The University of Iowa Rings in the New Year with the Opening of the $50 Million Stanley Museum of Art
Vigorous green hues swirl across a white canvas: some darkened with pigment, others diluted with linseed oil or turpentine. The name, “Portrait of Green” (1969), is a provocation because seeing someone’s likeness in it is like seeing a face in the clouds.
Standing in front of the canvas, Kathryn Reuter said that each mark suggests the hand that made it. Artist Lee Krasner was a pioneering voice in the American Abstract Expressionist scene. A photographer documented the process of Krasner’s “Portrait”. Energetic brushstrokes, athletic strikes against the canvas: even without the photograph, one can see Krasner.
“I imagine the creation of this piece when I see it,” Reuters said.
Reuter is Academic Outreach Coordinator for the new Stanley Museum of Art at the University of Iowa. She leads class tours, using the collection to teach art movements like Abstract Expressionism. While Jackson Pollock hanging nearby is a big name, Reuters says the collection’s strength is in representing the field’s lesser-known but important artists, women like Krasner.
“She’s a key figure in this movement, but historically she hasn’t been as well known as names like Jackson Pollock,” she said.
A new museum
Fourteen years after a flood in the Iowa River scattered its collection, the Stanley Museum of Art at the University of Iowa brings together nearly 18,000 objects under one roof.
“The title of the exhibit ‘Homecoming’ really conveys the point that we are bringing the collection back to Iowa City and campus after fourteen years of storage and remote display,” said the museum’s director, Lauren Lessing.
It takes its name from Dick and Mary Jo Stanley. In 2017, the Muscatine couple committed $10 million to the cause. Designed by architect BNIM Iowa, the $50 million building at 160 W. Burlington St. has 63,000 square feet with indoor and outdoor exhibit space.
The inaugural exhibition will feature 600 works by 500 artists. The range will include works from its collection of abstract expressionism, African art, works on paper, textiles and ceramics.
Lessing said many museums are currently working to expand the diversity of art represented in their collection. With works like Sam Gilliam’s “Red April” and Alma Thomas’ “Spring Embraces Yellow,” she said Stanley’s collection stands out.
“We could never afford to buy works by these artists now,” Lessing said. “The Crystal Bridges Art Museum can afford to buy them. The Met can afford to buy them. But university art museums cannot. … I stand on the shoulders of many curators and directors who have forward-thinking enough to recognize the importance of these artists early on.”
“What if I had never been to an art museum? »
Stanley executives say they want this museum to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
“Most visitors who come to art museums don’t come for our history lessons, they come to have experiences and conversations,” Lessing said.
IPR asked Lessing – who has worked in museums most of her career – how she would recommend a visit to someone new to the art world. She said “knowing something” about art doesn’t matter as much as people think. It’s really about finding your likes and dislikes, what excites you and what you don’t.
“I would like them to really trust their own judgement. Recognize that some things they see, they’re going to like. Other things they see, they won’t like. And those are valid determinations if they either studied art in the past or never studied art,” she said.
She offered a checklist:
- Look for something that sounds familiar to you.
- Look for something that surprises you.
- Look for something you have questions about.
- And come back and see how it changes over time.
“We want people to be thrilled by some things, turned off by other things in a way that raises questions,” Lessing said. “And we want to spark curiosity. I mean, I want people to leave with more questions than they brought.”
The Stanley Museum financially supports Iowa Public Radio.