Cleve Carney exhibit provides a window into collector’s world

While Cleve Carney might never have ranked among Chicago’s most elite art collectors, few, if any, topped his dedication to the pursuit. Because of his uncommon generosity, the Glen Ellyn philanthropist, who died in July, will not soon be forgotten.

An art gallery bearing his name opened last week at the College of DuPage with an exhibition featuring nearly 40 highlights from the 600 to 800 paintings, sculptures and other artworks that the collector acquired during his lifetime. It runs through March 29.

Once an appraisal is completed, works equaling 40 percent of the total value of the collection will go to the College of DuPage, with the rest split between the Elmhurst Art Museum and Carney’s family. (A piece by famed Chicago Imagist Jim Nutt also is set to be acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago.)

In addition, Carney donated $700,000 to the college in 2012 to fund the Cleve Carney Art Gallery and start an endowment fund to support its operations and the purchase of further artworks.

The 1,850-square-foot space was added unobtrusively onto the west side of the college’s McAninch Arts Center as part of a $35 million, 14-month renovation project that was completed in December. Designed by Wight & Company of Chicago, the clean, white space has a 14-foot-ceiling and bamboo flooring.

In choosing works for the gallery’s debut exhibition, director and curator Barbara Wiesen sought a cross-section of Carney’s collection, which consists of mostly smaller pieces that were displayed in every nook and cranny of his home. She worked hard to give the exhibition a sense of cohesion, but it still has a certain scattered feel because of the collection’s disparateness.

Other than an obvious fondness for Chicago artists, especially noted Imagists such as Ed Paschke and Karl Wirsum, there is little discernible thrust to Carney’s collecting. While he obviously had an affinity for abstraction, especially works involving pattern and geometry, he also collected representational and conceptual art.

Many well-known artists are represented, including Mel Bochner, Christo, Jenny Holzer and Robert Motherwell, who are featured in this exhibition, and Leon Golub, Sol LeWitt, Kiki Smith and Richard Tuttle, who are not.

But aside from a few pieces, such as a strong example of Roxy Paine’s machine-made paintings, “PMU #17” (2005), most of the selections are secondary works ­— drawings, original prints and other editioned multiples. That said, there are nonetheless worthwhile works to be seen. Among them:

Tricia Rumbolz, “173 Vertical Lines” (2008).This striking five-foot tall acrylic on wood panel harks back to 1960s op art, with its loose, slightly dizzying composition of white-on-black undulating lines.

Rodney Carswell, “Nov. 30 (09)” (2008). One of a nicely matched pair of geometric abstractions, this compact oil on linen presents a crisp, bright yellow composition with a rectilinear band across the top and carefully delineated swirling stripes below.

Ray Yoshida, “Analogies Number 9” (1973). This collaged series of vaguely cartoonish felt-tip drawings on torn sections of paper is a good example of one of Chicago’s best-known Imagists.

Carney loved art, and this exhibition and his donation to the College of DuPage allow the public to share in that passion.

‘Selection of Artworks from the Cleve Carney Collection’

♦ Through March 29

♦ Cleve Carney Art Gallery, McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn

♦ Tickets, Free

♦ (630) 942-2321