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VOL. 132 | NO. 112 | Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Brooks’ 100 New Acquisitions Mark End of Centennial, Start of Other Changes

By Bill Dries

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The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art has 100 new works of art in its permanent collection to mark its centennial. But the 100 items, grouped together through Aug. 27 in “Unwrapped! 100 Gifts for 100 Years,” point to a rethinking of the Brooks that began with a major renovation that debuted last year. The exhibition marks an end of centennial observances.

This frosted glass piece from Paris in the 1920s is among 100 new gifts to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art donated by contributors. All of the items are on exhibit together through August. (Memphis Brooks Museum of Art)

“Some of the objects are out in some of the other galleries now,” said Stanton Thomas, curator at the Brooks. “One of our problems is we are bursting at the seams so some things can only come out for a period of time. Objects like textiles, photographs and prints really have to be guarded carefully against light. So those will only show up periodically.”

For now, the paintings, furniture, ancient coins, pottery, textiles, drawings and sculptures are all together. And while 100 is the number in the exhibitions title, there are a few more than 100 pieces.

“Although we’ve kind of put the furniture together, everything else is pretty much scattered and a mix,” Thomas said. “We’ve got the Inca Tabard set with a very contemporary print by Willie Cole, who works with iron, and they have nothing to do with one another culturally. But visually, stylistically, design-wise they complement each other quite significantly.”

The tabard, made from feathers and cotton textile, dates to the 15th century. Cole’s painting “Home and Hearth” was created in 2012.

All of the items are gifts from patrons and supporters, an effort that started in 2014.

“These gifts help to renew, refresh and keep our permanent collection vibrant, relevant and also registers the pulse of the city,” said Emily Ballew Neff, executive director of the Brooks.

Thomas said in some cases, donors already knew what they wanted to purchase for the museum’s permanent collection. Others worked on suggestions from Thomas and others at the museum.

“It just depended,” he said. “Because we have a lot of objects, sometimes it’s a little more calculated. We ask them what they are interested in gifting, what they’d like to be remembered for as far as their legacy and then if they collect one particular thing.”

And there are items that are one of a kind, like an 1885 crazy quilt from Senatobia, Mississippi, that tells the story of a couple depicted in an embroidered scene on a horse-drawn carriage. Other symbols on the quilt include a potato and the likeness of a prize-winning cow.

“This had descended in the family for three or four generations and they had finally got to the point where they weren’t sure what to do with it,” Thomas said. “What do you do with a delicate, very early quilt and one that has extraordinary art work in it? I happened to be speaking to the donors and I said I have the perfect thing for you to do with it.”

Another unique item is a frosted glass fountain panel from Paris of the 1920s by Rene Jules Lalique.

Thomas says he and the museum staff made several tries at the best way to light the woman’s face in the panel before settling on a pair of LED lights and a rectangular mirror behind it that gives it the proper ethereal feel. Move the lights or the mirror just a bit and Thomas said the woman’s image can develop a “five o’clock shadow.”

There is a 1960 water color painting by Walter Anderson from his Horn Island period. There is a Rembrandt etching, a Picasso aquatint and an 1810 Duncan Phyfe card table. A Carroll Cloar painting and drawing join others in the permanent collection as does a 1965 Dolph Smith watercolor. And there is a 1948 Ansel Adams print of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

There are already plans beyond August for how the different pieces will fit in with some renovated and rethought exhibit themes at the Brooks.

“The Inca tabard will go into the reinstalled pre-Colombian galleries, which should be opening fall of 2017 or spring of 2018,” Thomas said. “Some of the American furniture will be incorporated into the American gallery. The ancient coins will be going into the reinstalled ancient gallery. And that should be opening at the end of the summer. We were very careful in choosing things or accepting things that really build upon the strength of the collection already.”

The 100 Gifts exhibition opened about two months into the three-month run of the “A Feast For The Eyes: 200 Years of American Still Life Painting” exhibition. The paintings are organized by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston drawn from the private collection of Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs and run through July.

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