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Nasher Museum hangs high hopes on El Greco exhibit

Posted August 19, 2008

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— Paris has the Louvre. New York has the Metropolitan Museum of Art. North Carolina has the Nasher Museum of Art. The museum that four years ago was just a field of weeds, is banking on the new exhibit, “El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III,” to inspire a celebration of Spanish art across the Triangle.

"It's totally surreal. It's totally surreal,” co-curator Sarah Schroth said.

For 12 years, Schroth dug to uncover the untold art inventories of the Duke of Lerma. She finally found them in an attic in Spain.

"It was a beautiful renaissance building, but this was the servants' quarters where I was, and I was in a spare bedroom and the only light was from the window. And there was no heat. And I discovered them in winter," she said.

Co-curator Ronni Baer brought in support from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Schroth and Baer combined to be a ruthless bargaining team in Spain, even when it came to the Catholic priests who owned a saintly sculpture that is part of the exhibit.

"I think we just wore down these priests, who were so sick and tired of our visits. Finally they just said, 'OK, you can have the sculpture,'" Baer said.

Some of the sculptures and paintings have never been seen in the United States and probably never will be again.

The exhibition includes 52 master paintings, including seven late works by El Greco , three early works by Velázquez and works by their contemporaries.

The exhibit is the largest-ever assembly in the Southeast of Spanish art on international loan. It includes altar pieces, portraits, full-length carved and painted sculptures of saints and pieces of period glass and ceramics.

The museum’s admission price for the exhibit is $15 for adults, $5 for children ages 7 to 17 and $5 for students.

"What could hurt? You come in. You take a look around. You read or you don't read. You look intently or you don't. You just go to a painting that speaks to you and spend five minutes there,” Baer said.

The exhibition will be on view at the museum on the Duke University campus from Aug. 21 through Nov. 9. The museum is also running a special promotion for members of the Latino community.

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