Art from the plains, New York and China highlight the University of North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks.
The museum, housed in a former women’s gymnasium, was built in 1907. The building was converted to the museum in 1985.
The museum is currently home to a visiting exhibition featuring 101 blue and white painted porcelain vases from China. The vases – on display through Jan. 9, 2015 – are part of “The Vase Project: Made in China – Landscape in Blue.”
The exhibit was a collaboration between Professor Barbara Diduk and Chinese artists. She asked the first artist to paint a vase featuring the city’s landscape, including its kiln stacks.
Once the first vase was painted, she showed it to the next artist and asked them to paint their interpretation. She did this with each subsequent artist until she had the 101 vases as part of a “chain letter.”
The vases’ containers even appear as art in the exhibit. The red boxes used to ship the vases created a tower near the center of the exhibit.
An ongoing exhibition includes the apartment contents and artwork of Barton Lidice Benes. The New York-based artist was commissioned to create a large art piece about the 1997 flood, featuring remnants from area residents. That piece is supposed to be displayed in the museum soon.
Benes developed a fondness for UND and decided to bequeath part of his collection to the school. That gift included the contents of his New York apartment.
His desk had an interesting piece – a blood-stained wooden knife.
Some of his art pieces left us wondering about his personality. It seemed he used bits and pieces of items he obtained from celebrities and other famous people he knew for his art. He created shadow boxes and displayed small artwork. Among the “art” included were Larry Hagman’s gallstones. Hagman was the leading actor in the TV series “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Dallas.”
He used water from actor Dick Van Dyke’s swimming pool to paint in water color. Among other famous people he had pieces of “art” from included artist Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.
Benes created the “Gossip Colum.” He took a hate letter from someone he had apparently wronged and made into a large column, topped with dollar bills.
He had some beautiful pieces of display – African art, among the pieces.
The museum has a gallery featuring the work of regional artists. One of the pieces I really liked was “Remember…Relate…Retell.” The Caroline Dukes’ piece highlighted human shapes with relationships above them, such as “Daughter,” “Father,” and “Father becomes Son,” etc.
Another piece reminded me of huts – Kalada, Filili, Slupe. The 1983 piece was create by Frances Wilson of Brookings, SD.
UND took a unique approach to honoring its museum donors. Rather than have a wall with the names, the museum created a donor exhibit. The names are in shadow boxes, which were designed by the donor or their family.
The museum has an outdoor sculpture garden, featuring a Native American piece called “Raindrops.” The 1999 sculpture features a young Native American girl and a pet lamb.
In addition to the university’s art museum on campus, the school has more of its permanent collection on display at the Empire Art Center in downtown Grand Forks.
I recommend visiting the campus museum. I wish we would have had more time in the area to check out the Empire center’s collection.