Four exhibits set for opening of Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts

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Four exhibits set for opening of Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts

It’s almost time to see the art.

Four exhibits will greet visitors at the new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock’s MacArthur Park Historic District when it finally reopens to the public on Saturday after nearly four years of renovations and expansion.

“Together” is a wide-ranging show featuring 31 works by 30 US and international artists. “Chakaia Booker: Intentional Risks” focuses on a two-dimensional aspect of the New York City-based sculptor’s work. “Sun Xun: Tears of Chiwen” showcases the Beijing artist’s animation, and “Drawn to Paper” is made up of pieces from the museum’s permanent collection.

The exhibits will help usher in a new era for the museum, formerly known as the Arkansas Arts Center.

It’s been a minute since art lovers could see works at the museum’s MacArthur Park location. The space has been closed since summer 2019 and has undergone a major transformation. The expansion project dates back to 2015, when Little Rock voters approved a bond paid for by hotel taxes to fund about $31.3 million of the museum’s renovation.

As of September of last year, a private fundraising campaign had raised $150.4 million toward a goal of $155 million for the new 133,000-square-foot building. These funds “will support the new museum and … provide transition and opening support, while also strengthening the endowment, yielding support for operations, exhibitions, acquisitions, and education and outreach programming in the new museum,” according to arkmfa.org,

TOGETHER

Taking pride of place among the new exhibits is the ambitious “Together.” Brian Lang, chief curator and Windgate Foundation curator of contemporary craft, said the exhibit’s exploration of togetherness alludes not just to the reopening of the museum, but also society coming back together after the restrictions of the pandemic.

“We felt very strongly that, as the inaugural exhibition, it set the tone for what we want to do in the future. As we came back, post-construction, post-covid, we circled back to this theme of together.”

The show is loosely organized into sections reflecting on friends, family, community, nature and the world, said Lang, who worked on the exhibit with fellow curators Catherine Walworth and Theresa Bembnister.

Walworth, the museum’s Jackie and Curtis Finch Jr. curator of drawings, said the exhibit includes sculpture, painting, prints, video, textile, installations and more, with works spanning from representational to abstract.

“The range of media is so unexpected,” she said. “I think that togetherness comes through on so many different levels. There is a nice balance of all kinds of materials, and the way they all work together is so playful and dynamic. There is so much to explore.”

There is also an element of joy, Lang added.

“We were unequivocal in wanting this to be celebratory and colorful. The initial attractiveness of a number of these works draws you in, and then you look more closely and you realize the message the artist is trying to convey.”

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

Among the artists with work included in “Together” are Ryan RedCornof Oklahoma, whose larger-than-life photograph shows Plains Cree mother and daughter Chantelle Keshaye Pahtayken and Shay Pahtayken; Oliver Lee Jackson of St. Louis, whose collaged “Triptych (3.20.15, 5.21.15, 6.8.15),” is on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; and Elias Sime of Ethiopia, whose “Tightrope” is made from reclaimed electrical wires and computer keys.

Two artists, printmaker LaToya M. Hobbs and photographer Jess T. Dugan, have Little Rock connections.

Hobbs grew up in the capital city and graduated from the University of Arkansas Little Rock with a degree in painting. Her 8-by-12-foot woodblock print, “Carving Out Time, Scene 1: Morning,” is a segment from an even larger work that depicts a day in her life as a mother, wife and artist.

“They specifically requested that image because I think they felt like it represents a lot of the themes and values ​​that they were trying to express with the exhibit,” said Hobbs, who is a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.

Having artwork in the museum’s inaugural show is one of those full-circle moments for the 39-year-old Hobbs, whose woodcuts were shown in two editions of the Delta Exhibition, an annual exhibit that began in 1958 at the arts center.

“Thinking about the three different instances of work that I’ve shown there, I think it shows the development of my practice,” Hobbs said. “I’m definitely excited about that.”

The reopening of the museum “is a really significant thing for Arkansas,” she adds. “It will be a destination for arts and art culture. I feel honored to be asked to participate in the opening exhibition.”

