Philanthropist enables National Gallery to acquire Bendel Hydes artworks

Susan A. Olde stands next to Bendel Hydes' 'Untitled IV' (2005).

Thanks to the generosity of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands’ chairperson and patron, Susan A. Olde, OBE, the gallery has managed to acquire several pieces of Bendel Hydes’ work.

Widely regarded as the founding father of Caymanian contemporary art, Hydes concluded his 50-year artistic journey with a career-defining exhibition at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands in late 2019.

It was the largest solo project ever undertaken by the institution.

The four-month exhibition welcomed over 6,000 visitors and led to the first comprehensive academic study of the artist’s practice, which resulted in a full-colour catalogue tracing Hydes’ personal and artistic journey.

“The ‘Bendel Hydes Retrospective’ was a remarkable project for all involved and a way of ensuring Hydes’ legacy as the forefather of Caymanian visual art,” said gallery director and chief curator Natalie Urquhart. “Yet, it became very apparent during this process that despite Bendel being considered Cayman’s premier visual artist to date, his work was very underrepresented in the Cayman Islands National Art Collection.”

This was due to several factors, but primarily owing to budget restrictions for collecting artwork, as well as Hydes living and working in New York City since the early 1980s.

As the artist has now stopped painting due to failing health, the collection and preservation of his work has become a priority. Following the closure of ‘Retrospective’, the gallery reached out to the Hydes family with the idea of creating a small exhibition. This would serve as the focus of a community-wide campaign designed to raise the necessary funds to secure the work in perpetuity.

Together, they selected key paintings from the artist’s own personal collection that traced each decade of his career including early work from the ‘Tropical Plant Series’ of the 1980s; his move to abstract expressionism around 1990; the nautical mapping series of the mid-1990s; and his experiments with, and ultimate mastering of, a style known as ‘luminescent abstraction’. The 10 paintings collectively represented the evolution of his studio practice from the early 1980s to the mid-2000s.

Bendel Hydes at the National Gallery’s 2019 exhibition ‘Retrospective’.

Titled ‘Bendel Hydes Acquisitions’, the small showcase opened in January 2020. However, the gallery had to close its doors soon after due to the pandemic, putting a halt to its plans. It looked increasingly likely that it would lose the opportunity to secure the collection.

When Olde learned of the challenges the gallery was facing, she stepped in to help mitigate the risk through a generous donation to the acquisition fund.

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of Bendel Hydes within the history of Caymanian art,” said Olde. “He has provided inspiration to generations of Caymanian artists and paved the way for the thriving art scene which we enjoy today. Subsequently, it is vital that his work finds a safe home in the National Art Collection, where it can now be visited and studied by current and future generations.”

Several of the newly acquired artworks are already on display in the new National Gallery permanent collection exhibition ‘Saltwater in Their Veins’, and others will continue to rotate in the coming months.

“It is truly remarkable that we have been able to preserve and share Bendel Hydes’ legacy through Mrs. Olde’s generosity and foresight,” said Urquhart. “We join her in welcoming back school students – as well as the wider community – to NGCI to share the remarkable story of Hydes’ life through these works.”

The National Gallery is open from Monday through Saturday from 10am-5pm and admission is free. To book a school tour or for more information about educational resources relating to the collection, email [email protected] or, for general information, visit www.nationalgallery.org.ky.

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