September 10, 2015
I could not help but be struck by the contrast. Just a few weeks ago we here at WVU celebrated the opening of the Art Museuman accomplishment to be proud of with all the wonderful opportunities it offers to both campus and community. It represents free access to a beautiful new building that presents art from a variety of time periods, media, artists and cultures. The collection is international in scope and encourages free expression and creativity, inviting diverse perspectives and cross-disciplinary approaches to art.
At the same time we’re celebrating, the centuries-old artistic heritage of cultures is being threatened daily with destruction in many parts of the world.
The recent murder of a well-respected archeologist, Khaled Asaad, 82, in Palmyra, Syria, by Islamic State militants, was heartbreaking and shocking in its brutality. Despite the risks, Mr. Asaad chose to stay in the city in an attempt to protect the ancient ruins which he had worked for so many years to preserve. Sadly, the temple there was destroyed.
The destruction of cultural heritage, like the Buddha statues dynamited earlier in Afghanistan by the Taliban, becomes a blunt weapon of oppression, used to deny a people’s past achievements and to undermine a sense of pride and historical continuity. That artistic and cultural treasures are seen as threatening is actually a testament to the power of art to defy extremist ideology. Art speaks across generations to the present day, bearing witness to the past and offering possibilities for the future. Art has the capacity to communicate across time and space, to challenge our concepts and transform conventional thinking,
The ongoing conflict not only affects the people of Syria and their cultural heritageit is our
collective heritage that is at risk. The work of the amazing “Monuments Men” during World War II continues today, led by museum professionals like the Smithsonian’s Corine Wegener who also served in the military. She will be speaking September 17 at 7 p.m. in the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre at the Creative Arts Center as part of the Dan and Betsy Brown Lecture Series.
As an Army officer in Iraq with the 352nd Civil Affairs Command, with Arts, Monuments and Archives, Corine Wegener was instrumental in helping to recover and preserve the collections of the Iraq National Museum after the looting occurred during the U.S. invasion of 2003.
Her presentation will focus on this experience and efforts by the Smithsonian and other organizations to save cultural heritage around the world.
It’s an important subject that deserves our attention.
In the words of Art Museum of WVU Director Joyce Ice, art has the power to transform. The Museum, scheduled to open on Tuesday, Aug. 25, seeks to be a welcoming environment in which the campus and community can experience the transformative power of art.
As Ice explains, seeing a work on art in person, rather than on a computer screen or in a photo, provides a much more powerful experience for the observer. This week, the Museum introduces three more works that will be part of the inaugural exhibit, “Visual Conversations: Looking and Listening” and challenges you to draw initial observations from the image, and later visit the Museum to view the works in person. Ask yourself the following questions: What more do you notice? Does the piece exceed your expectations, or did you expect something different? Does the art “speak” to you more in person?
Find more information on the Museum’s opening, including a full list of events, at http://artmuseum.wvu.edu/opening.
William Conger, Ragtime, 2009, oil on canvas, gift of David Barrad and Catherine Valerio Barrad
William Schumacher, Floral Landscape, 1916, oil on canvas, purchase of Myers Foundations
Frances Chapin, Swimming Hole, 1928, oil on canvas, gift of Harvey D. Peyton.
We are featuring three pieces of art this week from the upcoming “Visual Conversations: Looking and Listening” exhibit, launching Tuesday, Aug. 25, at the Art Museum of WVU.
The Museum is kicking off its inaugural exhibit with an exciting week of opening events, including a student evening, lecture series and community day. Find the full schedule of events here.
In the meantime, here’s a preview of some of the many impressive works featured in the inaugural exhibit:
Audrey Flack, Banana Split Sundae, 1980, Dr. Gina Puzzuoli Miller
Gregory Gillespie, The Hall Corner: Graves House, 1971, American Academy of Arts and Letters Childe Hassam Fund
Polly Apfelbaum, Little Love 49, 2008, Donated in honor of Alison and Patrick Deem by Jeanie and Ben Hardesty
The architect Michael Graves died earlier this month at age 80. I never had the opportunity
to meet him although I have encountered his buildings when I attended conferences in Portland, Denver, and Minneapolis. He worked on a number of museum projects in the late 20th—early 21st centuries, a time of new growth during which many museums shifted from the museum-as- temple to the museum as bold architectural statement, foregrounding creativity in building structures that rivaled the artistry of the collections inside.
