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Visitors can take a tour through Oklahoma State University’s art collection in the opening exhibit of the school’s new art gallery.
By Liz Blood
Published May 19, 2014
Up and to the right of the all-glass entryway, the 1963 mural History of Payne County by Stillwater resident Grace Hamilton greets visitors to the Oklahoma State Museum of Art’s Postal Plaza Gallery. Depicting local history—a Native American teepee village, a steam engine blazing through the terrain, and a modern-day oil derrick—the mural’s sweeping overview mirrors the theme of Sharing a Journey: Building the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art Collection, the gallery’s inaugural exhibition.
“We’ve tried to give a sense of the historical breadth and geographic range of the collection,” says Louise Siddons, faculty curator and assistant art professor. “It’s called Sharing a Journey because the OSU art collection has been a community project in the making for almost a hundred years. This is to celebrate the people who’ve contributed.”
Sharing a Journey, which constitutes roughly 160 pieces, is designed to give viewers a broad overview of the university’s 3,000-piece permanent collection and create conversations between the various works. Upon entering, visitors see a postmodern African art piece: a briefcase made out of cans, commercial hardware, and newsprint. It is next to 8-19 by Robert Razcka, a large format photograph of a big-city street scene, complete with a building-sized advertisement and street stoplight.
“These pieces are in dialogue with each other,” says Krystle Brewer, an OSU masters of fine art student who spent two years as a research assistant working on the gallery, collection, and Sharing a Journey. “Both use commercial materials, but they come from very different parts of the world.”
In a typical art catalog, pieces are grouped by geographic location and time period. By upending the usual curation model, Sharing enables its works to play off one another.
The theme continues throughout, as in the case of Susan Stewart-Medicine Horse’s Red Elk Dog. This bright portrait of what looks to be a blend between a canine and horse is surrounded by other animal art, including a 1970 Sri Lankan tribal mask of a serpent demon and a mid-twentieth-century linoleum cut depicting Pegasus. Nearby, Native American horse and warrior paintings complement a horse statue from China’s Tong Dynasty. Detailed beadwork on a Lakota pipe bag demonstrates that abstraction in art came before modernism. To illustrate this point, the piece is grouped with modern abstract artists J. Jay McVicker, Dale McKinney, and Ron duBois.
Sharing is a thorough walk through both the inner world of the OSU art collection and the greater art world. It’s a place the general arts enthusiast might venture as well as a location for professors to take their students for an out-of-the-classroom teaching experience.
“The most exciting aspect of this project is that this is a teaching gallery,” says lead architect Rand Elliott, whose firm Elliott + Associates renovated the 1933 WPA-era post office.
The structure of the gallery is itself designed to be educational. Because the collection’s storage room is encased in glass, visitors are able to see the work being handled, making the museum and its behind-the-scenes operation a collective experience.
“The words transparency and participatory were important to us from the very beginning,” says Siddons. “This is a space you can be involved in.”
Get There: Sharing a Journey: Building the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art Collection runs through May 24. The Postal Plaza Gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays. Admission is free. 720 South Husband Street in Stillwater. (405) 744-2780 or museum.okstate.edu.