May 13th - August 5th // Jemison Galleries
The final feather in the Museum’s 60th anniversary cap is an exhibition of more than 150 works that have been purchased or gifted in honor of our diamond anniversary. The works, spanning all collecting departments and periods, range from a superb 3rd-century Gandharan head—to an intricately carved German ivory hunting horn—to a voluminous 18th-century Aubusson rug—to a 2010 sculpture by the Alabama-born, internationally recognized artist William Christenberry. This vast panorama of gifts underscores the Museum’s strong commitment to collecting broadly and in depth, as the state’s only comprehensive art museum. The exhibition installation is organized chronologically, which provides a horizontal view across cultures at any given moment, and opens unusual opportunities for dialogue between works that are otherwise generally separated by region.
With this exhibition, we recognize the fundamental role that gifts play in the ongoing effort to build the finest collection in the southeast. Since the Museum’s inception in 1951, the generosity of our patrons has grown the collection to more than 24,000 objects in just sixty years. Quality and excellence remain twin criteria as we consider each and every work of art.
So what does the title, Future Perfect mean? Grammatically, the future perfect tense talks about the past in the future—a fitting tribute to this moment in the history of your museum, as we reflect on the collection we have built and strive to make it even greater in the future.
Visitors often ask, “How does the Museum decide which artworks to collect?” This exhibition provides both a glimpse into that process as well as a preview of our plans. Future Perfect celebrates the gifts and purchases made to honor the sixtieth year of the Museum, and reveals how and why it acquires artworks. The wide variety of art in these galleries underscores the Museum’s strong commitment to build on our existing strengths, by collecting broadly and in depth.
The works, spanning all collecting departments and periods, range from a superb 3rd-century Gandharan head – to an intricately carved German ivory hunting horn – to a voluminous 18th-century Aubusson rug – to a 2010 sculpture by the Alabama-born, internationally-recognized William Christenberry. The exhibition is installed chronologically, across geographical regions, which allows for interesting and unusual juxtapositions.
So what does the title – Future Perfect – mean? Grammatically, the future perfect tense of a verb refers to an action in the present that will be complete in the future: a fitting description of this moment in the collecting history of the Museum. Join us to reflect on the collection we have built as we strive to make it better for the future.
Gifts are one way that art collections grow. Each of the Museum’s curatorial departments – American, the Americas and Africa, Asian, decorative arts, European, and modern and contemporary – develops a five-year plan and works with collectors and foundations to help fulfill it. Types of gifts include:
- Unrestricted gifts, granting full ownership to the Museum
- Fractional gifts, transferring ownership gradually to the Museum over a period of time
- Promised gifts, expressing the owner’s intent to give an artwork to the Museum at a future time
- Bequests, bequeathing artwork to the Museum through the owner’s will or estate
On occasion, the Museum and a donor make a gift-purchase agreement, in which the owner donates a percentage of an artwork’s value; the Museum purchases the balance.
Building the Collection
The Museum builds its collections through purchases, gifts, or a combination of the two. Before curators add an object to the permanent collection, it must successfully pass each step of a demanding approval process.
First, the curator researches the history of an artwork, assesses its quality, and considers how it fits into the collection, what gap it fills, and how it furthers the Museum’s mission. If the artwork stands up under scrutiny, then he or she proposes to the Museum’s director and curatorial staff to acquire it. Next, the curator defends the object to and answers questions from the board of trustees’ subcommittee on collections, a group that meets six times each year. If approved, the curator presents it to the entire board of trustees, after which the Museum’s registration department assigns it a permanent object number.
Looking to the Future
Each of the Museum’s curatorial departments develops a strategic collecting plan every five years. These plans establish the collections’ strengths, identify potential new artworks that could build on those strengths, and pinpoint gaps. Below are some priorities for each collection:
- 20th-century Modernism and design
The Americas and Africa
- Contemporary Native-American art
- Islamic, Christian, and Jewish art from Africa
- A major work of African contemporary art that reflects upon traditional African art
- Hindu art from India
- Buddhist sculpture from Japan
- Indian miniature paintings
- 18th-century English ceramics
- Wedgwood ceramics
- 19th- and 20th-century European decorative arts and English silver
- 16th-century Mannerist art
- 16th- through 18th-century Italian, Dutch, and French sculpture
- 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings
Modern and Contemporary
- African-American and Latin-American art
- Alabama masterworks
Tracing our History
- April 8: Birmingham Museum of Art opens in five large galleries in City Hall.
- The Samuel H. Kress Foundation loans 27 Renaissance and Baroque works.
- Progress Study Club donates first Asian artwork, a pair of women’s shoes from China.
- American Cast Iron Pipe Company places the Gustav Lamprecht collection of 19th-century European cast iron on long-term loan. ACIPCO donates the collection in 1986.
- Oscar and Helen Wells bequeath their collection of European and American prints, including etchings by Rembrandt and Whistler.
- The Museum purchases its first important American painting, Childe Hassam’s Building the Schooner, Provincetown.
- The Museum acquires a large group of Native American art of the Pacific Northwest Coast from the Rasmussen collection.
- The Museum moves to its present site, the Oscar Wells Memorial Building, built with funds from Helen Jacob Wells in memory of her husband.
- The Kress Foundation donates the 27 paintings on loan since 1951, as well as 12 additional works.
- Dr. Harold and Regina Simon begin to give their nationally known collection of art of the American West. They eventually established the Simon Fund for the acquisition of American art, ensuring the growth of the collection for generations to come.
- The Museum acquires Frank Stella’s Flin Flon VI, its first major work of contemporary art.
- Frances Oliver bequeaths her collection of English silver and ceramics and continental porcelain.
- The Birmingham Public Library lends Albert Bierstadt’s Looking Down the Yosemite Valley, California. The Library donates the painting in 1991.
- The Museum makes its first purchase of Asian art, a Korean jar.
- Birmingham natives Dwight & Lucille Beeson begin to give more than 1400 pieces of early Wedgwood pottery, establishing the Museum as a major center of Wedgwood ceramics.
- The Museum purchases Georgia O’Keeffe’s The Green Apple with funds from the 1981 and 1982 Museum Dinners and Balls and Mr. & Mrs. Jack McSpadden.
- Eleanor Lee Brakefield bequeaths her collection of approximately 32,000 late 19th- and early 20th-century postcards. They are accessioned as a single object.
- The Museum acquires the monumental Chinese wall fresco The Pure Land of Amitabha.
- The Museum receives the Eugenia Woodward Hitt collection, comprising more than 500 18th-century French paintings and decorative arts.
- Silvia Pizitz bequeaths her collection of modern art, including works by Josef Albers, El Lissitsky, and Charmion von Wiegand.
- The Museum purchases the Elizabeth Chellis Wedgwood Library.
- A 50,000-square-foot addition, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes, opens.
- Robert & Helen Cargo donate their collection of more than 300 Alabama-made quilts and an accompanying library, which chart the state’s rich quilt history.
- The Museum receives the Catherine H. Collins collection of 18th-century English ceramics.
- The Museum purchases an important Creek bandolier bag with funds from the annual Museum Ball.
- Rita Judge Smith gives 56 works of Pre-Columbian art.
- Funds from the Merton Brown Estate and the Thelma Brown Trust enable the purchase of Bonjour Julie, a major work by Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell.
- Funds provided by Dr. & Mrs. John Poynor and the Bluff Park Art Association, in honor of the Museum’s 50th anniversary, enable it to commission Bands of Color in Various Directions from Sol LeWitt.
- Eivor and Alston Callahan donate the Indian sculpture Sarasvati.
- The Museum purchases the John Stevenson library on Vietnamese ceramics, one of the most extensive of its kind.
- Mortimer & Sue Fuller give 256 works of African iron and ceramics.
- The Museum receives the library of Walter & Molly Bareiss, consisting of approximately 350 volumes on African art.
- The Museum acquires the Buten Wedgwood collection, comprising more than 8000 ceramics from the 18th through mid-20th centuries. The Museum also receives the Buten Wedgwood library and archives, consisting of approximately 600 rare or unique books, photographs, slides, and archival materials.
- The Museum receives a large collection of Alabama folk pottery from the Weissman-Sellers family in honor of Nancy Stone.
- The Museum is the one institution in Alabama selected to receive 50 works of modern and contemporary art from the Herbert & Dorothy Vogel collection’s Fifty Works for Fifty States initiative.
- The Museum purchases Robert Seldon Duncanson’s A Dream of Italy.
- The Museum’s European Art Society purchases the Artemis library, comprising over 5800 volumes on prints and drawings.
- A major gift from the estate of longtime city council member Nina Miglionico enables the purchase of an early sculpture by Mino Da Fiesole and Italian Renaissance pottery.
- Birmingham native Robert Kaufmann, longtime decorative arts librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, bequeaths his library of more than 2000 books on art history, Victoriana, and food culture and history.
- William M. Spencer III bequeaths major collection of Vietnamese ceramics.
- William Hull donates a large collection of 20th-century Danish pottery.
- Birmingham artist and collector Dick Jemison gives his collection of more than 400 works of African earthenware.
- Birmingham collector and longtime Museum volunteer Guy R. Kreusch gives the Museum a collection of more than 200 pieces of Roseville Pottery.
- The Birmingham Museum of Art’s collection totals approximately 24,000 works of art.
June 24–September 16, 2012 // Contemporary Galleries // Free
Warhol and Cars: American Icons is the first exhibition to examine Andy Warhol’s enduring fascination with automotive vehicles as products of American consumer society. The exhibition features more than forty drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptural models, and related archival material spanning the Pop Art icon’s entire career. As one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century, Andy Warhol has helped to define America. His signature images, whether American products such as Campbell’s soup cans or Coca-Cola bottles, or celebrities like Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, are instantly recognizable worldwide.
Warhol and Cars highlights include early line drawings and 1950s commercial work, paintings, and works on paper from the 1960s through the 1980s that present his signature silkscreen process. Also included is a 1979 film of Warhol painting and discussing a BMW M1 as part of the BMW Art Race Car Projects introduced by French racer Hervé Poulain.
Warhol and Cars was organized by the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey, and curated by Gail Stavitsky, MAM chief curator. The majority of the work in the exhibition is from the permanent collection of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog, Warhol and Cars: American Icons, published by the Montclair Art Museum. The catalog is available for purchase through the Museum Store.
Complement your visit to Warhol and Cars with an audio tour, available through any internet-enabled device (smartphone, MP3, tablet). Simply scan the QR code or enter the web address from the label next to the artwork, tap Play, and enjoy insight from curator Gail Stavitsky. Please note that earphones are required; bring your own, or purchase earbuds in the Museum Store for $1.50. A transcript is available in the gallery for visitors without internet-enabled devices or for those with hearing impairments.
Click here to book a group tour.
This exhibition is made possible by the generous support of PNC Bank.
This exhibition presents 87 works of art made by the Inuit people of Canada. Formerly known as Eskimo, the Inuit are descended from cultures that have inhabited the Arctic regions of Canada, the United States, Greenland, and Russia for over a thousand years.
Works in the exhibition reflect traditional Inuit ways of life and culture, particularly their close observation of Arctic animals, with whom they share the frozen environment. Although contemporary Inuit no longer rely solely on hunting for food, in the recent past, land and sea mammals provided not only a main source of food, but fur and skins for clothing, and sinews and bone for tools. A wide variety of animals and birds are represented in the exhibition, including bears, walrus, seals, muskoxen, wild hares, and loons.
There are also sculptures of people, families, hunters, fishermen, and an igloo with an interior scene. Some sculptures depict transformational figures, spirits, and shamans—religious practitioners who are responsible for maintaining the proper relationship and balance between the human community and spirits that inhabit and govern the natural world.
The works of sculpture and prints, created by men and women, date primarily from the second half of the 20th century. As modern culture has increasingly encroached on Inuit communities and ways of life, sculpture and print-making have emerged not only as a way to augment family resources, but to guard history, stories, beliefs, and life-ways, and transmit them to younger generations and the broader public.
Modern and contemporary Inuit art is sought after by collectors and museums, and is exhibited internationally. Artists in the installation include Pauta Saila (1916–2009), Lucy Tasseor (b. 1934), Barnabus Arnasungaaq (b. 1924), Karoo Ashevak (1940–1974), John Kavik (1897–1993), and Andy Miki (1918–1983), among many others. The exhibition, installed in the Museum’s Native American gallery, is drawn from a single, internationally recognized, private collection in Alabama.
Basic App Controls:
Touch the button in the top left corner to access the main menu.
Each menu item corresponds with a case in the gallery. Touch a menu item, and you will see a list of objects. Each object has a number, which is listed on the labels within the gallery cases. To see an object, touch its name.
Zoom in on the object by pinching your thumb and forefinger out.
To see another object, click on its title in the menu.
In the top right corner, you may encounter 3 icons:
Touch the i to get more information on the object.
Touch the arrow to see more images of the object.
Touch the video camera to see how the object opens.
You may also access a specific object by typing its object number (listed on the gallery label) into the search box in the top right corner.
To contact us:
The Birmingham Museum of Art is pleased to debut The Look of Love for the Apple iPad. Visitors can use this app in the Museum, and a nationwide audience can download it, free of charge, through the Apple App Store.
The app was created to support The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection, an exhibition curated by Graham C. Boettcher, PhD, the William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art at the Museum, and the first major exhibition of lover's eye jewelry, on display at the Museum from February 7 - June 10, 2012.
Lover’s eyes are hand-painted miniatures of single human eyes set in jewelry and given as tokens of affection or of mourning, created in England during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The diminutive size of the precious objects--many are less than an inch wide--begs for closer examination by the viewer, but the delicate nature of the jewelry and inlaid watercolors require them to be displayed in cases under glass. The iPad app allows visitors to see these tiny, intricate objects at up to twenty times their actual size. They may also view images of the backs of objects, many of which are adorned with human hairwork, enamel decoration, or personal inscriptions commemorating a love or loss.
Arrington Gallery // February 7 - June 10, 2012 // Free
This stunning exhibition explores the little-known subject of “lover’s eyes,” hand-painted miniatures of single human eyes set in jewelry and given as tokens of affection or remembrance. In 1785, when the Prince of Wales secretly proposed to Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert with a miniature of his own eye, he inspired an aristocratic fad for exchanging eye portraits mounted in a wide variety of settings including brooches, rings, lockets, and toothpick cases.
With over 100 examples, the collection of Dr. and Mrs. David A. Skier of Birmingham is the largest in the world. This exhibition offers an unprecedented look at these unusual and intriguing works of art.
The exhibition is accompanied by a full color, hardbound catalogue of the same name, edited by Dr. Graham C. Boettcher, The William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art, and published by D Giles Ltd., London. An essay by Elle Shushan sets the historical scene and examines the role of lover’s eyes in the broader context of Georgian and early Victorian portrait miniatures. Boettcher looks at the language and symbolism of these tokens and their jeweled settings. Additionally, novelist and biographer Jo Manning offers five fictional vignettes imagining the circumstances surrounding the creation of these extraordinary objects.
Visitors can also interact with the exhibition in a new way: the Museum's very first iPad app! The Look of Love app allows visitors to see these tiny, intricate objects at up to twenty times their actual size. They can also see images of the backs of objects or short videos of how the objects open. Twenty iPad devices are available for check-out* and use in the Arrington Gallery, and volunteers are on hand to show how the devices and the app work.
*Please note: you must submit a government-issued ID to check out the iPad device.
January 22 - April 8, 2012 // Free
Vietnam created the most sophisticated ceramics in Southeast Asia. Though they borrowed from China, Vietnamese potters explored their own indigenous tastes and developed their own production techniques. As early as the 1970s, members of the Asian Art Society at the Museum recognized the beauty of Vietnamese ceramics and the potential for creating a significant collection in an under-appreciated field. The Museum quickly amassed a core group of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century blue-and-white export wares, modeled on the great blue-and-whites from the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen in China. The Museum bought more Vietnamese export wares at the rich international auctions of shipwreck materials that have revolutionized the study of Southeast Asian ceramics since the year 2000.
In 2010 the Vietnamese ceramics collection of Mr. William M. Spencer III, long-time Museum patron and founding member of the Asian Art Society, was bequeathed to the Museum. His gift greatly strengthened the Museum’s holdings of Vietnamese ceramics made for domestic use and never exported, a neglected area in which it has been difficult to find material. This donation, and the continuing judicious purchase of outstanding pieces over the years, has resulted in an extensive collection, with many fine, undamaged, and unique examples. Along with The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Birmingham Museum of Art now has one of the three finest collections of Vietnamese ceramics in North America.
Dragons and Lotus Blossoms: Vietnamese Ceramics from the Birmingham Museum of Art is the largest exhibition in the United States to date devoted solely to Vietnamese ceramics. The exhibition is co-curated by Donald A. Wood and John Stevenson, internationally recognized scholar and expert on Vietnamese ceramics. The entire Birmingham Museum of Art collection of over two hundred pieces, including a Le Dynasty jar recently named by Apollo magazine as one of the top ten museum acquisitions of 2011 in the world, is on display and illustrated in the accompanying catalogue. The catalogue includes essays by John Stevenson, Philippe Truong, and Donald A. Wood.
Dragons and Lotus Blossoms: Vietnamese Ceramics from the Birmingham Museum of Art is supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by the J & H Weldon Foundation, Inc.
Bohorfoush Gallery //Through March 4, 2012
In August, Birmingham lost a remarkable artist, teacher, and member of our community with the passing of Chris Clark (1958-2011). Clark’s vibrant quilts, furniture, walking sticks, and other painted and assembled objects found admirers among eager folk art collectors in Alabama while garnering national attention as well. The Museum pays homage to his talent and special gifts in an exhibition, Celebrate Life: The Art of Chris Clark, which opened last month for viewing through the end of the year.
This exhibition is not a retrospective, but will contain an overview of many of Clark’s favorite subjects and illustrate the variety of media he explored through his creativity and willingness to take risks with a variety of materials. Clark’s quilts combine traditional quilting with vibrant painted images. A deeply religious person, he frequently depicts Biblical scenes, scripture, as well as church interiors and worship services. In addition to religious subjects, Clark often depicts jazz and blues musicians and children at play. Many of these same themes found their way into his brightly painted furniture.
In 1990, Clark’s vision began to fail due to diabetes. Believing he would eventually lose his eyesight entirely, he resolved to pursue a longtime desire to paint while he still could. He began painting on scraps of wood and flea market furniture, but soon after his grandmother taught him to piece and stitch quilts, the artist combined the two mediums, to lively and colorful effect. Celebrate Life: The Art of Chris Clark allows us to honor Clark’s artistic legacy even as we, as a community, reflect on his passing.
To read an article celebrating the life and art of Chris Clark published by The Birmingham News, please click here.
Arrington Galleries // October 23, 2011 - January 8, 2012 // Free
Beginning on October 23, 2011, the Museum will highlight an exceptional recent gift of more than forty pieces of 20th-century Danish pottery. The collection, given to the BMA by William Hull and Dr. and Mrs. Frederick Baekeland, reflects Denmark’s distinctly artistic pottery tradition, but one that is relatively new, dating only to the 1880s, when a small group of Danish artists began to take an interest in ceramics as a medium for expression. Known as studio potters, these artists worked alone or in small groups and performed each stage of the ceramic process themselves – preparing the clay, mixing glazes, throwing, trimming, glazing, and firing – all tasks that might be performed by different people or machines in an industrial setting. As the 20th century progressed, these potters, some of whom worked for Royal Copenhagen or its competitor Bing & Grøndahl as well as in their own studios, produced vessels that were diverse and individual but always distinctly Danish.
Tradition Transformed: Danish Ceramics in the Twentieth Century will address the evolution of the Danish pottery tradition through an exploration of Modernist pieces produced for Royal Copenhagen and Bing & Grøndahl, works from Copenhagen’s great studio workshop Saxbo, teapots and tea bowls reflecting the profound influence of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean ceramics on the studio potters of Denmark, and creative yet traditional vessel forms of the Postmodern age. The wide range of Danish studio potters represented in Tradition Transformed include early-to-mid-20th century artists such as Jais Nielsen, Arne Bang, and Axel Salto and contemporary potters Ulla Hansen, Malene Mullertz, Bente Hansen, Hans Vangsø, and Lis Ehrenreich. This recent gift enhances the Museum’s strong collection of ceramics and provides an important link between its historical and contemporary holdings in European and American ceramics.
Tradition Transformed: 20th Century Danish Ceramics is supported in part by The American- Scandinavian Foundation.