Exhibit spotlights expanse of Ulrich collection

Given the relatively small size of Wichita State University's Ulrich Museum of Art, it may come as a surprise to some visitors that the works in its collection total more than 6,000.

Over the past 30 years, the Ulrich has amassed a modern and contemporary art collection that holds its own against any major museum in the country.

On Saturday, museum visitors will have the chance to view some of the highlights of the Ulrich collection at the opening reception for "Art of Our Time," which will be on view through Aug. 8.

The earliest work of art dates from the late 19th century. More than 300 works came from art collector Edwin Ulrich, a prominent New York businessman who donated his entire collection to the fledgling museum and became its namesake.

Saturday's reception will celebrate not only the museum's opening 36 years ago, but also the release of its first major catalog. The 166-page publication has been two years in the making, said Patricia McDonnell, museum director.

Writers Antonya Nelson and Laura Moriarty, both of whom have Kansas connections, were commissioned to write fictional interpretations of various works of art for the book, McDonnell said.

"Another part of the book that we are very excited about is that Kansas photographer Larry Schwarm did much of the scenic photography of the museum's sculpture collection," she said. "This collection is very important. It is so much a part of who we are that we wanted the images to be very special."

The book was published by the University of Washington Press, whose stature in the field of art history publications is so high that the book likely will be a part of every major research library in the country, McDonnell said.

Another highlight of Saturday's reception will be the debut of costumes created by New York designer Andy Byers, an alumnus of the Kansas City Art Institute. The costumes were inspired by works of art from the Ulrich collection.

The "Art of Our Time" exhibit includes 57 works from the museum's collection.

"This exhibition is a sweep of art history that ranges from 19th-century naturalism to today's video art," McDonnell said.

Included are gems such as Helen Frankenthaler's "Wind Directions," a photograph portrait of Eugene Atget by Berenice Abbott and "Les Caves No. 2" by Robert Motherwell. The works will be on display in a gallery that has been transformed by Wichita architect Dean Bradley.