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Montgomery Museum of Fine Art

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Category: Behind the Scenes

Groundbreaking for a Garden of Endless Possibilities

 

DSC_0805blogWhat started out as a $3 million vision by Museum director Mark Johnson and the MMFA’s board of trustees is being transformed into a three-acre reality.

Johnson says, “First we were just considering building it out to the road and having a one acre sculpture gallery, but then we started saying we have another 50 yards of property out there. We decided if we extended it out and changed a road here and there it would add a lot more space to it. ”

With temperatures rapidly approaching the 90-degree mark on Wednesday morning Johnson, Montgomery’s Mayor Todd Strange, MMFA Board of Trustees President Barrie Harmon, and other dignitaries took the Sculpture Garden to the next level. They all shoveled sand during a ceremonial groundbreaking to make way for it’s creation. The Mayor Strange says, “This is the next step forward.”

DSC_0769blogForward to 2016, which is when Museum leaders plan to have this new gallery completed. The additional outdoor exhibition and studio space will be an extension of the Lowder Gallery that is located on the east side of the building. The Board’s president believes the Garden was the highlight of the Museum’s 25th anniversary.  Harmon says, “It enhances the image of the city. It gives us a cultural dimension to what we’re trying to achieve in Montgomery.” The new addition will not only feature temporary and permanent exhibitions of outdoor sculpture, it will also be used for special events and innovative education programs. The space will provide an outstanding new venue for entertaining and appreciating the beauty of the natural setting in the Blount Cultural Park.DSC_0827blog

Director Mark Johnson says the planning committee did their homework touring other sculpture gardens across the United States to get ideas and taking this research to an architect and landscape architecture specialist in order to prepare the current plan.

The efforts to fund the construction of the new sculpture garden are already underway and Johnson says a third of the money needed has been raised so far.

In the meantime, to hear and see more sights and sounds from the June 25th groundbreaking go online to the Youtube video link seen here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlH9G0YduH0&feature=youtu.be.

Cynthia Milledge
Director of Public Relations and Marketing

 

 

Sahara of the Bozeart—Say What?

In November of 1917, in the New York Evening Mail, essayist and journalist H. L. Mencken first published a version of his essay entitled The Sahara of the Bozeart. Reprinted in a compilation of essays in 1920 (Prejudices: Second Series) this essay, condemning the South as a “cultural wasteland,” caused quite a stir. In several thousand words Mencken damned the region as “that gargantuan paradise of the fourth-rate,” and although defenders of Southern society and culture rose up in its defense, his pronouncements were regularly repeated, and for generations the South was consistently branded as “sterile, artistically, intellectually, culturally, as the Sahara Desert.”

This unfortunate, and even in Mencken’s era inaccurate, reputation was one reason it was difficult for artists living and working in the South to find their way to acceptance within the larger art world in the early twentieth century. Those who wished to make a professional career of art, such as Ann Goldthwaite and Clara Weaver Parrish, quickly took themselves to art schools in New York and Paris in order to obtain the necessary “credentials.” Later, other artists found this journey more difficult, and less rewarding.

C_Gillis_blog2Late last year the Museum acquired an important watercolor for the permanent collection by one such artist, the Selma painter Crawford Gillis (1914–2000), In Custody (Project for a Southern Armory), 1936, watercolor on paper, Gift of George W. and Sue Royer, Jr., 2013.13. In Custody is a powerful indictment of Southern society in the 1930s. It is evident from the painting’s composition—a frightened black man in the custody of National Guardsmen—that he was referencing the social climate that predominated during the years of the Great Depression, in which poor people both black and white were subject to harsh living conditions, and sometimes brutalized by authorities. The painting’s subtitle, Project for a Southern Armory, was most likely an ironic reference to the possibility that an image such as this one would be an appropriate mural subject to place in an armory building that was planned for Selma. When asked if he had witnessed what transpired in the composition, he told the reviewer that, “I didn’t see it. They announced they would build a new armory in my town, and this is the way I felt it would work out.”

