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Sneak peek inside University of Iowa’s new Stanley Museum of Art
Pollock’s ‘Mural’ star of multifaceted ‘Homecoming’ exhibition
IOWA CITY — As the sunlight bounces off the gleaming facade of the University of Iowa’s new Stanley Museum of Art, it’s no match for the spotlight shining on the spectacular “Homecoming” exhibition inside.
Tuesday morning, local media was invited for a sneak peek inside the $50 million state-of-the-art structure anchoring 160 W. Burlington St. Gibson Square Park provides a green carpet leading up to the front plaza of the 63,000-square-foot building, equipped with more than 16,500 square feet of exhibition space.
Stepping over the threshold into the lobby, the lively, vibrant, colorful “Surrounding” abstract wall mural motions visitors indoors. It’s the vision of artist Odili Donald Odita of Philadelphia, who lived in Iowa City briefly as a child. The Stanley Museum commissioned the work, created this spring in response to the museum’s star attraction on the second floor: Jackson Pollock’s 1943 landmark “Mural,” which sparked the abstract expressionism movement.
Fourteen years without a home, after rising floodwaters threatened the UI’s art collection, “Mural” is back in Iowa City, all fresh and sparkling after two years of study and conservation at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, then a U.S. and European tour.
Gifted to the UI in 1951, the seminal work is ready for its close-up, as the museum opens its doors to the public this weekend, with three days full of festivities from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
At a glance
What: University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art
Where: 160 W. Burlington St., adjacent to Gibson Square Park
Opening: Ribbon-cutting and dedication 3 to 4 p.m. Aug. 26, with festivities, performances, tours and more continuing through Aug. 28, 2022; schedule and details at stanleymuseum.uiowa.edu/
Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday
Among the highlights are gallery tours and talks, community art stations, live music, evening concerts, food vendors, juggling performances and workshops, and at 5 p.m. Saturday in the lobby, selections from Cedar Rapids Opera’s commissioned work, “The Grant Wood Operas: Strokes of Genius.”
And admission always is free — this weekend and beyond.
The second-floor galleries contain movable walls, to allow for different viewing configurations. For the opening exhibition, which will be on view through July 2025, the walls create an easy flow not only for observation, but also for conversation between viewers and the more than 600 pieces of art on display.
This particular configuration also is designed to speak to different generations in different ways.
“We know that there is an established way of visiting art museums that older visitors will be very used to,” Lauren Lessing, the museum’s director, told The Gazette. “We know that the way young visitors engage with the museum is different. They come to the museum to have social experiences. They come in groups.
“I didn't make very many changes to the architecture of the building, but I did rearrange the galleries on the second floor, in part to create more of a meandering experience of discovery and in part to control sound, because I want people to have conversations in the galleries.”
Benches in several of the galleries also invite viewers to sit and study the works individually, and as a whole. The bench in front of “Mural” sits back far enough so viewers can see the massive 8-foot-by-20-foot painting edge to edge, or focus on a particular area, where they might see a human face on one end and a buffalo skull on the other end, woven between the swirling swaths of color that propel so much motion throughout the piece.
Placement of the art within the various galleries also is designed to create conversations between those works, and continuing into the next galleries.
An entire wall of the DeWolf Family Gallery is devoted to the Pollock, but adjacent walls in that “Expansive Visions“ collection contain not only other abstract works, but also works by Native Americans, whose style influenced Pollock, born in Wyoming in 1912, but raised in Arizona and California. He died Aug. 11, 1956, in New York. (Trivia: Pollock’s parents, Stella May McClure and LeRoy Pollock, grew up in Tingley, southwest of Des Moines.)
One of the largest and most stunning pieces sharing the DeWolf Gallery is Sam Gilliam’s “Red April,” acrylic on canvas, 1970, splattered with red drops, and created in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Subsequent galleries flow from the “rulebreakers” grouped with “Mural” to “Points of Departure,” with works by artists “reconsidering pathways into creation,” including Joan Miro’s “A Drop of Dew Falling from the Wing of a Bird Awakens Rosalie Asleep in the Shade of a Cobweb” and the urban meditation “New York to Paris, No. 1,” by Stuart Davis.
Other spaces showcase modern art that questions society and government, and continue moving seamlessly between cultures, ethnicities and genres, from the familiarity of Grant Wood’s Regionalism views and Elizabeth Catlett’s portraits of the Black American female experience, to the museum’s vast collection of African textiles, masks, figures and paintings. (Catlett, Wood’s student, became the first Black woman to receive an MFA at the UI. An influential 20th century sculptor and printmaker, a UI residence hall now bears her name.)
All of the text blocks within the galleries are written in English and Spanish, to help serve the area’s growing cultural diversity.
Once the opening festivities conclude, the museum will continue to be a welcoming space for students and the public, Lessing said.
“As we launch our fall programs, we have a new Wellness Initiative,” she noted. “Every Friday afternoon, we're having mindfulness and art-making exercises for people who have really been struggling over the course of the last couple of years with COVID, quarantine and the pandemic. We know that 80 percent of students right now are struggling with mental and emotional health issues, and we want to partner with the Wellness Center — our neighbor — to address those issues. We want to be a space for peace, relaxation, unwinding (and) stress relief.
“We also want to be a place to have fun,” she added, so programs are in the works for young professionals; lectures and artist presentations; film screenings; youth story times and family art activities.
It’s also a teaching museum, which will serve the greater community as well as UI students.
“Our school visit program is up and running again,” Lessing said. “We already have thousands of students signed up to visit in the fall, and we know we’ll have an equal number of students visiting in the spring.
“It makes me really, really happy to know that yellow school buses will be pulling up in front of the museum, and we’ll have students visiting again, after 14 years.”
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