UMFA unveils Smithsonian art loans – the Daily Utah Chronicle
The Utah Museum of Fine Arts features some of the finest works of modern art from decades past. Most of their exhibits are conversation starters, catalysts for connecting art to the local community. Their latest exhibition is no different – consisting of four incredible paintings all on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Art Bridges Foundation. The journey of these paintings to our campus is long, but one that reveals a story behind the scenes.
The history of three of these loaned works begins in Washington DC, home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Stephanie Stebich, the director of SAAM, had a vision of the 44,000 works of art (called “objects”) within the walls of the museum. On average, only 3% of a museum’s collection of objects are displayed at a time. Instead of letting these objects – displayed or stored – stay selfishly on their walls, they wanted to share their masterpieces with as many people as possible. Apart from that main idea, they wanted to encapsulate a national diversity of artwork on walls across the country – and that’s how the American West Consortium came into being. This partnership provided UMFA with three new paintings by Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alma Thomas, which are on loan from the SAAM collection.
Art Bridges was founded by art donors with the aim of recruiting art museums across the country by establishing a national, multi-institutional and multi-year partnership. The first actions of this plan resulted in phase a. This new partnership provided UMFA with a painting by Diego Rivera from his own collection.
“Art Bridges is really a simple but powerful concept,” Stebich said. “We were looking for art-rich institutions, which we call catalyst museums. We were looking for museums where works of art would have the most impact on the community.
The country’s museums were individually visited and hand-selected by the Art Bridges + Terra Foundation Initiative. The creation and start of this coalition was not only an intense task, but a task which demanded the mind and efforts of many. “It was a full faculty effort,” Stebich said.
After a long process, the last five Western museums were finally chosen – the UMFA among them. These museums are today the founders of the American West Consortium. As UMFA has already received prestigious recognition across the country, it is no surprise that they were chosen to be part of this program. “UMFA is a flagship city, state and university museum,” said Stebich.
This initiative is only the first phase of the four planned. The next phases have not yet been fully revealed – only this phase two will arrive by 2023. The important point to remember for UMFA and art lovers is: “Amazing works are more valuable when they are are shared, ”said Stebich.
Each painting was chosen for a specific purpose, in the hope of giving a unique impact on the community. These paintings deal with political, personal or societal aspects of the American lifestyle. The messages behind the pieces are essentially timeless. The chosen paintings come from world-renowned artists Alma Thomas, Diego Rivera, Thomas Moran and Georgia O’Keeffe. All of these names wouldn’t be familiar to the average person, but each painting reflects a story and the artist’s adversity.
It’s not hard to see why Thomas Moran’s 1875, “Mist in Kanab Canyon,” would fit so well on the walls of UMFA. Moran’s trip to Utah, however, was cut short due to the difficulty of transportation through Kanab Canyon. Although he never made it to where he painted, he completed an idealized version of it based on his sketches and photographs. He then created numerous paintings in his idealizing style of the American West from his studio in New York.
The three remaining artists all faced more contemporary issues. The theme of these phase one paintings revisits American artists who are often overlooked because of their race or gender. O’Keeffe, Rivera and Thomas all suffered discrimination based on social norms in the early 20th century.
O’Keeffe’s painting “Manhattan” reflects her personal struggles to be a faltering abstraction artist in a male-dominated field. She emphasized this with her abstract cityscape while showcasing flowers and a vibrant color palette.
Rivera’s painting, “La Ofrenda,” celebrates her Mexican-American culture in her painting of altars being erected, to bring offerings to deceased loved ones. This practice is found in the Mexican tradition and their well-known vacations Dia de Los Muertos. He was well known as a champion of Mexican culture and the themes of justice and revolution.
Thomas’ work, “Red Sunset Old Pond Concerto”, was hardly known in his day. Although it is up to the viewer to interpret this geometric piece, for me it is obvious that it portrays a time and a place in his life – a place of pure happiness. The unusual acrylic medium and tricolor abstraction perform a concerto of the sun reflecting on the water. There was creative courage in his expression. As an African-American woman and artist, this was reflected in her work. She became the first woman of color to attend the Washington Colors School, a nationally touring artist movement based in Washington DC
The passions and beliefs of these artists are reflected in their beautiful work. All of them were inspired to question and highlight artistic ideals. They did this by using their personal experiences and their art to create a narrative reflecting life in America. These paintings convey such messages using styles of flickering abstraction, post-abstract expressionism, and idealism.
Thanks to SAAM and Art Bridges, UMFA is one of many museums across the country to share works of this magnitude with more people. Don’t miss your chance to see them in person. These paintings will be at UMFA until October 4, 2020.
This article has been updated to clarify the separate roles of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Art Bridges. A previous version of this article incorrectly implied that UMFA’s collaboration with Art Bridges provided all four paintings. We regret the error.