The Ulrich Museum of Art is turning 40. And it’s bringing out the big guns – works that put it on the map, both regionally and internationally. Works by Louise Nevelson, Gordon Parks and Andy Warhol are on display at the museum on the Wichita State University campus.
“We’re showing 100 years of American art,” said Bob Workman, the director of the Ulrich. “These works span across the 20th century – and the 21st century.”
The star of the museum’s collection, the Venetian glass and marble mosaic mural “Personnages Oiseaux” by Joan Miro, will not return from restoration until 2016. However, homage is paid to the piece. Installed in 1978, it is one of only 11 murals that the world-renowned artist constructed.
Like the Miro, many of the works in the Ulrich’s 6,300-piece collection are fondly remembered. The exhibit spans the past 40 years and demonstrates what happens when a museum, with the help of its benefactors, reaches beyond its region.
Martin H. Bush, who spearheaded the Ulrich’s founding, also started the sculpture presence on the WSU campus. A native of New York state, Bush wanted to bring great works to the Plains, and he did. He also convinced Edwin A. Ulrich of Hyde Park, N.Y., to be the museum’s first major benefactor.
“I was told (by the university president) to see what you can do and do it. I wanted to contact Picasso, and did, but he died,” Bush said. “I went for the second best in the world, Miro.”
Along with commissioning an original Miro, Bush brought Milton Avery’s “Boats in Yellow Sea,” photographs by Gordon Parks and sculptures by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Auguste Rodin. These treasures led to a dynamic, worldly collection – many are visible 24 hours a day as part of the 76-piece outdoor sculpture collection.
“I wanted to expose people in Wichita to great art,” Bush said.
Throughout the museum’s lifespan, its curators and directors have tried to reach beyond its Midwest borders and bring in nationally and internationally known works.
“This exhibit demonstrates the judicious purchases we’ve made,” said Bob Workman, who received his MFA from the university and worked as an assistant curator during the late 1970s. “We’ve also been buying the works of emerging artists.”
Four works by photojournalist W. Eugene Smith will be on display alongside the works of Patrick Duegaw and Kent Williams.
A nine-piece, 9-by-9-foot chromogenic print titled “Family Tree” by Chinese artist Zhang Huan is one of the new acquisitions on display.
“We want to show where we are as a collection,” Workman said. “We chronicle the last 40 years in this exhibition.”
By showing artwork and videotapes of interviews with several of the visiting artists, including Parks and Nevelson, viewers will glimpse some of the history of modern art.
“We are bringing things out,” Workman said. “We are mining the vault of old friends; things that they had no idea that we had.”