What is now the Museum Education Center was originally designed by Graves for the WVU Alumni Association, his first design built on a college campus. When the Alumni Association outgrew its Graves home on Patteson Drive, the building was transferred to the College of Creative Arts and renovated by SmithGroup. We museum staff have been working in this space for nearly five years now—since summer 2010—and I think all of us find it a gracious environment in which to “live” and work. As others have noted, Graves based his designs on a human scale that conveys a cheerful whimsy as if he never tired of playing with building blocks of various shapes and colorstriangles, cylinders, arches, rectangles, domes. The high windows in the light-filled entryway frame the sky as if it were a work of art.
Symmetry was important to Graves as my colleague Kristina Olson points out on tours of the building with her students of architectural history. The dual stairs proceeding from the upper floor to the lower level build anticipation that resolves when a visitor emerges into the spacious Grand Hall, a dramatic room of nearly 3,000 square feet with a two-story-high ceiling of Appalachian pine. Interior windows along the upper level corridor allow glimpses of activities and programs taking place in the Grand Hall. One of my favorite scenes occurred a few years ago during a wedding in the Grand Hall when a fidgety little boy was taken upstairs by his father where together they peered through an upper window at the ceremony below. Besides serving as a location for alumni and other university receptions and functions over the years, the building continues to be a site for weddings and family gatherings that are fondly remembered years later.
One of my favorite spots in the building is not seen very often by the public because it is the back stairs to the kitchen area. Here, too, sunlight streaming into the stairwell through an east-facing window produces a dramatic interplay of lines and color that changes with the light.
This repurposed building stands side-by-side now with the new Art Museum (Stanley, Beaman, and Sears Architects)—appropriate companions.
I’ve long been fascinated with the work of the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who studies and writes about creativity and the concept of flow. The phenomenon of flow occurs when an individual engaged in a creative process experiences increased focus and consciousness, becoming so completely absorbed in the act of making art, or writing, or playing, that one in the midst of this experience loses track of time and is unaware of its passing.
In January, Rauol and Davide Perré, the artists known as How and Nosm, came to WVU to deliver the Deem Distinguished Artist lecture at the opening of Paper Trail, their exhibit in the Laura Mesaros Gallery at the CAC. During their stay, they created an amazing two-story mural in the Plevin Lobby of the new Art Museum in advance of the museum’s August 2015 opening.
How & Nosm, along with Jacob Lewis, whose NY gallery represents the twin brothers’ work, graciously agreed to spend an evening sharing the work-in-process with members of the Friends of the Art Museum. The brothers had been working on the mural for two days when the Friends event took place. Museum staff wondered (and worried a bit) about how the group would respond to the art and how it would go for the artists to discuss their unfinished work. Would it be disruptive to them? Would they mind having their creative flow interrupted? Would the group be open to an art form rooted in graffiti?
It’s asking a great deal of artists to share their work with strangers before it’s finished. Some artists find it difficult to discuss their completed works at allthe art speaks for itself. It’s just not something that everyone necessarily feels comfortable doing or does well. Trying to articulate intentions and inspirations for artwork can be risky, especially when it may be misunderstood. As it turned out, we needn’t have worriedthe Friends proved a receptive audience, expressing their enthusiasm for the mural and gratitude for this special opportunity to interact with the artists, who were friendly, charming, and inspiring.
Likewise, members of the audience at February’s Art Up Close! program counted themselves quite fortunate to witness a compelling demonstration of virtuosity. Professor Jeff Greenham of Fairmont State University, a WVU grad, discussed technique and process as he analyzed a lidded bowl in the museum collection by the renown potter Warren MacKenzie. When Jeff selected this ceramic piece, he decided he didn’t want to simply discuss it; instead, he set for himself the challenge of making a similar piece in order to discover what both he and the audience might learn through this process.