Gillis is an example of a talented Alabama artist who was fully dedicated to his work but unfortunately lived in an era when achieving wider recognition was complicated—first by the Great Depression and then by the disruptions of World War II. In addition, he fought the C_Gillis_blogprejudices of a society that accepted Mencken’s opinions as gospel—since there was no culture in Alabama, as Mencken adjudged it, there would be no artists.

This attitude created a challenge for those who saw Crawford Gillis’ insightful works on exhibit in a New York gallery in 1938—and then had to come to terms with his origins in the South. The reviewers of the January exhibition essentially dealt with the perceived contradiction by patronizing the artist characterizing him as “self-taught” despite the fact that he had studied art for many years in Selma, and then attended the National Academy of Design, studying under Charles Courtney Curran (1861–1942) and Leon Kroll (1884–1974). In spite of these quite acceptable art world credentials the reviewers did not get past his “past”.

While H. L. Mencken was no admirer of the South, by 1930 he would have at least found something to admire in Montgomery. In that year the founders of the MMFA created the State’s first art museum, and Mencken himself married a Montgomery girl, Sara Haardt, who was a Professor of English at Goucher College. Ever since Montgomery’s art museum has been proving that prejudices are just that, and that art is indeed alive and well in the “Sahara of the Bozeart.”

Jerry Siegel, Crawford Gillis, 1994, Collection of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art

 

The process behind Creator/Created

Blog_jjOur newest exhibition, Creator/Created: Jerry Siegel Portraits and Artists from the Permanent Collection just opened. This was a particularly fun exhibition to put together.  The idea started through conversations with Jerry who’s been photographing Southern artists for over 15 years.  In looking through his images we realized that the MMFA has many of these artists’ works in our collection and we thought by pairing photo and artwork together we could present a unique view into the works of art, the artists themselves, and their artistic process.  Going through our collection to select which of these artists’ works to feature was a real treat for me. I got to dive in and really begin to understand the breadth and depth of works by regional artists that we own in addition to all the other fantastic pieces in our collection.

Jerry is a wonderfully generous artist and I think his portraits speak to that; he really captures the essence of each of these personalities. When Jerry photographs his subjects, he takes multiple shots and often prints in both black and white and color. For the exhibition, we decided to use only the black and white images to present Jerry’s photographs as a cohesive body of work since we spread them throughout the galleries.  blog_iPadHe and I met several times to look at prints (both working and final) and to choose what worked best in this particular exhibition. Alternate images and color versions, along with interviews with many of the artists, are on I-Pads displayed throughout the galleries. Come take a look!

Jennifer Jankauskas
Curator of Art

Something’s missing

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By 2012, the three 14-foot-long aluminum arcs installed by Edward Lee Hendricks in the Museum’s lake in 1991 still pivoted on their stainless steel posts in a gentle breeze as designed, adding their graceful movements to the tranquil scene. However, time and the talons of waterfowl—especially wintering flocks of big, black cormorants—had eroded the gilded surface that initially glistened in the sun.
Consequently, the Museum involved the artist in developing a plan to restore the arcs’ golden color and preserve the artist’s intent for his only sculpture in a marine environment. McKay-Lodge Art Conservation of Oberlin, Ohio, examined the sculpture and proposed to clean and re-gild the arcs with traditional gold leaf like that Hendricks had used. They also recommended an innovative Tnemec clear coat to protect the gilding from damage.
In October of 2013 the arcs were removed from the lake and shipped to Ohio for treatment. They will be re-installed in the spring of 2014. This conservation treatment will insure that the gleaming, golden arcs will again swing in the breeze as the artist intended.
The conservators will also be treating a second sculpture from the collection, Buckminster Fuller’s Twelve Degrees of Freedom, 1983. This work is one of the collection’s most significant examples of twentieth-century American sculpture, and it will also return to view in 2014.
Funding for the conservation treat-ment of these sculptures is provided by the Museums for America grant program of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Museum, and the MMFA Association.

 

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