Organized Chaos

UIMA Graduate Curatorial Assistant Nathan Popp joins us on Art Matters today to share some of his reflections on the flood and his work with the UIMA's collection of prints, drawings, and photographs.
Those who know me understand how much I crave order.

Since water besieged the UIMA and so many others last summer, I have struggled to cope with the ongoing uncertainty of the Museum’s situation. Looking back, however, I can see that certain advance actions we took helped facilitate an efficient evacuation of our works on paper collection (prints, drawings, and photographs).

Prior to the deluge, my supervisor, UIMA Chief Curator Kathy Edwards, had given me the task of systematically going through the Museum’s art object database to identify objects that needed research and to gather the missing information. Our goal had been to have as much of the collection as possible available on the University of Iowa’s Digital Library, so that students, faculty and the public could browse the collection online.

The digitization does not provide a virtual substitution for the Museum, but rather allows people access to many works of art not typically on display in the galleries, and to let them explore the true depth of the fine collection here at Iowa. The digital image database has and will provide people a way to discover unique objects from the collection, and then make an appointment to come into the Museum and see what peaked their interest.

The flood has limited such opportunities for student and faculty use of the collection and thrust the staff into a whirlwind of organized chaos this past year. Several office moves, continuous construction, and other hurdles have tested the morale of those who work at the museum--and all of those affected by the flood.But through it all the charge remained: stay steadfast, work toward an objective bigger than ourselves.

When the semi-trucks began to return the University of Iowa Museum of Art’s collection back to native soil at its new temporary home at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport (read more on the UIMA/Figge agreement here and http://uima.blogspot.com/2009/01/move-in-news.html and see photos here), I was awestruck by the amount of work that needed to be done. Row after row of boxes and crates formed a mountainous labyrinth, each a package that had been saved from the flood.
As noted in UIMA Assistant to the Director for Special Programs and Curatorial Assistant Melissa Hueting’s blog series “From the Figge Front,” our group documented every object with condition reports and added each item to an inventory as it was relocated to its new storage place. It had been nearly a year since I had laid eyes on most of the works on paper, and it felt good to know they would soon again be under my care.

Although it took months to finish, day by day we pressed on until the job was done. For works on paper, each box was taken from its pallet and placed onto a large table, where we went through the contents page by page, ensuring that everything was accounted for and in good condition. Once certain that all was well, we moved the box onto a cart destined for an area in the Figge’s library. There, the books had been moved to make room for new shelves where the works on paper boxes can be secure in a proper climate.As each box-laden cart voyaged toward its next destination, I walked alongside, my outstretched hand resting atop the stack. I knew that the cart was steered properly and in no danger of accident from shifting, but something inside me felt I needed to protect the UIMA’s works on paper. Maybe it is because I started as a student security guard in 2004 and came to art history by way of my reverence to the art I was charged to protect. Or perhaps it is because I believe passionately that this collection should be shared and protected for future generations.

What I do know is that as one entrusted with the care of collection, it reassures me to keep a steady hand on those containers. It calms me to gently slide them into the protected slot where they will repose until the next class or exhibit calls them into service. I scan every list, count each shelf, calculate the best arrangement.
After a tumultuous year, the new order here restores my sense of duty and inspires me not only to resume past projects, but also to press on toward new plans—The UIMA@the Figge and the UIMA@the IMU: Richey Ballroom, to name two. These two spaces allow the UIMA to continue fulfilling its educational mission as best it can, but they do not negate Iowa’s need for a museum to provide a home for its art collection.

All Iowans are the inheritors of this magnificent assembly of art, but with reward comes responsibility, and our sights must be set on what we bequest to future generations. A shiver trickles down my spine as I drive along Dubuque Street and witness the Iowa River swell with rain water again. I think to myself how nature is unmanageable, unpredictable. The phrase etched above the doorway of the old art building puts my plight into perspective: Ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long, life is short.


Video feature: Robert Motherwell's "Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 126"

For this video feature, the third in our series highlighting works on display in the UIMA exhibit at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, A Legacy for Iowa: Pollock's Mural and Modern Masterworks from the University of Iowa Museum of Art, we talked with University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) Assistant to the Director for Special Programs and Curatorial Assistant Melissa Hueting about Robert Motherwell's Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 126. Check it out here, on the UIMA's YouTube channel, or on Facebook.

--Maggie Anderson, UIMA Marketing and Media Manager

From the Figge Front: All done!

It’s been months since this room has been so empty!

As of July 16, it's over. Over 13 months after being packed up and shipped to Chicago, the UIMA collection is unpacked and in storage at the Figge Art Museum, ready to begin the next stage of its existence. Countless people, hours, and miles have been dedicated to the collection’s well-being. "Thank you" just doesn’t cut it in terms of the gratitude that we, the UIMA staff, feel towards all of you who have demonstrated your devotion to and support for the UIMA!

Now that we’ve completed the move, we’re ready to jump into the next project: Beginning today, we’re back at the Figge to prepare a check-list of objects for their journey back to the UI, this time to the UIMA@IMU: Richey Ballroom, which opens on August 22. Museum patrons visiting this newly renovated space will be able to reconnect with familiar objects, while new visitors will have an opportunity that has been denied to them this past year: experiencing the art first-hand!

Here's looking forward to seeing you there...

--Melissa Hueting, UIMA Assistant to the Director for Special Programs and Curatorial Assistant

P.S. Since we're done unpacking, this will be my last weekly blog from the Figge Front. But don't worry--I'll return periodically to keep you updated on our progress with other projects!