Working in front of an audience and beside a large screen that projected his work so everyone could see, Jeff created a bowl and its lid on the wheel. Not only were Jeff’s deft handling of the clay and his mastery of the wheel impressive, what was equally striking was his ability to easily converse with his audience, describing what he was doing and answering questions while making the pieces—and making the whole process appear almost effortless due to his considerable skills.
With a nod to Rachael Ray and other TV chefs, Jeff then uncovered additional versions of the same form he had prepared to show the various stages of the process from drying to bisque ware. Just days earlier, Jeff had found one of MacKenzie’s glaze recipes that seemed to match the green of the bowl and rushed to fire a piece in time to have it completed for the program. The unveiling of this finished piece drew appreciative applause from the audience although Jeff modestly commented that he liked the MacKenzie piece better.
Both Art Up Close! and the Evening with How and Nosm were marked by the generosity of these artists who freely shared their time and artwork. Both were memorable programs offering those in attendance meaningful insights into the creative flow of gifted artists.
This winter that phrase has determined many of our daily routineslectures by visiting speakers have been postponed, meetings have been rescheduled, schools have experienced more than the average number of closures due to inclement weather and icy roads. After one major snowstorm hit, even WVU canceled classes on a Monday morning, which rarely happens. The majority of us experienced inconvenience rather than hardship due to the weather, but it served to remind us of the power of nature that is beyond our control. While weather events have the potential to disrupt our everyday lives, in a positive sense, the weather sometimes allows or even demands that we slow down and pause in the midst of our busy schedules to appreciate the moment and savor the exquisite beauty of snow flakes and icicles, which transform the scene into a black-and-white landscape.
The weather has delayed some work at the museum construction sitea few days have been just too cold for work, despite the partial protection offered by plastic sheeting and heaters on the lower level. Nonetheless, not much time has been lost overall and progress continues with plumbing and electrical installs, roof trusses, decking, and slabs. The crew must be amused at seeing museum staff observing their work-in-progress from our viewpoint on the west side of the Museum Education Center or as we are walking past the construction site on our way to and from meetings at the Creative Arts Center.
I like looking at the building from different vantage points: the parking lot of the CAC, coming down the hill from the PRT station at Engineering, passing by on Patteson Drive in the evening. As the museum building takes shape before our eyes, we’re beginning to visualize the events that will celebrate the museum’s opening in 2015. We see programs and activities taking place inside and out-of-doors.
Our beautiful location on the edge of the Evansdale campus makes the building visible to drivers and pedestrians and helps call attention to the Art Museum and, even more importantly, to the significance of art and its message about the connections of art and people. As our mission statement proclaims, we intend the Art Museum to be a welcoming environment where people can experience the transformative power of art. The experience of art can be as powerful as a blizzard with all of the challenging disruptions it may produce, sometimes unexpected and beyond our control. Art can stop us in our tracks, and call our senses to pay attention to the fleeting moment, to focus on the astonishing, quiet beauty created by other human beings.
Throughout the fall semester, museum staff have been watching the building come up out of the ground. From the Museum Education Center, we have great views of the site and it’s been fascinating to track the progress made week by week. Again and again, we’ve been impressed by March-Westin’s construction crew: the operators of various pieces of heavy equipment—excavators, backhoes, and cranesthe ironworkers who move so agilely across the beams of steel—-and all the other trades that make the built environments where we work and live. And they do their work in all kinds of weather conditions which aren’t always pleasant despite their cold weather work clothes.
We are grateful for the efforts of everyone on the project team, WVU facilities, museum staff, Stanley Beaman & Sears architects, and March-Westin Company, who are helping to build the Art Museum for WVU, Morgantown, and our state.
