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Perspective on the arts

By Joe Rosa

University of Michigan Museum of Art, Director

Thanks to the sun, rain, and balmy temperatures, Ann Arbor is in full blossom already, distracting the students who still have another few days on campus! Meanwhile there has been lots of growth and excitement at UMMA as well.

Mellon grant

UMMA made news recently with the announcement of a $650,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This major grant represents an incredible opportunity to increase our engagement with faculty, students, and other units on campus by generating scholarship and exhibitions at the Museum, further enabling UMMA’s effort to transform the traditional notion, purpose, and function of a university-based art museum. The Mellon support is already reflected in efforts across the Museum, including the hiring of a Mellon collections assistant to oversee our object study rooms and curatorial library, with the goal of increasing usage over the next three years.

The Mellon grant is also supporting a new exhibition series called Flip Your Field, which features UM faculty taking a fresh look at UMMA’s collection—outside their primary field of specialization—to challenge their own thinking as well as that of UMMA’s audiences. The first Flip exhibition opens this June with twentieth-century abstract art from the collection guest curated by Professor Celeste Brusati, Department of the History of Art, Women’s Studies, and School of Art and Design.

Special exhibitions

In late February the Museum opened the exhibition Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life to much acclaim. Curated by Jacquelynn Baas, most recently of Berkeley and Dartmouth who also worked at UMMA in the 70s and 80s and received her PhD in art history from Michigan, this exhibition just won “Best Show in a University Gallery” for 2011 by the US Art Critics Association (AICA-USA). The Detroit News, among other outlets, also just featured it. The exhibition has been particularly popular among UM students thanks to our Education Department’s and Student Programming and Advisory Council’s outreach efforts. For instance, students were invited to host their own performances of Fluxus Event Scores throughout the month of March.

I am also thrilled about the new installation we recently unveiled by contemporary artist Haroon Mirza. Last year Mirza won the Silver Lion award for most promising young artist at the Venice Biennale. UMMA’s presentation is the first solo US museum exhibition for the artist and it includes a fantastic essay on the artist by noted guest curator Elizabeth Thomas in our new series of publications called UMMA Papers.

In addition to Flip Your Field in June, I am also looking forward to an exhibition of Judith Turner’s architectural photography of buildings by some of the major architects of our time, including Alvar Aalto, Shigeru Ban, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Louis Kahn, Fumihiku Maki, and Renzo Piano. The exhibition encompasses approximately forty works that span Turner’s three-decade career and will be accompanied by a beautiful new book entitled Judith Turner: Seeing Ambiguity, Photographs of Architecture, which features an introductory essay I wrote about the artist.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to share some wonderful comments culled from the Museum’s audience intercept survey of Multiple Impressions: Contemporary Chinese Woodblock Prints, the dynamic exhibition on view last year, which was accompanied by an important scholarly publication. “Fantastic exhibition!…[We] go to art museums all over the world and this was a super memorable experience,” “Great museum—it’s a real privilege to live so close to it!”, and “I love the addition! Keep up the good work,” was just some of the very positive feedback we received.

UMMA After Hours

As many of you know, we have instituted a new series of special evening events for the entire community that take place twice a year—once in the fall and once in the spring. In November we hosted more than 900 people who thoroughly enjoyed exploring our suite of four fall exhibitions, listening to live music, and chatting with curators and neighbors. The lively social atmosphere was infectious, with folks of all ages hungry for this kind of informal arts experience. I look forward to welcoming all of you to our next UMMA After Hours tomorrow, Thursday, April 12, from 7 to 10 pm. I would like to thank Fidelity for their lead sponsorship of this terrific event.

Cultural Data Project

UMMA was very pleased to participate in the state of Michigan’s Cultural Data Project, a multistate database administered by the Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia that seeks to gather economic impact data about the arts. Michigan’s arts and culture sector began entering data in May 2010 and earlier this year a report was released by the advocacy group Art Serve Michigan showing that “for every $1 the state invested in nonprofit arts and cultural groups in 2009, those organizations pumped $51 back into Michigan’s economy through spending on rent, programs, travel, and salaries.”

The report also stated that the arts and culture sector employed 15,560 people in Michigan. This is another tool for all of us to refer to when we are called upon to talk about the arts’ return on investment in our communities.