Two possible sites for new Hancher-Voxman-Clapp; some concerns about UIMA

UI officials narrowed possible sites for a new Hancher-Voxman-Clapp complex from eight to two at a public forum last Thursday.

The "west site," just north of the current flood-damaged Hancher and near the Levitt Center, received the most support from those who spoke when the floor was opened to comment during the second half of the two-hour event.

The “east site," located south of Burlington Street and bordered by Clinton, Court and Madison streets, had a few supporters, notably the two recent UI graduates who spoke. But most said they do not want a new performing arts center downtown, citing concerns about parking, aesthetics, and loss of taxable property.

Loren Keller of CorridorBuzz.com notes that some of the approximately 200 attendees wondered about the UIMA's future.

Shirley Wyrick, an Iowa City artist married to UI Foundation president emeritus Darrell Wyrik, asked about the UIMA, which officials did not discuss at the forum.

“The Museum of Art does not get FEMA funds but its entire function has been wiped out,” she said. “It needs a home.”

In Monday's Daily Iowan, reporter Claire Perlman writes:

"While the public heard two viable locations for the Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex July 9, the Museum of Art’s future is smudged with budget problems.

"For one thing, neither the Art Museum nor Art Building West will receive federal disaster funding because they didn’t sustain damage of 50 percent or more of the property’s value.

"Art Building West will be renovated, but some see an opportunity to improve the Art Museum.

“ 'This is a chance not only to replace what we lost but to really look into the future and see how we can be better than ever,' said Pat Hanick, the museum director of development at the UI Foundation."

Read the full artilce here.

Those who would like to comment on the HVC site selection can send an e-mail to hvc-site@uiowa.edu. More information about the process, including video of the forum and documents that were presented, is available here.

Click here to read the Gazette article about the forum, here for the Press-Citizen article, and here for the Daily Iowan article.


From the Figge Front: Many Metal Drawers

“They’re like an army! A tiny, terracotta army all lined up in a storage drawer! You know, like that Chinese terracotta army that was discovered years ago. Only smaller. Much smaller.”

I turn to Victoria (from OIA--O'Connell International Arts, Inc.), eyes eager with the expectation that she agree. She shakes her head, laughing in amused consent.
Victoria examines the terracotta army.

I return her smile. It’s not an army, of course. I’m just being goofy after a long day on my feet. So what is it that we’re unpacking? One of many metal drawers that rest within large shipping boxes, each of which is filled with either Pre-Columbian terracotta figures or Chinese jades.

A drawer of Chinese jades.

I stare down at our current drawer and over fifty Pre-Columbian figures stare back, adorned in representations of clothing and accessories indigenous to their time and place. Tiny figures, beautifully decorated with molded details that are accentuated by brightly colored pigment. I’m trained to work with terracotta objects, but the majority of my experience has come from Roman vessels and votive offerings that I’ve excavated abroad. But these figures...were they used as votive offerings? Or perhaps they were fertility fetishes (many are voluptuously pregnant women)? One of the coolest parts of this job is that my mind naturally connects what I see to what I know, encouraging me to identify similarities and question differences. I’ll have to learn more about these particular figures when we’re finished unpacking and I’m back in the office. But for now...
A view of the work space.

...I need to concentrate on documenting each drawer that we pull out of the numerous boxes still waiting to be checked in. Today is Tuesday and we’re hoping to finish unpacking everything by Friday. Glancing around the enormous room, I am doubtful; however we’ve made quite a dent this week already and if we continue at this pace we just might be able to finish by the weekend.

Jeff (right) at work with an OAI employee.
Steve Erickson and Nathan Popp of the UIMA at the works on paper check-in station.

In fact, we’ve established an additional check-in station so that we can expedite this process. Kathy and Nathan continue to examine the works on paper, with help from Anna Heineman (a Ph.D. student in art history who works for UIMA). Jeff works with OIA employees at the main "objects" check-in table, and Victoria and I run a smaller "objects" station across the room. One of the OIA guys has taken to calling the two of us "Laverne and Shirley." Having never seen this television show, I’m unfamiliar with these characters and can only assume that they represent two hard-working, art-loving girls, as that’s exactly what we are.

--Melissa Hueting, UIMA Assistant to the Director for Special Programs and Curatorial Assistant


From the Figge Front: Today

Today will be a good day.

I’m in the back seat of UIMA Exhibitions and Collections Manager Jeff Martin’s car, listening to an audio book on retired judge and military hero Buck Compton, known from the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" (the audio book is far more interesting than I originally anticipated). Looking out my window I see flashes of light -- cars zipping west on I-80, caught only by the sunlight -- and I feel relief that we’re heading east to the Figge Art Museum, where we’ll resume unpacking the UIMA collection.

We haven’t been able to unpack for over a month, but this week we finally have the OK. All hands are on deck and thank goodness: a big push is necessary because we must have everything unpacked and located before we can finalize plans for the Richey Ballroom, which is set to open in August.

For me, it’s the process that is most exciting. I have my new notebook on the seat next to me, ready to be filled with columns and rows of numbers and letters. I smile to myself, knowing that with each completed page we’ll be that much closer to normalcy, to having the objects safely placed back on shelves.

We’re pulling into the Figge’s parking lot, and I can see the O’Connell International Arts team. It’s been over a month, but I feel like we were just here. Because of our old friends (meaning the art) we’ve made new friends and have grown close through this experience. I see Victoria, who waves. Now Bob and Darren start walking to where we’ve parked. Today will be a good day.

--Melissa Hueting, Assistant to the Director for Special Projects and Curatorial Assistant