In June 2015, artworks from the private collection of Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield were featured in ‘There’s no place like home,’ a special curated show of paintings by celebrated American Regionalist artists at the Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair in London.
During the collection’s first public exhibition outside of the US, nearly 30,000 visitors to the fair had the opportunity to view 44 important works by leading artists of the Regionalist genre, including Thomas Hart Benton, Joe Jones, John Atherton, John Rogers Cox and Steuart Curry.
“Whilst well-known in their native USA, these artists were a revelation for British audiences,” said a review on ArtDaily.org. “Visitors were struck by the lyricism and haunting beauty of the works on display, of which highlights include John Atherton’s surreal Industrial Landscape (1939) and Thomas Hart Benton’s famous self-portrait which had previously graced the cover of TIME Magazine. In its totality, the exhibition formed a wonderful introduction to the great American painters of the ‘Dust Bowl Years’.
“No Place Like Home”: An Introduction
Collectors are the lifeblood of a community’s cultural identity, particularly when the collection relates strongly to personal story. Such is the case with Rex and Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield. Since the 1980s they have built a dynamic group of paintings, prints and other objects that relate strongly to the idea of place, of home. To paraphrase artist, Romare Bearden: “I never left Missouri, except physically”. The same could be said of Rex Sinquefield.
With their focus on place, on home, it is perhaps not surprising that Rex and Jeanne have been drawn to the artists interested in region: The American scene painters. To the extent that these artists reacted against European modernism and attempted to establish a distinctive American pictorial language and capture new facets of the American experience, theirs was a patriotic – even political – style. Indeed, civic engagement flows beneath the surface of many works in the Sinquefield collection. Thomas Hart Benton, for example, made his name through a series of mural commissions at a time when murals were explicitly public, political statements.
Some of the works here – much like the Americans art scene – were motivated by concern for the fate of farmers during the Dust Bowl years. Joe Jones’s work, in particular, could be fiercely political. His working class background as the son of a St. Louis house painter compelled him to create artwork sympathetic to the plight of unemployed and impoverished people during her height of the Great Depression in the US.
The civic minded themes that emerge on these paintings seem motivated by the genuine love for the land, respect for the people who work it, and concern to record and preserve a way of life. Again, Benton provides a telling example. The artist did not often put his art to direct political use, as art historian Henry Adams has noted, but the horrifying destruction caused by the 1951 flood that devastated Kansas City touched a chord. Persistent rain throughout the early summer peaked in July when both the Missouri and the Kansas Rivers swelled to seventy times their normal size. The force of the water destroyed levees and swept over the city’s infrastructure. Many perished, more than 500,000 people were displaced; the 1951 flood was the worst disaster of its kind to hit the United States. After touring the flood-ravaged areas, Benton painted “Flood Disaster” that would show the country the scale of the disaster that struck his home- just as painters and photographers had documented the effects of the Dust Bowl during the 1930s. In this work, as on so many seen here, we see an artist capturing essential truths about his home as place and a way of life worth fighting for and preserving.
The Sinquefield collection repeatedly shows the preservation of home requires an ethic of determination and perseverance. It is an idea that resonates powerfully throughout: home as domestic space; home as region, a city; home as an ideal worth cherishing and protecting.
The guardianship and betterment of home is not portrayed solely in their art collection.
Since 2006 the Sinquefields have applied their considerable energies and expertise to a number of civic and philanthropic ventures in Missouri and St. Louis: They founded the Show Me Institute, a free market think tank, and Let Voters Decide, a nonpartisan coalition dedicated to economic growth and voters’ rights. Rex and Jeanne support educational programs touching students at every level throughout Missouri and between them serve on the boards of cultural and educational boards. Through the establishment of both the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and the World Chess Hall of Fame, the Sinquefields have made the city into the chess capital of the United States, if not the world.
The Sinquefields are long-time supporters of the art and music, specifically music composition. The Sinquefields’ support for music composition at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) began more than ten years ago and has grown to focus on making Missouri an international mecca for music composition. What started with a K–12 competition, called the Sinquefield Prize for Composition, and a high school summer camp, grew into the Mizzou New Music Initiative which now provides university scholarships, ensembles, faculty support, and an annual international composer festival and competition. In 2015, A $10 million gift to the University of Missouri to help fund the proposed new School of Music building. Tying all these seemingly disparate interests together is a commitment to improving the lives of all Missourians through education and opportunity.
More about the Olympia International Art Fair exhibition
* Sinquefield Collection to be shown at prestigious London art and antique fair
* Rex Sinquefield Art Collection is heading to the London’s Olympia International Art Fair: McGraw Milhaven
* Sinquefield loan exhibition strikes emotional chord with visitors at Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair