CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Krannert Art Museum has significantly expanded its collection, particularly in acquiring works by female artists, thanks to a five-year, $10 million fundraising initiative that concluded this summer.
The fundraising initiative supported programs and renovations, as well as acquisitions. In addition, key donors offered gifts of art and acquisition funds to strengthen the museum’s collection during the fundraising initiative. This has allowed the museum to add significantly to its holdings, including works of art by Linda Connor, Doris Derby, Bea Nettles, and Melanie Yazzie, among others.
“There has been an impressive amount of work by female artists acquired recently as a result,” said museum director Jon Seydl. “I’m proud that it’s something we’re thinking about – not just work by women, but feminist practice and broader questions of gender and representation, and how we present those ideas in the museum. It’s a vital thing to do.”
As the collection has grown, the museum has deepened its holdings of 20th-century art of the United States, ensuring that it more fully and accurately represents a diverse range of artists and art practices.
“As new acquisitions are considered, the curators work with academic colleagues to evaluate works that will add significantly to the collection and be used for exhibitions as well as teaching. The process involves research, consultation and debate,” Seydl said.
Curators identify works that will make a powerful, long-term contribution to the collection, and often donors will step up to support a purchase, Seydl said.
Such was the case with four 1968 photographs by Doris Derby, a U. of I. alumnus and a documentary photographer whose work during the civil rights movement includes images of African American farming collectives and voter registration drives. The museum purchased the photographs that document everyday African Americans in Mississippi, including “A Delicate Balance,” showing a toddler being weighed as part of a children’s health initiative; “The Caretaker II,” depicting a woman hanging laundry; and “Weighing In,” in which a man weighs vegetables before a sign that declares “Mississippi Law STOP.”
“Derby’s work is formally strong, historically significant, and creates meaningful dialogue with the work of other artists in the collection, notably Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Garry Winograd, and Lorna Simpson,” said Amy Powell, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art.
Newly acquired work by Bea Nettles, a U. of I. alumnus and professor emerita, adds to the museum’s collection of experimental photography. The museum most recently acquired “Rachel’s Holidays,” a series of dye transfer prints made in 1984. Dye transfer printing is a complex, technically challenging way for a photographer to produce brilliant, saturated color that doesn’t fade. The museum also acquired a unique 1969 work titled “The Skirted Garden,” which is a landscape “painting” comprised of layers of fabric sewed onto canvas, including Nettles’ own skirt.
“Nettles’ contributions to the history of photography are of national importance. Her technically innovative, experimental work will transform the museum’s 20th-century North American collections, particularly in terms of color photography,” Seydl said.
This year, the museum acquired early work by Linda Connor, a landscape photographer currently practicing in San Francisco. In her 1971 photograph “Birth of Venus,” Connor used shells and bits of ribbon to create uncertainty about what is original to the Botticelli painting she is referencing and what materials are imposed by the photographer.
“The work is carefully composed, and yet there is a sense of gendered play to the iconic painting she references,” said Powell. “As we teach the history and theory of photography, Connor’s work will add not only a prominent woman artist to the collection, but also invites us to consider the afterlives of classical imagery.”
Five works on paper by printmaker, painter and sculptor Melanie Yazzie, an artist of Diné (Navajo) heritage and professor and head of printmaking at the University of Colorado, Boulder, were added to the collection. They are “Indian Boy Project,” “Untitled [A Great New West],” “Great Grandfather,” “Learning from Her,” and “Going West,” all made between 1996 and 2004. Yazzie’s earlier works address harsh realities in the lives of Native peoples, including racism, poverty and abuse. Later works focus on personal experiences and conveying important sources of indigenous knowledge, telling stories imbued with the symbols and visual vocabulary of the Diné people.
“The museum’s collection is our lifeblood and needs to be as deep and textured as possible, and – like our recent acquisitions – developed with artistic quality, historical importance and intellectual strength in mind, with an eye toward the underrepresented and challenging voices that will speak to our students and faculty as well as the residents of the region in meaningful ways,” Seydl said.