For over a year the staff of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts has been working on the most comprehensive reinstallation since the museum opened in 2001. On August 26th the museum will reopen to the public with new artwork temporary exhibitions and a huge two-day celebration. ♪ Tell me, first of all, what makes the UMFA the flagship fine arts museum in the whole state? What we have that’s really special is works of art from different parts of the world and different time frames that are really, really special because there’s no other institution in the region that has those pieces. So you can come here and see art from Ancient Greece and Rome as well as cutting-edge modern contemporary stuff. We also have the ability to do really incredible special exhibitions. We’re really excited to keep doing that. The reinstallations in August will really focus on the very best of our collections and the stories that we’ve chosen to tell today, right now and of course that’s what’s great about a permanent collection, it’ll always be here and future museum directors and future museum staff will tell different stories. Ok, a lot of the artwork we’re seeing is actually from your collection it just not been exhibited before. Absolutely, so there is a collection of about 21,000 objects in this museum, which is a lot, and so when we closed the museum to upgrade our facility we took the opportunity to dig around in the basement and to bring things up into the galleries that we haven’t seen ever or maybe for a long time. Works on paper, prints, photographs, in some cases books. So we’re really excited about the new narratives, the new stories. Just to change the conversations a little bit so the artwork are having different conversations with each other and we hope our visitors will have different conversations about the artwork. Leslie, tell us about some of your goals here at the museum as a primary curator. My goal really is to expand understanding of the UMFA’s collection through research, really to identify stories worth telling. Looking at the collection I was drawing out themes that we could really show artistic mobility, how artists were encountering ideas whether through prints or through travel and that is something that really kind of informs my thinking. So you’ve made a very conscious choice, it seems, to include the works of more women in the collection. We have. My colleague, the curator of modern contemporary art, Whitney Tassie, his focus exclusively on women artists from 1945 to the present. In the 19th century presentation of American art we have a work by a lesser-known lithographer Fanny Palmer, who has received very little attention until this time but recent scholarship has shown that she is quite significant in really disseminating imagery that pushed people to come out to this region and then also we have presented alongside a favorite of our collection Harwood’s “Preparation for Dinner” a work by his wife Harriet Richards Harwood created in the same year in the artist’s studio. Another thing we’ve been thinking a lot about is the way in which the museum interacts with and the way it feels for all of our visitors. You may have never been in an art museum before, you may not know anything about art or art history and what can we do to heighten the experience for you and to make the experience, sort of more meaningful and more fun. And so my staff has been thinking about that visitor experience. How hard it is or easy it is to find the Museum on the campus of the University, can you park your car can you take public transportation, you know do you have what you need in order to have a really fun and fulfilling experience. One thing we’ve done that I’m really excited about, we’ve completely translated all of the didactic material for three of the collections into Spanish and that’s, that makes sense for our community, yes. And so if you prefer to read and think and talk in Spanish those those three collections are going to work much better for those folks. I’m really excited about that. It’s about the information presented relating to the work of art and the context of its creation, not just artists biography We’ve actually conducted evaluations asking people what they thought about our label format and the content presented. So we’ve written much pithier labels, much more concise labels, we want to show the strongest works but we also want to tell a very cohesive narrative. And I know you have a big celebration coming up for the reopening on the 26th. So the big celebration is really important because we’ve worked really hard. Yes. And and we can’t wait to share with the community what we’ve been up to. There’ll be two new artists works on view, Las Hermanas Iglesias, as well as Spencer Finch, this amazing New York artists who will do a site-specific piece in the Great Hall for us and then we’re going to do tons of fun stuff, a big dance party, food trucks on Saturday night, tours of the collections, tours of the basement and on and on so something’s for everybody. Yeah. [Mary] Tours of the basement? Oh, I
want to go in the basement. [Gretchen] It’s really cool down there. [Mary] Oh, I really want to go in there.
Talk about some of the programming you do at the museum because it’s more than just coming to see the beautiful exhibitions. Yeah, so I absolutely believe that you could zero about art, never taken an art class or an art history class and you can navigate these spaces and you can have a really good time. If you want to go deeper, if you want to know and think more about art, there’s lots of opportunities to do that here. Almost all of our public programming is free we have lots of talks, art history talks, artist talks, we have lots of hands-on art making activities. Is it a safe place and an okay place to bring your children? Absolutely. You can’t touch the art, that’s true, and with super small children that can be a bit of a challenge but we’ve created a backpack program that you can check out and walk through the galleries and your kids can touch the material in the backpack and it’s connected to the art work that they’re going seen in the gallery so it opens conversation and helps mom and dad and grandma and grandpa have conversations with the kids about the art in the galleries which is really cool. I also love connecting different, pulling together different art and different creative people in the space of the museum. Bringing different art forms into the art museum where one typically thinks, ‘oh, I’m just going to see visual art.’ But sometimes we’ll surprise our visitors with other things. Leslie the colors are one of the first things that people will notice when they come in here. How did you choose these colors? Well, I was thinking very much about what was popular at the time of works were created so in the adjacent gallery we primarily have works created in the Early Modern Period, the 15th to the 18th centuries and into, really the beginning of the 19th century. And this color, verdigris green, was very popular amongst artists, so it’s really harmonious with the works on display. We’re currently standing in galleries that are devoted to 19th century art, and so we have selected a color that’s very close to Prussian blue, which was popular at the time. A lot of the works were in storage and you brought them out after many years You’ve also got some acquisitions that are new. [Leslie] So there were a number of works that needed to be cleaned or they needed new frames, so we’ve taken this opportunity to address those works and brought them out to tell these new stories. We’ve also really thought very strategically about gaps in our collections and made acquisitions that will fill those gaps. What do you hoping most that people will see? What I’m hoping most that people will see and find is joy. You know, it’s just a beautiful, beautiful special place and, you know, I’ve spent my whole life thinking about and working in art museums, they’ve mean a lot to me, and this one is amazing. And the collection is terrific and the staff is wonderful and what I hope people experience is just absolute joy and happiness and seeing new things they never thought of or saw before or thinking differently about something. The art is here, it’s on the walls and it looks really beautiful but the magic of the museum is the way in which the community and we as humans come together with our families so we really have been thinking a lot about how to make that flow and happen as easily as possible for people. [Mary] Come visit the new and improved Utah Museum of Fine Arts on the University of Utah campus. And don’t miss the big two-day celebration beginning August 26. You can learn more at For Contact in the Community, I’m Mary Dickson.