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50 Years of Contemporary Art from the Blake Byrne Collection Opens at Nasher Museum

New exhibit featuring highlights from the Blake Byrne collection opens at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art.

L.A. art collector Blake Byrne, class of ’57, poses with the 2006 painting St. John the Baptist II by Kehinde Wiley, part of the exhibition “Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Blake Byrne,” at the Nasher Museum. Photo by Ed Carreon.

An exhibition of 50 years of contemporary art from the collection of Blake Byrne, class of ’57, opens Thursday, Feb. 19, at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

“Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Blake Byrne” features 68 works of art, from Andy Warhol to the present. The exhibition features iconoclastic artists, including John Baldessari, Cindy Sherman, Ed Ruscha and Warhol, alongside acclaimed younger artists Thomas Houseago, Wangechi Mutu and Kehinde Wiley. The exhibition reveals the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary art, including painting, works on paper, collage, sculpture, installation, photography, digital animation and video. 

“We are thrilled to present this exciting selection from the vast art collection of Blake Byrne, who has an inimitable eye,” said Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum. “Visitors will enjoy work by the most significant and compelling artists of the past five decades. This show offers a broad overview of contemporary art, but also a rare window into the collector’s passion and personal vision.”

The exhibition is on view through July 12 at Duke before traveling to three other university art museums with connections to Byrne’s family: Ohio State University Urban Arts Space in Columbus, Ohio; the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University in New York; and the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. 

“Open This End” draws from the collection Byrne has built over the past 30 years. The exhibition traces a history of recent art, including Pop and Conceptual Art, Minimalism, body-oriented performance art, works by the Pictures Generation, those influenced by identity politics and psychologically-inflected figurative works. The title comes from a 1962 painting by Andy Warhol, the earliest work in the show. More than half of the works are promised gifts to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. 

“Open This End” is organized by Joseph R. Wolin, an independent curator and art critic in New York. The exhibition is accompanied by a 120-page fully illustrated catalogue, available in the Nasher Museum Store.

The exhibition will be complemented by free programs and events, including a panel discussion on “Collecting, Philanthropy and Ethics” with collectors Blake Byrne and Michael Levine on April 9 at 7 p.m.; Family Day events; public library talks; sketching in the gallery; a teacher workshop and more. 

Byrne earned a bachelor of arts degree from Duke in 1957 and an MBA from Columbia University. He retired from a distinguished broadcasting career, serving most recently as president of Argyle Television in Los Angeles. He moved to L.A. in 1989 to become president and general manager of KCAL-9. Before that, he managed various network affiliates and was the vice president of television for LIN Broadcasting. Byrne has been listed as one of ARTnews magazine’s top 200 collectors in the world and also as one of Art & Antiques Magazine’s “100 Top Collectors Who Are Making a Difference.”

A longtime supporter of Duke, Byrne gave donations to name two gallery spaces for his family in the Nasher Museum’s Biddle Pavilion. In 2007, Byrne promised a gift of 33 works of art to the Nasher Museum; he has since made a gift of several additional works and has contributed to the purchase of works for the museum’s collection. He advises the Nasher Museum on art acquisitions as founding chairman of the museum’s national board of advisors.

“Open This End” is sponsored by The Skylark Foundation, Los Angeles. The Nasher Museum, at 2001 Campus Drive at Anderson Street on the Duke campus, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday; and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays. Admission (except for ticketed exhibitions) is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and members of the Duke Alumni Association with I.D. card, $3 for non-Duke students with identification and free for children 15 and younger. Admission (except for ticketed exhibitions) is free to all on Thursday nights. Admission is free to Duke students, faculty and staff with a Duke ID. Admission is also free to Nasher Museum members.