Message from Emily Talbot, Chief Curator

Chief Curator Emily Talbot standing against a gallery wall with her arms folded in front of her body

Chief Curator Emily Talbot, photo by Ramona Trent

First published in our Winter 2023 Newsletter.

Dear Members and Friends,

I am delighted to write with holiday greetings from the Norton Simon Museum. This is the first New Year’s letter that I have composed since the start of the pandemic, and so it is with great anticipation that I share the exhibitions and other initiatives we have planned for the year ahead.

There is much to look forward to at the Museum in 2023. Picasso Ingres: Face to Face, our current exchange loan with The National Gallery, London, is on view in the 19th-century wing through January 30. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see Ingres’s iconic portrait Madame Moitessier (1856)—which has never been exhibited on the West Coast—installed alongside the provocative painting it inspired, Picasso’s Woman with a Book (1932), for the very first time.

In our lower-level exhibition galleries, Ink, Paper, Stone: Six Women Artists and the Language of Lithography continues through February 13. Organized by Curator Gloria Williams Sander, this exhibition features ambitious works on paper produced by six geographically and stylistically diverse artists during their fellowships at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in the 1960s. To complement the display, the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre will debut an original performance entitled Imprint, inspired by many of the works on view, which will be held on February 11—our inaugural performance since the Museum’s reopening in 2021.

In February we unveil a new exhibition in our focus gallery off of the entrance lobby. Saint Sebastian: Anatomy of a Sculpture is a joint effort between Assistant Curator Maggie Bell and Conservator John Griswold. They have spent the last few years delving deeply into the history of a single object: a 15th-century polychrome sculpture of the Roman soldier St. Sebastian, depicted at the moment of his attempted execution by firing squad. To investigate the arrow “wounds” on our sculpture, Maggie and John collaborated with experts in the Decorative Arts and Sculpture Conservation Department at the J. Paul Getty Museum. This exhibition traces the results of their findings and offers insights into the process of art historical and technical research, from studying the early construction of the sculpture to the significance of its ownership history and methods of display.

In April, we present the next exhibition in the lower-level exhibition galleries, All Consuming: Art and the Essence of Food. Curated by Maggie Bell, with assistance from our 2022–23 Graduate Intern, Alexandra Kaczenski, the exhibition offers a new take on the representation of eating in European art. It features paintings, sculptures and works on paper made between the 16th and 19th centuries that show how artists participated in and shaped contemporary discourses about the production, consumption and visual presentation of food and drink.

Next fall, the lower-level galleries will host the first exhibition organized by Assistant Curator Lakshika Senarath Gamage. Benevolent Beings: Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from South and Southeast Asia showcases over 40 sculptures from the Norton Simon collections—most of which have never or seldom been displayed—to highlight the protective and healing associations with these works of art, and their capacity to provide comfort and solace both at the time of their creation and today.

Behind the scenes we have been making progress on a number of important conservation projects. The Norton Simon’s magnificent panels Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1530) have spent the past year and a half in the Paintings Conservation Studio at the J. Paul Getty Museum, where they have undergone treatment for structural support, removal of discolored varnish and associated retouching. We look forward to celebrating the return of these splendid paintings to the galleries later in 2023. At the same time, the Museum’s lovely Reclining Nude by Jean-Antoine Watteau (c. 171317), exhibited in the Getty’s 2021–22 exhibition La Surprise: Watteau in Los Angeles, remained in the Paintings Conservation Studio after the exhibition’s close for further analysis and cleaning. For more on the results of this fascinating project, please see our interview with Kari Rayner, Associate Paintings Conservator at the Getty.

Elsewhere in the Museum we will be focusing on making improvements to the building’s landscaping and grounds, including opening the West Foyer Sculpture Garden outside the Theater lobby. This rectilinear space will offer plantings and seating, in addition to presenting five works of modern art from the Museum’s collections, all of which have been off view for many years. We will announce the official opening date for this space in the months ahead.

Along with our president, board members and staff, I thank you for your continued support of the Norton Simon Museum. We send you our best wishes for a healthy and joyous start to the new year.

–Emily Talbot, Chief Curator