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BMA Places Third for Neighborhood Project


Associate Curator of Education Suzy Harris and Artist-in-Residence Toby Richards accept award

The Birmingham Museum of Art continually strives to make positive change in the Birmingham community, planning creative projects to touch lives through the power of art. The BMA’s commitment to our surrounding communities has not gone without notice. In fact, this May, the BMA Education Department received national recognition by winning third place at the 2015 Neighborhoods, USA Conference. The award was for Best Neighborhood Program, given to community art projects in neighborhoods across the nation.

The award was in recognition of a community day of service, Into the Streets. Artist-in-Residence Toby Richards led the creation of decorative panels for the Shields Conference Center, joining together students and teachers from throughout Birmingham. With representatives from UAB, Horizons School, Birmingham City Schools, Jefferson County Schools, Hoover Schools, and Birmingham City districts, the project truly represented a community effort.

The BMA appreciates this recognition and plans to continue these community-based service projects so that other Birmingham neighborhoods may enjoy lively, creative visuals like those at Shields Conference Center. We extend our thanks to our community partners who joined us in this project, and we are especially grateful for the work of our staff members Toby Richards and Associate Curator of Education Suzy Harris (pictured). Their creativity and energy to bettering our community through art is inspiring; we cannot wait to see what projects they will bring to Birmingham next!


Memorial Day: Honoring Heroes At Home and Abroad

"Dodenakker (Cemetery)" (About 1978), Paul Thys (Belgian), possibly gum bichromate over platinum print. Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art; Anonymous gift 00.235

“Dodenakker (Cemetery)” (About 1978), Paul Thys (Belgian), possibly gum bichromate over platinum print. Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art; Anonymous gift 00.235

On Memorial Day, we remember those who have sacrificed themselves to defend our freedom. As we honor these brave men and women, we likely think about those buried here on American soil. This piece from our collection reminds us to pay tribute to the thousands laid to rest abroad.

In Belgium, England, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, more than 10,000 servicemen and women are buried in 20 American cemeteries. The American Battle Monument Commission oversees each location. The cemeteries have somewhat different features; however, at each site, the fallen are buried under white crosses, as depicted in artist Paul Thys’ piece, or Stars of David. Every grave is marked with the name, rank, unit, home state, and date of death of the hero. The cemeteries also contain larger memorials, most including a chapel, which commemorate the lives of missing men and women.

Walking through the rows, one might be struck by the diversity of these Americans, who, in spite of their different backgrounds, bonded together to defend our country. This Memorial Day, let us remember these people, many of whom were everyday citizens, and thank them for their tremendous sacrifice.








Happy Birthday, Mary Cassatt!

(left, detail of) "Portrait of an Elderly Lady in a Bonnet: Red Background" Mary Cassatt, United States, 1844-1926, oil on canvas, painting. Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art.  (right, detail of) "Portrait of an Elderly Lady" (c. 1887) Cassatt, Mary, American, 1844 - 1926 oil on canvas. Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. 1963.10.7

(left, detail of) “Portrait of an Elderly Lady in a Bonnet: Red Background” Mary Cassatt, United States, 1844-1926, oil on canvas, painting. Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art. (right, detail of) “Portrait of an Elderly Lady” (c. 1887) Cassatt, Mary, American, 1844 – 1926, oil on canvas. Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. 1963.10.7

Happy birthday to artist Mary Cassatt, who was born on this day in 1844. Born to a privileged family who viewed travel as educational and enriching, Cassatt spent much of her early life in France and Germany, where she took her first lessons in drawing and music. Though they did not approve of her aspirations to become a professional artist, when Cassatt was fifteen years old, her family allowed her to study painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Seeking faster-paced instruction, she returned to Paris in 1865 to be taught by the renowned painter Jean-León Gérôme and to learn from the works of old masters. In 1870, with the start of the Franco-Prussian War, she halted her studies in France and returned to Philadelphia.

However, just one year later, Cassatt returned to Europe and continued studying the work of old masters in Italy, Spain, and Belgium; by 1874, Paris had become her permanent home. After noticing Cassatt’s non-traditional style, Edgar Degas invited her to join the group of independent artists known today as the Impressionists. Like Degas, she was mainly interested in figure compositions, and she gradually began to focus on women and children as her primary subjects. During her time in France, Cassatt sent many of her works to the United States to be displayed, and hers were some of the first impressionist paintings to be seen here.

