The Georgia Museum of Art will unveil its new expansion project that has closed the facility since 2009, reopening to the public on January 31, 2011. With the new addition, more than 16,000 square feet of gallery space was added, as well as an outdoor sculpture garden and expanded lobby and storage facilities. The museum was able to raise $20 million for the project over several years through generous private donations. With the expansion, 7.5% of the collection will be on display in the new galleries, instead of the previous 0.3%. The expansion was much needed.
I conducted an email interview with the director of the Georgia Museum of Art, William Underwood Eiland, earlier this month to discuss the expansion project and the celebration events that will start on January 29. The Georgia Museum of Art is the official art museum of the state of Georgia known primarily for its collection of American art. Among some of Eiland’s collection favorites are Paul Cadmus’s Playground (described as a “seminal work in the magical realist movement of the 1940s”), La Confidence by Elizabeth Gardner (an example of academic formalism), and a Winslow Homer watercolor entitled Taking Sunflower to Teacher (representative of the 1870s Reconstruction era). In addition, the museum has a significant collection of works on paper, Italian Renaissance paintings, and a growing collection of Asian and decorative arts.
To kick off the reopening, the museum has a diverse lineup of exhibitions that display the strength of their collection, as well as some new directions. The Jane and Harry Willson Sculpture Garden is dedicated to the work of female sculptors, and its inaugural exhibition Horizons features life-size sculptures by Icelandic artist Steinunn Þórarinsdóttir. Beverly Pepper’s site-specific work Ascension, permanently installed in the University of Georgia’s Performing and Visual Arts Center quad, further expresses the museum’s new interest in female sculptors. An exhibition of smaller works by Pepper will be on display inside the museum during the reopening.
Tradition Redefined, an exhibition organized by the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, presents black artists often overlooked in the study of African American art. Tradition Redefined emphasizes the museum’s interest in African American artists, and Eiland suggested a new focus for the collection.
The exhibition that Eiland spoke the most excitedly about was the American Scene on Paper: Prints and Drawings from the Schoen Collection, a traveling show organized by the museum that will finally be shown on its home turf. Prints from the 1930s and 1940s illustrate the plight of the American farmer and tell the story of the development of American industry and the growth of urban environments. The homecoming is also noteworthy because the exhibition and its catalogue have won several awards.
Eiland’s favorite additions are the new study centers. With a grant received from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the museum was able to compile archival materials such as artists’ letters, files on artists and movements, photographs, and even small objects that belonged to artists. There are four study centers total: The Henry Green Center for the Study of Decorative Arts, The Jacob Burns Foundation Center focusing on the graphic arts, The Pierre Daura Center for information related to European art, and The C.L. Morehead, Jr. Center for the Study of American Art. Eiland said these four centers most successfully fulfill the museum’s mission to promote “the encouragement and dissemination of knowledge about the visual arts.”
Why should Atlantans venture outside the perimeter to check out the expansion? As Eiland said, the museum’s collection is for the people of Georgia, and, with its new galleries and study centers, the museum will be able to display more art and encourage more research than ever before.
All new exhibitions open at the Georgia Museum of Art beginning with a member preview on January 30, followed by opening day for the general public on January 31. There are numerous events and lectures to attend for the first week, so check out the museum website and curator’s blog for more info.