Photo: Kara Walker, detail of Freedom: A Fable, 1997, bookbinding/writing/laser beam cutting, MAM Collection, gift of the Norton Family Foundation, copyright the artist.

A Democratic Spirit: Peter Norton Family Gifts

January 6 2017 - May 27 2017

Art collector, philanthropist, and software entrepreneur Peter Norton, inventor of Norton Utilities, established his family foundation with his former wife Eileen Norton in 1989. The foundation’s primary focus is on supporting contemporary visual arts nationwide. For more than two decades, the Peter Norton Family commissioned annual limited edition artworks to give to friends, colleagues, and museums during the holidays. The “Christmas Projects” evolved from modest prints created in small runs to complexly fabricated objects and editions up to 5,000—with all those gift labels reportedly printed personally by Peter Norton. Each year’s artwork was always a surprise, as was the recipient list. MAM was fortunate and delighted to receive six gifts between 1994 and 1999.

According to Susan Cahan, former Senior Curator for the Nortons, the projects were designed to have “two key characteristics: high ‘play value’ and a true democratic spirit.” The works received at MAM embody these qualities and represent diverse, international artists working with some of the most challenging and relevant themes in contemporary art. This exhibition includes five of the gifts: a set of ceramic, rubber, and bronze wishbones in a felt-lined redwood box by Lorna Simpson; a Japanese dancing fan depicting photographer Yasumasa Morimura as Marilyn Monroe; Brian Eno and Pae White’s reimagining of the landmark creative tool, Oblique Strategies; Kara Walker’s pop-up book about a former slave seeking true emancipation; and Vik Muniz’s Wanderer Ashtray, a recreation of Caspar David Friedrich’s The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog in cigarette ashes.