On June 1, Hobbs will be part of the museum’s inaugural Artist Talk with Dario Robleto and Alison Elizabeth Taylor, both of whose work is included in “Together.”

Dugan was born in Biloxi, Miss., and lived in Little Rock before moving to Massachusetts at age 13. Before then, Dugan recalls spending plenty of time at the Arkansas Arts Center and performing in its children’s theater.

“It’s really a touching place for me. I took theater classes when I was there and I went to the summer theater camp for several years in a row.”

Curators chose Dugan’s photograph of a North Little Rock couple, “Hank, 76, and Samm, 67, North Little Rock, AR, 2015,” to be included in “Together;” The image is among several in the exhibit that was acquired by the museum for its collection.

The photograph was part of “To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults,” a project Dugan worked on with social worker and researcher Vanessa Fabbre.

“A driving force in my work is the belief in the importance of representation,” said the 36-year-old photographer, who lives in St. Louis. “I’m passionate about creating representation of LGBTQ+ people and communities, and it’s especially meaningful to me to have a piece like this in an institution in a place like Little Rock. I’m really excited and I’m grateful to the curators for including it and to the subjects for being part of it.”

PRINTS, ANIMATION, WORKS ON PAPER

Booker is known for her large-scale sculptures made from recycled tires and stainless steel. “Intentional Risks” will include one of those pieces, but the exhibit concentrates on her print work.

“In her tire sculptures, she’s doing a lot of layering,” said Lang, who has been with the museum since 2012 and curated “Intentional Risks.” get that same approach in her prints. … She uses very thin paper that she is cutting up and tearing and layering on a support and then running them through a press. They have a lot of depth.”

Focusing on Booker’s prints is a nod to the printing program at the museum’s Windgate Art School, Lang said.

“We wanted to showcase an artist that is exploring prints in a unique way.”

“Tears of Chiwen” is a fast-paced animated piece that is more than nine minutes long and made of drawings and prints by Sun. Its title comes from the mythical creature often seen as a decorative element on the edges of roofs in East Asia.

Bembnister, who has been with the museum since 2020, curated the exhibit.

“Sun Xun is a very accomplished draftsman,” she said. “He does all sorts of drawing and printmaking. The animation has several different styles throughout its length. The video we are showing is from 2017 and it’s the first time it’s been shown in a museum in the United States.”

“Tears of Chiwen” is presented in the museum’s New Media Gallery, which will concentrate on digital art — video, animation, projected work and more, Bembnister said.

“It’s important that we are doing that because not only are artists working in that way, but it’s the way we live. We spend so much time on our digital devices and consume so much media that way, it’s important that we incorporate new technology and new media into the way that we look at and exhibit art.”

One of the great strengths of the museum is its collection of works on paper, bolstered by the late Townsend Wolfe, who became the arts center’s director and chief curator in 1968 and was there for more than three decades.

“Drawn to Paper” delves into the museum’s cache of American and European drawings and features almost 60 works by the likes of Paul Signac, John Marin, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Elizabeth Catlett and more. The show will also include the work of Inez H. Whitfield, whose watercolors documented the wildflowers of Arkansas.

“It’s a stamp of our identity,” Walworth said of the exhibit.

With the opening just a few days away, the curators are ready f0r the public to come see the art and the new space.

“It’s been a long journey,” Lang said. “It’s been challenging, curatorially, to identify the work that we wanted to debut and do it in a thoughtful, aesthetically pleasing way. In the end, I think guests will be surprised. It’s a collection and building that will make everyone in Arkansas proud.” .”

“Together”

Saturday-Sept. 10, Harriet and Warren Stephens Galleries

,Chakaia Booker: Intentional Risks”

Saturday-Dec. 3, Robyn and John Horn Gallery of the Windgate Art School

, Sun Xun: Tears of Chiwen”

Saturday-Aug. 13, New Media Gallery

“Drawn to Paper”

Saturday-Dec. 23

Address: 501 E. Ninth St., Little Rock

Admission: Free

Regular hours starting May 2: Tuesday-Saturday: 10 am-8 pm Sunday: 12 pm-5 pm Monday: Closed

arkmfa.org

(501) 372-4000

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