Arts & Culture

Not sad to see blue: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art exhibit showcases many shades of Iowa artistry

“Bathsheba's Sky,” 2019 oil on canvas painting by Dena Tollefson, is on loan for “Into the Blue,” an all Iowa juried exhibition opening Saturday (6/8) at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. The show continues to Sept. 15 in the museum's main floor galleries.

From sea to sky, the world is wrapped in blue.

This summer, three main-floor galleries at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art will be a rhapsody in blue, as well.

“Statistically, blue is the world’s favorite color,” said Kate Kunau, curator and juror for “Into the Blue,” which opens Saturday (6/8) and continues through Sept. 15. This major summer exhibition features 80 works, from paintings and sculpture to jewelry, fabric, glass, a basket and wood, created by Iowa artists in the past three years. All use blue as the dominant color.

The idea of a monochromatic theme intrigued Kunau on several levels.

“We knew we wanted to do something color-based, but I really wanted to keep it to a single color so the galleries felt really cohesive,” she said, standing among the works as they were being placed last week. “I think it’s really cool to see so much variation on one primary color.”

While some of the works are landscapes, others are portraits, photographs, abstracts, surrealism and three-dimensional functional or decorative pieces, from a tiny book to an intricate ceramic bowl sculpture. The galleries are arranged to show the gradation of blues, from pastel pale to dark, eerie and ominous.

“I wanted it to feel like a jewel box. I wanted it to feel very saturated in the galleries,” said Kunau, who blended right in, being clad that day in her favorite bright blue dress.

“(The color) is predominant in nature, and it’s cool to see how artists work with something that’s so common, and yet it has such a long history,” Kunau said, noting that blue was used as the color of the Virgin Mary’s veil, especially in medieval and Renaissance art.

“It used to be super expensive,” she said, since the vivid ultramarine color favored for Mary was created by crushing bright lapis lazuli semiprecious stones from Afghanistan. “It created this whole sense of trade, because ultramarine was the dominant blue. And then there’s cobalt and indigo — and producing it was really difficult and smelly.


“So (blue) has a really interesting art history because for so long, it was the most expensive pigment, and you used it really sparingly.”

Judging from the response for submissions for this new exhibition, blue remains popular among today’s artists.

Kunau put out the call for entries Feb. 1, through the museum’s artist list, social media, galleries, networking and by encouraging word-of-mouth. By the March 1 deadline, more than 220 Iowa artists had submitted 486 pieces via email photographs. Kunau served as the lone juror, spending March winnowing that field down to the final 80 accepted pieces by April 1.

“It’s really hard when you get towards the end,” she said, as she not only works to makes the best choices, but to strike a balance between the types and styles of works to include in the show.

“I could have done this exhibition two other times with completely different art, and it also would have been amazing,” she said, “though I know at the end, there’s just a finite amount of space on the walls, and honestly, this is as many pieces as I’ve ever crammed in here.”

She uses a “blind” process, viewing the works without names attached. Naturally, some local artists have such a distinctive style that their work is easily recognized. Frequent museum patrons will recognize pieces by Tera Moorman, Thomas C. Jackson, Dena Tollefson, John Schwartzkopf and Bill Stamats.

“I’ve worked here for almost five years now,” she said. “There are some artists that I do just recognize, even though the jury thing is totally blind.”

This has been a completely different experience than in 2015, when she mounted her first juried exhibition for the museum, “Midwest Summer: Light and Warmth,” which opened just six months after she arrived on the job. She laughed as she recalled being worried she might make enemies among artists whose pieces weren’t selected. But then as now, nearly everyone has been very gracious about the results.


“It’s a double-edged sword, for sure, because I do know these people and so now I have a personal relationship with (them), which makes it slightly more difficult than when I didn’t know anyone,” she said. “But it’s really fun. It’s really cool to discover new artists both in the community and outside the community — and it’s such a dynamic art scene in Iowa that it’s always so much fun to be reminded of that.”

Summer is a prime slot for an exhibit showcasing multiple artists, she added, since they’re eager to have family and friends see their work. While the top admission price is just $7 for adults through most of the year, during July and August, admission is free-for-all ages, enticing even more visitors. So don’t let construction outside the museum’s front door deter you.

If You Go

WHAT: “Into the Blue,” an all Iowa juried exhibition

WHERE: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, 410 Third Ave. SE

WHEN: Saturday (6/8) to Sept. 15

HOURS: Noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday; noon to 8 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

ADMISSION: $7 adults, $6 ages 62 and up and college students with ID, $3 ages 6 to 18, free ages 5 and under and Museum members


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