The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) recently announced collector Irving Stenn Jr.’s gift of 105 pivotal contemporary drawings by renowned artists. Considered to be one of the most significant contributions of drawings to have ever been given to the museum, the encompassing and vast body of work heavily focuses on works from the 1960s, to which Stenn was keenly attracted. The gifts were exhibited a couple years ago at AIC but will now be part of their permanent collection, put on display on occasion when their inclusion is appropriate to the exhibitions. When asked in a phone interview about why he decided to donate the drawings now, Stenn says, “The timing seems right, the Art Institute of Chicago is wonderful, and these drawings belong in the public hand.”
In the press release sent out earlier last week, president and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute of Chicago Douglas Druick spoke humbly of Stenn, “Irv has a discerning eye for art and tremendous stamina for searching it out, and this makes his generous and enlightened support of the museum especially potent,” said Druick. “His remarkable gift greatly enriches our holdings of contemporary prints and drawings and will animate the Art Institute’s galleries for many years to come.”
Stenn is an attorney in private practice who has been collecting contemporary sculptures and paintings with his wife Marcia since 1971, shifting his focus to drawings after her passing in 1999. Beyond simply collecting, Stenn built personal relationships within the artistic community, including conceptual artist Mel Bochner, whose work is included in his collection. Because of the drawings’ relatively small size, Stenn was able to display the entirety of his collection on the walls of his home. AIC’s print and drawings curator Mark Pascale says that the collection is in fine condition due to the extra lengths Stenn took to make sure they remained as pristine as possible, even putting light-filtering glazing on the windows of the room (which also had shades) and keeping the lights off when he wasn’t home.
Pascale elaborates on some of the drawings he’s most excited about from the batch. “Mr. Stenn has a great eye. He collects many great works. Among the drawings that he gifted are a terrific group of early drawings by Mel Bochner and Fred Sandback, several by Sol LeWitt, three works by Agnes Denes, individual sheets by Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, Brice Marden, Bridget Riley, Ed Ruscha, Robert Ryman.”
When asked about his most beloved drawings, Stenn replies, “Choosing a favorite piece is like having to choose a favorite child, you simply can’t. You love them all for different reasons.” (Mahjabeen Syed)
Visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago during weekday visiting hours can make an appointment in the Prints and Drawings Study Center to see the works when they are not on display.