Inside the Museum Education Center, members of the museum staff are also working toward the opening of the new Art Museum through fund-raising, planning for docent training, compiling an object list for the inaugural exhibitions, and determining which works of art on that list will need conservation treatment to ensure that they are in good, stable condition to be on exhibit. Then the more difficult choices will have to be made about which of these pieces must take priority within our budget because it is not possible to have them all conserved at once. In turn, those selections will shape the final object list. Staff have also been considering the all-important question of the best lighting for the exhibit galleries and looking at whether LEDs will be the way to go. Anyone who has built or remodeled a house has some idea about the level of details and decisions involved in this process.
The first of the wish flags have been installed on the construction fence along Patteson Drive. Students of art teacher Debbie Hart at Mylan Park Elementary, members of the Southside Stars 4-H Club, WVU students, Friends of the Art Museum, and people who attended the ground-breaking ceremony created flags depicting their good wishes for the Art Museum. There are more to come, so watch for them in the New Year.
Joyce Ice, Director
Art Museum of WVU
College of Creative Arts
Site work for the new Art Museum began in advance of the September 10th ground-breaking but no one seemed to mind because everyone was eager for this long-awaited process to begin. When the excavator appeared and began felling trees, it made the project real, no longer just an rendering from SBS, our architects, or blueprints showing plumbing and electrical details.
Staff members working next door in the Museum Education Center had a great vantage point to observe the work in progress as the excavator operator took down tree after tree on site. At first, we looked on with some concern that things could go terribly awry as the operator pushed over the tall trees, sometimes balancing perilously on the slope above. Then we found ourselves admiring the proficiency with which the operator moved this piece of heavy equipment so smoothly and effortlessly. It was as if some giant prehistoric creature was using an immense paw to purposefully clear the site. The machine gracefully picked up and moved tree limbs, grubbing in the soil to remove roots and then smoothing it back in place. Work paused long enough for the groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday afternoon, then resumed shortly afterward.
If the contingent from the marching band were uncomfortable in their uniforms on that hot and muggy afternoon of the groundbreaking, it was not evident. Their music boomed across the space adding to the festive atmosphere as people filled the seats under the tents and swelled to become a standing-room- only crowd as Dean Kreider enthusiastically welcomed the audience. The presence of WVU President Jim Clements, First Lady Beth Clements, and Provost Michele Wheatlyall members of the Friends of the Art Museum—made a statement about their own personal support of the project as well as that of the university they represent. Russell Dean from the Office of the Provost has been involved in the project literally for years along with the guys from Facilities Planning and Construction who prefer a low-profile—but they know who they are.
During the ceremony, Paul Kreider surprised the museum staff with a gift of personalized hard hats stenciled with our names and the flying WV log in gold for those site visits and tours we’ll be taking over the 12-14 months of construction (see photo).
Representing the students was our own Mandie Guggenbiller, graduate student in Art History and part-time Administrative Associate, making the first speech of what will be many in her museum career. We all expect her to go far.
As I looked out over the crowd, I was thrilled to see the faces of many colleagues from the College of Creative Arts, members of the Friends, and community supporters who came to be with us this day. My mother from Paden City, my sister and niece (who got excused from her MHS class to be with us) made three generations of the Ice family in attendance.
Our last speaker, Lyn Dotson, VP for Development at the WVU Foundation, gave a inspiring tribute to the generous donors who have been so key to this project and made a rousing call for others to step forward and join them with additional contributions that will secure the future of the Art Museum. He noted that WVU is now joining its Big !2 counterparts with its own art museum on campus.
Following the ceremony, dozens of people created wish flags with Friends member Beth Hestick, personalizing their own hopes and dreams for the Art Museum. Be sure to look for these flags that will be hung on the construction fence facing Patteson Drive along with those made by art students of Debbie Hart at Mylan Park Elementary and the members of the Southside Stars 4-H Club. We expect to add more flags to the fence line as they are finished.
Meanwhile, stay tuned!
