Stanley Museum of Art: Grand Opening of an Astounding Collection

Jackson Pollock’s Mural, back on exhibit at the Stanley Museum of Art, is arguably the most important modern American painting. (1943, gift of Peggy Guggenheim, reproduced with permission from the University of Iowa)

The long-awaited Grand Opening of the Stanley Museum of Art, August 26–28, promises to be an unforgettable experience. Featuring exciting exhibitions, gallery talks, live music, and family-friendly activities that include juggling and arts and crafts, the event is a weekend-long art extravaganza. Highlights include docent-led tours and the Cedar Rapids Opera performing arias from the Grant Wood Operas. (Find a full list of events below.)

The University of Iowa’s art collections have lacked a permanent home since the Iowa River flooded the old museum building in 2008. While the collections were rescued, they needed a new home because of the flood risk. Thanks to a generous gift from Richard and Mary Jo Stanley, as well as donations from over 500 households, a new museum building was finally constructed. The museum officially became the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art in 2018, and the August grand opening is the first time all the collections will be in one place in their entirety. There are new pieces to admire, along with old favorites.

Opening Exhibitions

The inaugural exhibition, Homecoming, comprises three related installations: Generations, focused on the University of Iowa’s history of innovative arts education and the inspirational interaction between artists; Fragments of the Canon, featuring African art collected by local Black collector Meredith Saunders, and History Is Always Now, featuring the Stanleys’ celebrated collection of African art, displayed in a more dynamic way that places it in conversation with historical movements and current events.

E, by Marsden Hartley, 1915 Oil on canvas, Mark Ranney Memorial Fund

Homecoming is displaying our collection in new ways,” says event organizer Kimberly Datchuk, Curator of Learning & Engagement. So much has changed, she says, that many of the artworks have new stories, including the familiar favorites people remember.

“We know people have missed our collection badly over the last 14 years,” says Director Lauren Lessing. “And we wanted to both reintroduce audiences to their old favorites, and also show how our collection has grown.” Lessing says the works are exhibited in such a way as to “offer fresh views and new perspectives.”

Face mask, unrecorded artist, Liberia, mid-20th century, Collection of Meredith Saunders.

The two central curators for Homecoming are Cory Gundlach, Curator of African Art, and Diana Tuite, Visiting Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. According to Lessing, Gundlach focused primarily on the African collection, breaking away from the older ethnographic model of display used in the past, following the trend of recent scholars of African art who recognize that there was an interplay of style and ideas throughout Africa, as there still is. Gundlach “really wanted to give African artists the same credit as Western artists have always been given, who might do work in one style at one point in their career and another completely different style later.”

Gundlach also wanted to look at the African diaspora, so in History Is Always Now, he has paired works from Africa (primarily West Africa) with works from the Caribbean, U.S., and other parts of the world “where artists have been profoundly influenced by African ways of making and knowing,” Lessing says.

Gundlach has created several thematic installations examining collecting practices. He has also created a discourse between the Stanley collection of African art, which Lessing says “really put us on the map as one of the great museum collections of African Art in the United States,” and the collection of Saunders, whose art collecting was motivated by a very different perspective—to reconnect with his own heritage and history. The installation Fragments of the Cannon displays work from the Saunders collection in dialogue with work from the Stanley collection in History Is Always Now.

Plaid Sweater, Grant Wood, 1931, Gift of Mel R. and Carole Blumberg and Family, and Edwin B. Green through The University of Iowa Foundation, ©2022 Figge Art Museum, successors to the Estate of Nan Wood Graham/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Generations examines how art collections and art teachers have influenced generations of students. According to Lessing, the exhibition investigates how “ideas are transmitted from one generation to the next. And how artworks are generators of knowledge.” For example, the exhibition creates a dialogue among artworks by Grant Wood, his student Elizabeth Catlett, and Danté Hayes, a younger artist profoundly influenced by Catlett, illustrating how artists are inspired by the ideas of the previous generation and then make those ideas their own. “These artists have shaped one another and have shaped our history,” Lessing says.

Accessibility & Flexible Spaces

The Stanley Museum has three floors, all of which are accessible to people with disabilities. Aside from basic ADA compliance, Lessing says the museum worked hard to be as accessible as possible. Elizabeth Wallace, Manager of Marketing and Communications, also sits on the Council for Disability Awareness at the University of Iowa, and connected them with consultants to evaluate how easily navigable the building and galleries are for people along the disability spectrum. Lessing says they “had a gentleman who is quadriplegic and his assistant navigate through the entire building. . . . After that consultation, we had a laundry list of changes that needed to be made, and we’ve been working through those.”

