The Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art routinely displays sacred art from medieval Europe.
But come January, the Spencer will play host to an exhibition of works that may not be recognizable to U.S. audiences Mexican retablo painting.
"It's a folk approach to religious images," said Andrea Norris, the museum's director. "It's both indigenous to North America and an interpretation of 17th- and 18th-century European art.''
The show, called "Mexican Retablo Painting: The Art of Private Devotion," is a highlight of the upcoming Spencer season, which is scheduled to include American paintings, New Zealand landscapes, Italian Old Master drawings and modern Japanese prints.
THE SEASON will mark a transitional period for the museum as it prepares to bring on Nancy Corwin, a new curator of European and American art, and searches for a curator for Asian art as well.
The Mexican devotional art show includes 75 works from more than 35 American and Mexican public and private collections. It was organized by InterCultura in Fort Worth, Tex. The show encompasses collections of art works that would be included in private devotional areas in Mexican homes. The style of the work is a cross between the populist style of Latin-American painting seen in murals in both Mexico and the United States and traditional iconography imported with Spanish settlers from Europe.
IT COMES on the heels of a revived interest in Mexican art, including a large retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Norris said museum officials hope to involve a wide range of people in the exhibit.
"That show got scheduled partly because we wanted to involve the Spanish department and Latino students," Norris said. "The Spanish department was very enthusiastic because of its interdisciplinary potential. Also, I hope to have some connection with communities that don't visit the museum that much. In particular, we hope to reach out to the Mexican-American community.''
The show of American painting, called "Images of America: The Painter's Eye, 1833-1925," includes 58 paintings from the Baekeland Collection. Culled by an art collector, the show features works by a wide variety of American artists and originated at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama.
"VERY FEW people know the work of some of these artists," Norris said. "But it's some wonderfully chosen work.''
Because the museum serves the university, many of the shows will relate to courses taught in the art history department, which has offices on the second floor of the building. For example, the show of New Zealand landscapes will be used in a course taught by Charles Eldredge, a KU art history professor.
The show "Italian Old Master Drawings, 16th-18th Centuries," could help both art history survey courses and art students.
"The drawings reveal the creative process," she said. "It should be of interest to study the artists, and they may be used in a survey course in Italian Renaissance art. But it's not specifically related to a course.''
LAST SEASON'S highlights included a series of photograph portraits of African American women and a show of objects from the 19th century arts and crafts movement.
But Norris said the year also was a burden on a truncated staff. John Wilson, the previous curator of European and American art, left at the beginning of last summer. Corwin, Wilson's replacement, won't start until December of this year, and the museum is without a photography curator.
THE 1991-92 schedule includes:
"Modern Chinese Paintings," a show of 19th- and 20-century Chinese art, through Sept. 8.
"Images of America: The Painter's Eye 1833-1925," Aug. 25-Oct. 13.
"Italian Old Master Drawings 16th-18th Centuries," Oct. 6-Nov. 17.
"Pacific Parallels: Artists and the Landscape in New Zealand, 1840-1990," Nov. 3-Dec. 29.
"Modern Japanese Prints," Jan. 19-March 15.
"Mexican Retablo Painting: The Art of Private Devotion," Jan. 25-March 8.
"Camera as Weapon: German Worker Photography Between the Wars," March 22-May 10.