A Fresh Look: The New Stanley Museum of Art

A view of the new Stanley Museum of Art Galleries: in front, Elizabeth’s Catlett’s Glory, with Marsden Hartley’s E to the right and Sam Gilliam’s Red April in the back gallery.

After 14 years of waiting, the public can now view the University of Iowa art collections in the beautiful new Stanley Museum of Art beginning Friday, August 26, at 3 p.m. The opening exhibition, Homecoming, organized by two central curators, Cory Gundlach, Curator of African Art, and Diana Tuite, Visiting Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, is a jaw-dropping experience of beautiful synchronicity. Gundlach and Tuite have done a stellar job of arranging their exhibition in a fresh, original way that transcends genre or geopolitical organization and brings out the harmonious synergies between pieces from disparate times and places. This deliberate arrangement brings out the shared values between all the works and makes the entire museum an organic, collaborative work of art, brilliantly creating conversations among pieces.

Jackson Pollack’s Mural with Red April at the far left

Viewers walking through the galleries will find juxtapositions that reveal commonalities of inspiration. For instance, a visitor may notice the echo of petroglyphs in the swirling abstract shapes of the ever-popular Jackson Pollock Mural after viewing nearby Indigenous art, while the vitality of Scots-Irish American Abstract Expressionist painter Pollock’s brushstrokes is reflected in the bold ornamentation of a pair of large ceramic urns and a robustly organic modern sculpture.

Iconic African American sculptor and graphic artist Elizabeth Catlett’s striking black patinated bronze bust Glory makes a particularly striking tableaux looking towards an Indigenous textile piece on the opposite wall. The angle of her chin echoes the dark triangle patterns of the wall hanging, while the cinnamon-red base color of the piece is mirrored in another gallery space behind the bust, where ceramic vessels pop against the color.

Large textiles on display

In another gallery, Kenyan American sculptor Wangechi Mutu’s delightfully outre Heeler III, an ochre-red platform heel that looks as if it pushed through red clay soil and sprouted branches with all the fervor of a small sapling, echoes the reds of a geometric textile wall hanging behind it, with the geometric patterning continuing in a dark patinated monolithic sculpture of triangular obelisks ascending into space against the far wall.

And this is just a taste of the amazing art expertly displayed throughout the second floor museum galleries.

Entrance to the Stanley Museum of Art

All galleries are easily accessible via either the staircase or the elevators. The beautifully modern new building is light and airy with clean, elegant lines. The welcoming first-floor entrance hall, with a reception desk and a presentation area, features tastefully designed soundproofing, so presentations are not overwhelmed by the clatter and bustle of other visitors entering or moving through the space. The sleek architecture unifies the space with repeated dot motifs on the stairwells and lecterns. Stylish red lounging chairs along wide banks of windows create pops of color. The glassed-in, light-well alcove, showcasing Japanese American sculptor Jun Kaneko’s glazed ceramic piece Untitled, is open to the sky.

The Stanley Museum promises to be a cultural experience to be savored and explored over multiple visits, with many cozy nooks and alcoves available for rest, recharging, and creative introspection.

For more information, visit the Stanley Museum of Art.