About three or four years ago, Andrea Norris, director of the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, began noticing something as she walked through the museum's galleries.
A painting bequeathed to the museum. A sculpture given as a gift. A print purchased from a dealer. The common thread among them was that they had all come to the museum during her time as its director.
This year, Norris is celebrating her 10th anniversary at the museum and "Art for Kansas: Building the Collection, 1988-1998," a diverse exhibition, is celebrating the museum's acquisitions during that decade.
"In the exhibit are things that haven't been shown or haven't been out lately, or works on paper too fragile to be shown all of the time," Norris said. "I wanted the exhibition and labels to explain where they were found and how they came to the museum."
The artworks for the exhibition were chosen by the museum's curators and include paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, photographs and decorative arts. Works purchased within the past decade and already on display in the permanent galleries will be marked with labels.
Norris said the museum acquires about 100 artworks each year through gifts, bequests or purchases with endowed funds. With each acquisition, the museum must weigh how the artwork will benefit students or KU programs and how it advances the museum's collection.
"The collection is a teaching collection. Therefore, we acquire things for various kinds of educational possibilities," she said. "But we still are looking for the best work and the strongest representation of an artist or a period or a medium."
Norris said the museum typically learns of artworks available for purchase from an art dealer or agent. Other times, the staff seeks out a specific artwork or a specific artist. Costly purchases are evaluated carefully because spending large sums dilutes the resources for other purchases.
Currently, she said, the museum staff is considering acquiring Latin American and contemporary American Indian works because of the strength of KU's Latin American and indigenous studies programs.
One of the earliest works in the exhibition is "Christ Bearing the Cross," a reverse painting on glass dating to the 16th or 17th century that has never been shown before. The work, donated by Millie Ward, is a copy of a masterpiece by the artist Raphael.
Other works in the exhibit include:
- "Great Castle on an Island," a 16th-century etching by German artist Hanns Lautensack, was purchased by the museum. The etching is an example of the German school of landscape art, called the Danube School, where land was first used as a subject without religious or narrative pretext.
- "Memoir of the Eastern Journey," a narrative scroll by Japanese artist Karasumaru Mitsuhiro, was acquired the first year Norris came aboard as director and required nearly all of that year's acquisitions budget. Mitsuhiro was a high-ranking courtier and a leading poet of the early 17th century. The text, drawing and poems on the scroll recount his journey along the 307-mile Eastern Sea Route from Tokyo to Kyoto.
- "Te Ariivahine (The Noble Woman)," an 1898 woodcut print by French artist Paul Gauguin, shows an exotic female nude, probably of Tahitian descent. Gauguin left France in 1985 to live in Tahiti and Hivaoa. The piece, printed on thin Japanese paper, is the only work by Gauguin at the Spencer Museum. The museum used endowed funds to purchase the print.
- "Adornament," a 1990 conceptual art piece by J.S.G. Boggs, adds a humorous touch to the exhibition. Boggs was known for making fake currency and then using it to buy items that would require a cashier to give him change. In this case, Boggs traded one of his $500 bills for a $400 necklace and received $100 back in real money. The artwork includes the $500 bill, the necklace, the receipt for the purchase and the $100 in change.
Boggs, who was arrested and tried in England in 1986 for counterfeiting and was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, donated the work to KU seven or eight years ago after the museum staged an exhibition of his works.
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