Surrounding, 2022, by Odili Donald Odita. Wall painting commission at the Stanley Museum of Art, University of Iowa, Iowa City. ©Odili Donald Odita. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Lessing says they’re also offering gallery texts in both English and Spanish. “We want to be as inclusive as we can be for all visitors, because this collection belongs to all Iowans.” Additionally, they are offering a series of descriptions of artwork for people with low vision.

The new museum space offers a lot of scope for more interactive art experiences. Datchuk is excited about all the programs they have planned, including a monthly creative program for families. “I think we’re able to do a lot of interesting things within the spaces that we have,” she says.

The second floor is all gallery spaces that run parallel to each other, with a central meeting space that can be a multimedia gallery, and will be used to show films. The third floor has two terraces perfect for taking a break from working and studying. A visual laboratory with cases along the walls provides a place where faculty or local artists can have works on view. “Now that we have a building, we’re able to have a collection of works by Iowa artists and draw connections to the state, to the university, and how art intersects with people’s lives and experiences. It’s really exciting and makes the collection more alive.”

In July 2022, staff worked to install Pollock’s massive  Mural in the new space. (Photo by Kirk Murray, © 2022 The University of Iowa, all rights reserved.)

Lessing is very happy about the inaugural exhibition and hopes people are surprised by what they discover. She hopes “they feel very much at home here. We have worked hard to create a welcoming experience for visitors from the moment that they come through. We want their entrance across our threshold to be easy and comfortable and pleasant. And we hope that they come back not just for a single visit, but many times over the next few years to re-experience the collection.”

Schedule of Events


Art Stations, Gibson Square Park: 4–9 p.m. Drop in and create your own work of art, take a fun photo or contribute to a community art project.
Curator Talks, Galleries, 4:30–6 p.m. Join the curators of Homecoming on the second floor for brief, informal introductions of the exhibition themes.
Galleries open 4:30–8:30 p.m.
Live Music, Gibson Square Park, 6–9 p.m. Bring a chair and listen to live music from treesreach, Pictoria Vark, and Houndmouth. in Gibson Square Park!
Free popcorn, lemonade and water will be available in Gibson Square Park from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Throughout the evening food trucks will be parked on the street between the Stanley and the Main Library with food for purchase.


Art Stations, Gibson Square Park, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Drop in and create your own work of art, take a fun photo or contribute to a community art project.
Homecoming Tours, 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Join a 45-minute docent-led tour that provides an overview of Homecoming, highlights work you’ll remember and introduces you to recent acquisitions. Tour sizes are limited; visit the lobby welcome desk to participate
Galleries open 10 a.m.–8:30 p.m.
Juggling Performances and Workshop, Gibson Square Park, Noon–3:15 p.m. Luther Bangert will perform a unique 10-minute juggling and dance performance on the hour. Between performances Bangert will lead lessons on the practice and art of juggling.
Director’s Welcome, Lobby, 4:45 p.m. Stanley Museum of Art Director Lauren Lessing will share her plans for the museum and ways visitors of all ages can participate in museum activities all year long.
Cedar Rapids Opera Performance, Lobby, 5–5:30 p.m. A special performance of Selections from The Grant Wood Operas: Strokes of Genius. Seating is limited and first come, first served.
Special Performance by DJ Simeon Talley Gibson Square Park, 6–9 p.m. Spend Saturday night in the park! Enjoy music and food after your visit to the museum.
Donuts and coffee (10 a.m.–noon) and popcorn, lemonade, and water (noon–9 p.m.) will be available for free in Gibson Square Park. Throughout the evening food trucks will be parked on the street between the Stanley and the Main Library with food for purchase.


Homecoming Tours, Noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.  Join a 45-minute docent-led tour that provides an overview of Homecoming, highlights work you’ll remember and introduces you to recent acquisitions. Tour sizes are limited; visit the lobby welcome desk to participate
Galleries open Noon–5:30 p.m.
Special Performance TBD, Lobby & Galleries, 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m. Cookies and coffee (noon to 5:30 p.m.) will be available for free in the lobby

For more information, visit Anyone interested in volunteering at the opening can sign up on the website.