourg, a world-class institution in the midst of luxurious gardens with a grand fountain ordered by Marie de Medici in 1630.

When the museum's executive director, Alex Nyerges, and spokeswoman Suzanne Hall arrived with two journalists and a photographer, the city was heralding the exhibition with banners, sidewalk kiosks and bus signs. For several days before the public opening, scholars, collectors, international media and museum officials previewed the exhibition's 160 objects tracing Louis Comfort Tiffany's tastes and creations, including his patented favrile glass, interior designs and resplendent church windows. Fourteen of the objects came from the VMFA.

Many Richmonders saw a museum update from Paris via Skype through NBC 12 during the Monday evening news. From towering windows to delicate vessels, the event shows much of Tiffany's greatest work.

>It takes more than the stars in the heavens being aligned for collaborations such as this to happen. “It's all about relationships,” Nyerges says, explaining that it all started with a phone call he received from Nathalie Bondil, director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, more than two years ago. Bondil suggested taking Tiffany to France — the first retrospective exhibition devoted to the master glass artist there — and having it travel to Montreal and Richmond. Rosalind Pepall, senior curator of decorative arts at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, organized the show in collaboration with VMFA and the MusAce du Luxembourg, the only European venue for the exhibition.

But many of the museum stars were aligned prior to Bondil's contact, beginning with the late Fred Brandt, consulting curator for decorative arts to 1900, Barry Shifman, the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family curator of decorative arts from 1890 to the present, and Robin Nicholson, deputy director for exhibitions, who joined the group in Paris. Nyerges worked the preopening crowd as busily as one of Tiffany's butterflies, buzzing around the international media opening as well as the later dinner for officials, donors and dealers.

The Tiffany show is the first time since museum's blockbuster Faberge exhibition in 1996 that it has collaborated with the Metropolitan Museum, which has 42 Tiffany objects in the show. “I think Paris interest in Tiffany will be strong,” says Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, the Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang curator of American decorative arts at the Met. “It's the first time in more than a hundred years that his work has been seen here.”

After leaving Paris Jan. 10, the Tiffany exhibition will be in Montreal Feb. 11-May 2 and in Richmond May 29-Aug. 15. By paying travel expenses for reporters (including this writer) and taking a photographer to the Paris premiere, the museum hopes to spread news beyond Richmond about its coming attraction — the only American venue for the exhibition. “Tiffany: Color and Light” should bring art lovers to the capital city as the museum promotes additional Tiffany objects it from its own collection once the display arrives here.  S


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