CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — There’s an art to opening an art museum.
And 14 years after raging floods forced the University of Iowa to evacuate its riverside storefront, the Iowa City institution is poised to fill a new space with artwork, of students, guests and intimate performances.
The building will open to the public on August 26, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and weekend celebration, including the inaugural exhibit, titled “Homecoming.”
Last week, staff members began moving into their offices at the Stanley Museum of Art in Iowa City. But it will be some time before the collection’s 20,000 items – including Jackson Pollock’s iconic large-scale “Mural” – arrive in their new home.
the Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that not only does the new $50 million, 63,000 square foot facility need to acclimate to protect the priceless collection, but it also needs to remove gases from building materials.
For example, while most of the flooring is poured concrete on the first floor and white ash on the second and third floors, carpeting has also been installed. All of these surfaces and their protective treatments release chemicals into the atmosphere, said Lauren Lessing, the museum’s director since July 31, 2018.
“When you design an art museum, you build a micro-environment inside that building that needs to be separate from the outside environment and carefully controlled,” she said. “We have an incredible HVAC system in the building, where we can very carefully adjust the amount of humidity, the temperature in the building.”
The atmosphere is monitored to see when it reaches the point where it is safe to move in art, Lessing noted.
“We’re about 80% excited, but we haven’t moved a single piece of art into the new building yet, and we won’t until we know the degassing process is complete and the atmosphere is where we want it to be.”
Most of the artwork was stored at the Figge Museum in Davenport, where the collection went in the spring of 2009, after initial storage and conservation in Chicago. That summer, approximately 500 exhibits returned to the Iowa Memorial Union for classroom use, while the third-floor space housed temporary and traveling exhibits through the summer of 2018.
Art museum employees did the packing, with “strategic help” from art movers, Lessing said.
“We decided the most cost-effective way to do this was to move it ourselves. It saved us a lot of money,” she said. “If I had known my staff would be moving an entire collection during a global pandemic, I might have paused before hitting the switch, but I didn’t know that.
“And so we started this move, and I have to say I have the best staff in the world. They did it wearing the same PPE equipment as the hospital staff. They went through a very scary time and they did,” she said.
“We are well ahead of schedule. … Maybe with a few exceptions, we’ll be thrilled the moment we open our doors, which is really nice.
The museum’s star attraction will also be moved in time for the opening.
Pollock’s 8-by-20-foot “mural” is in storage in New York City, having spent nearly two years at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, beginning in the summer of 2012. The piece was exhibited there in the spring of 2014. , before starting a tour that will take him to the Sioux City Art Center from June 10, 2014 to April 10, 2015, then to museums in Europe and the United States, including the Guggenheim in New York from October 3, 2020, as of August 30, 2021.
The Guggenheim stop was particularly fitting, since the museum is named after Solomon Guggenheim. His niece, art collector Peggy Guggenheim, commissioned Pollock to paint the masterpiece. He completed it in 1943 and Guggenheim donated it to UI in 1951.
It will have a place of honor at the Stanley Museum, where Lessing said one of Iowa’s largest freight elevators was specially built to transport the massive piece directly to its new home in the DeWolf Family Gallery on the second stage.
Another mural, created in response to Pollock’s work, will be the first piece visitors will see when entering the bright new lobby. Odili Donald Odita, an abstract painter and professor of painting at Temple University in Philadelphia, will come to Iowa City in April to create his mural as the inaugural piece on temporary display in the lobby.
It’s a space where Lessing said they wanted to exhibit art, but “we have a little challenge, because everything is glazed,” she said, “and that’s great. I like that it will be full of light. (But) it’s hard to show works from the collection, because the ultraviolet light breaks down the pigments, so we can’t really show a lot of works from our collection in the lobby .
“So what do we do? Well, we decided to commission temporary installations from artists in Iowa.
Odita’s parents were graduate students at UI in the 1970s, so he spent time in Iowa City as a child, Lessing said.
“He’s a wonderful artist,” she added. “His work is influenced by conceptual artists (and) African textiles from his Nigerian roots. … It’s a truly wonderful thing to open with a response to ‘Mural.’ ”
She also looks forward to the lobby functioning as an auditorium for musical, theater and dance performances, which she hopes will take place in the galleries and “spill over our front yard, which is Gibson Square. Park”.
The museum building also contains three classrooms – a visual classroom, a visual laboratory and a seminar space. Flexible storage space will allow pieces to be easily retrieved for students, and all pieces in the collection will be cataloged in a searchable Iowa digital library.
“We are one of the few university art museums in the country to share a catalog with the library. And that’s very helpful,” Lessing said. “We want people to see our collection. We want students to be able to look at what we have if they do independent study and then post that work and request it through a form on our website and be able to get it out for their use. These classrooms allow that.
She also wants the museum to engage with other departments, pointing to a class she once taught chemistry students to explore the science of art analysis and infrared light to look beneath a surface. painted.
Reaching this point has been difficult from the start, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency turned down funds to rebuild the museum after the flood. The building could be salvaged and reused for other purposes, but it was too close to the Iowa River to house the university’s art collection and traveling exhibits.
The new building is located above the 500-year-old floodplain.
Staff worked in the old building, which Lessing says was designed in the Brutalist style, made of heavy concrete.
“It’s like being in an old bunker,” she said. “I think it would probably take a nuclear attack to destroy this building, so the building itself is still standing.”
She said plans were to turn the building over to the dance department, to reallocate the space.
To move forward without the FEMA dollars awarded to other ruined buildings, like the Hancher Auditorium, the museum would have to launch a fundraising campaign. Muscatine’s Dick and Mary Jo Stanley have committed $10 million to the project. The university therefore announced that the museum would be named after the couple, who each died in late 2017.
The campaign raised $25 million, half the cost of new construction, the other half coming from the university.
“The old art museum was built with hundreds of contributions from across the state and around the world,” she said. “The new art museum was built in exactly the same way. It is truly a testament to Hawkeyes dedication to this museum. Not all, but many of these donations came from former students.
Going into the home straight, Lessing is delighted with the result.
“The building looks amazing,” she said. “I’ve been looking at it for so long and (in) the architect renderings. And then, of course, since it was a hole in the ground, and it was a permanent steel frame. As each part of the building was built, we came for guided tours with hard hats.
“Once it finally got to the point where it looked like what the architects had dreamed of, it was truly a magical moment.”