Part Two Observations from the 2013 AAM meeting in Baltimore
Along with colleagues, I went to The Walters Art Museum for a session devoted to an exhibition on the art and life of Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855), a painter from Baltimore. Besides an exhibition tour, we met with members of the Walters exhibit team, including the curator, museum educator, exhibit designer, development officer, conservator, and a member of the web/social media staff. Using it as a case study in exhibit development, they discussed their roles in this multi-faceted project.
They began the process by their articulating and refining the learning experience they wanted to create for museum visitors. Woodville’s closely observed paintings capture the everyday life of the period, situated within the context of Baltimore’s history. The staff wanted visitors to come away from the exhibit with a greater understanding of the city and its citizens during that time as well as a greater awareness of and appreciation for Woodville’s work. One successful technique the exhibit team used to accomplish these goals was to incorporate interactive components in the exhibit to convey this information through varied formats. Among the labels were special comments from the conservators who treated the works of art in preparation for the exhibition, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the important preservation efforts of the museum.
Later, in a change of pace for people who work in art museums, the National Aquarium hosted a reception for a group of museum directors and CEOs. While most of us regularly go to other museums and critique their interpretive label texts, examine the lighting, check out exhibit cases, and inspect security mounts, at the aquarium most of us took on the roles of ordinary visitors without specialized knowledge. It was incredible to think about what collection care means in this setting with its coral reefs, and specialized environments with hundreds of living creatures, something entirely different from the care of inanimate objects. Living collections like this one require 24/7 attention. Mistakes here can mean life or death for vulnerable creatures and in some cases for their caregivers.
The AAM meeting reinforces a sense of professional identity for us as individuals and focuses our perceptions of our institutions. It’s inspiring to hear about the outstanding educational and community projects taking place in museums large and small across the country that contribute to the greater good and make a difference in people’s lives.
The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) held its annual meeting in Baltimore this year. Over 5,000 museum professionals from institutions ranging from art museums, to botanical gardens, science centers, children’s museums, historic sites and houses, and zoos gathered for four days at the Convention Center. I always leave these meetings with a renewed sense of purpose—although admittedly somewhat exhausted from long hours and little sleep. The meeting offers opportunities for professional development in a concentrated form—something that is so difficult to achieve, despite the best intentions, in one’s own work environment. The daily rhythms of the workplace, in museums as well as in other settings, include all sorts of unexpected interruptions and distractions that make time for thinking about the big picture a rare exception rather than the rule. At the AAM meeting, we’re removed from the daily routine and surrounded by other museum people. Discussions about museums, and related issues, risks, rewards and challenges are on-going, beginning with early morning breakfast workshops through the evening events hosted by local museums and on into the late hours of the night.
Let me share a couple of the sessions with you.
A session called Ethics Smackdown was structured as a formal debate on whether art collections should be capitalized and subject to sale in order to cover deficits in operations. Both speakers were capable debaters with logical and rhetorical strategies that made for convincing arguments for their positions. At the conclusion, the majority of the large audience voted with the side opposing the use of proceeds from the sales of art for anything but the acquisition of other art and conservation care, a stand in keeping with current standards of the museum profession. Nonetheless, not everyone subscribes to this view, as is evidenced by a minority of those present and the numerous examples from the national news, with the instance of the Detroit Institute of the Arts being only the latest museum threatened by the possible sale of masterpieces from its collection.
Another session considered museum exhibits and collections from the lens of race and what we talk about or don’t talk about—in matters concerning race. The panel marked the 20th anniversary of a ground-breaking and provocative exhibit, called Mining the Museum, which had its birth in Baltimore. This exhibit raised some troubling, and often uncomfortable, questions about how race influences what is collected, by whom, and its effect on how such objects are (re)presented in exhibitions. One panelist asked the audience to think about how to engage visitors within their comfort zone and at the same time, how to encourage them to move out of it into their discomfort zone.
These questions and issues do not lend themselves to quick and easy answers. But this is exactly why I continue to find the museum field such a fascinating profession in which to work. We wrestle with important ideas as well as with more mundane everyday practicalities.
More on the AAM meeting next time.