Esteemed journalist Adam Gopnik to give UI Museum of Art’s 2009 Bette Spriestersbach Distinguished Lecture

Adam Gopnik, an award-winning journalist and regular contributor to The New Yorker, will present the UI Museum of Art’s annual Bette Spriestersbach Distinguished Lecture at 7:30 p.m on Thursday, Feb. 5. The lecture will take place at the University Athletic Club, 1360 Melrose Ave.

A contributor to The New Yorker since 1986, Gopnik has written extensively about modern life and culture with wit, eloquence, and insight. He became the magazine’s art critic in 1987 and during his tenure at the magazine, he has written fiction and humor pieces, book reviews, profiles, reporting pieces, and more than a hundred stories for “The Talk of the Town” and “Comment.”

An author of four books, he is best known for his funny and touching stories about how people live, including the best-selling Paris to the Moon (2000), a collection of essays he wrote for The New Yorker during his five-year residence in Paris with his family. Gopnik's most recent book, Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York (2006), collects and expands his essays about life in New York and raising two children there. It includes the essays “Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli,” about his daughter’s imaginary friend, and “Last of the Metrozoids,” about the life of Kirk Varnedoe and the year before his death, in 2003.

Gopnik’s work writing about the arts corresponds with the purpose of the Spriestersbach Lecture, which was established to bring nationally recognized speakers to inform the community about topics related to the arts and museums.

“As a non-fiction author and in many of The New Yorker writings, Adam Gopnik has dealt with the museum experience in an engaging and profound way,” said Dale Fisher, UI Museum of Art director of education.

The lecture will be titled “The Mindful Museum,” based on an article Gopnik wrote for the Canadian magazine The Walrus. In the article, Gopnik examines how museums have transformed over time. Beginning with an idea from the 19th century of museums as “mausoleums,” secluded places where artifacts were contemplated in silent solitude, Gopnik analyzes how contemporary museums have changed since then. He discusses the shift in the 1950s when museums were seen as an educational tool, and looks forward toward what some museums are on the verge of becoming—the dreaded museum as “mall,” over-merchandised and overcrowded. To Gopnik, however, the present-day museum is still transforming and has the potential to become what he hopes will be a thoughtful, conversation-stimulating place about the objects it contains.

The article addresses issues that many museums, including the UIMA, are currently facing.

“Museums often have a dual identity,” Fisher said. “They function not only as a social marketplace, but also as a place where people come to reflect on the artwork, something that requires a quiet atmosphere that is free from distraction. Museums have to figure out how to balance the two and serve both purposes.”

Gopnik’s work for The New Yorker has won both the National Magazine Award for Essay and the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting. He has broadcasted regularly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and wrote the article on American culture for the last two editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. His next book, Angels & Ages, a look at the birth of the modern era through the lives Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, is due in early 2009.

The annual Spriestersbach Lecture at the Museum of Art honors the late Bette R. Spriestersbach, a museum docent and a former program associate in the Child Health Specialty Clinics in the UI Hospital School who died in 2004. She was the wife of former UI vice president Duane C. Spriestersbach, who endowed the lecture in 1992 through a gift to the University of Iowa Foundation.

The UI Museum of Art was evacuated from its building in June because of the flood. Many exhibitions and events slated to be held at the UIMA have been moved to alternate venues. For more information on the UI Museum of Art and the latest schedule information, visit www.uiowa.edu/uima.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Maggie Anderson, Museum of Art, 319-335-1731, margaret-anderson@uiowa.edu; Peter Alexander, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0072 (cell), 319-541-2846 (office), peter-alexander@uiowa.edu. Writer: Claire Lekwa

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