Among Cassatt’s well-known works is the Etude de femme âgée en chapeau: fond rouge (Portrait of an Elderly Lady in a Bonnet: Red Background), which is on display here at the Museum, shown on the left. In this unfinished study for the Portrait of an Elderly Lady (now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), shown on the right, Cassatt has created a spirited sketch that vividly characterizes the sitter. The female subject is the same in both paintings, but the figure is positioned quite differently in each. Cassatt’s brilliant use of color and quickly applied brushstrokes contribute to the spontaneity of the Birmingham portrait, a trait that is somewhat lost in the finished painting.

What similarities and differences do you see in each painting? Which do you prefer?






http://www.biography.com/people/mary-cassatt-9240820 – artistic-activism

News Staff Updates

BMA’s Chief Curator Elected To The Association of Art Museum Curators’ Executive Committee

Graham BoettcherThe Birmingham Museum of Art’s Chief Curator and The William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art Graham C. Boettcher, Ph.D. has been elected to the Association of Art Museum Curators’ executive committee, now serving as Vice President of Finance.

Founded in 2001, the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) has members from over 400 institutions, including representation from all 50 states and 5 provinces. The mission of the Association of Art Museum Curators Association of Art Museum Curators is to support and promote the work of museum curators by creating opportunities for networking, collaboration, professional development, and advancement. In support of these aims, the AAMC Foundation seeks to heighten public understanding of the curator’s role in art museums through professional development programs, awards, and grants.

Boettcher will join current Executive Committee Members, Christa Clarke, Senior Curator, Arts of Global Africa, Newark Museum; AAMC Board of Trustees Vice President, Programs, and Marianne Lamonaca, Associate Gallery Director & Chief Curator, Bard Graduate Center Gallery; AAMC Board of Trustees, Vice President, Communications, all under the leadership of the AAMC President, Helen C. Evans, the Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To learn more about AAMC, please visit their website.


Contemporary Curator Featured in “Power of Women” Issue

The BMA’s curator of modern and contemporary art, Wassan Al-Khudhairi, is included in B-Metro magazine’s “Power of Women” issue, on news stands now. The annual feature celebrates women who are making significant and positive changes in and around Birmingham. Read the excerpted article below and check out B-Metro’s website to view more of their May issue.

Wassan Al-Khudhairi

Wassan Al-Khudhairi

The Case for Art:
Wassan Al-Khudhairi is starting a bigger conversation about art and the world we live in.

Written by Lindsey Lowe Osborne
Photo by Beau Gustafson

Wassan Al-Khudhairi says she’s most often asked, “Why Birmingham, Alabama?” But before we get to how she ended up here, as the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Birmingham Museum of Art, we have to go back to where she started. Al-Khudhairi was born in Iraq and lived in Kuwait as a child (her parents are from Iraq); when she was 9, her family moved to the United States. “My family has always been really proud of where we’re from, so I was raised in a home that celebrated our culture,” she says. “I speak Arabic and English; I always spoke Arabic and English. People say to me, ‘But your English is so good!’ and that’s because I learned to speak both languages at the same time.”

Perhaps it was that initial celebration of dual cultures that sparked in Al-Khudhairi the wonder about how they work together; no doubt it played a part in some way. “I think the tie to where I’m from has completely informed the way I make my decisions,” she says. “I’ve always been moving and going places, and I think that’s inherent in my blood.” Her family moved around a good bit when she was a child, and as soon as she got out on her own, in college, she began to do the same. During her undergrad career, she studied in Italy, Cuba, and Cairo, Egypt. She says that it was in Cairo that her fascination with contemporary art began. Though she went there on the assumption that she wanted to be an Egyptologist (someone who studies ancient Egypt), she was exposed to the contemporary art in Cairo, and she began to consider how valuable it would be to study it. “I was fascinated by the contemporary art scene in Cairo. I came back from that experience asking a lot of questions about why we don’t learn about contemporary art in other places in the world in the United States,” she says.

After she completed her undergrad in Atlanta, at Georgia State University, she went to London, where she received her master of arts with distinction in Islamic art and archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. From there, Al-Khudhairi took part in a number of remarkable opportunities that began to lay a path to Birmingham. The first was in Qatar, where she was offered the chance to build a museum from the ground up. “I had been visiting the region because my parents lived there, and there was a member of the royal family from Qatar who had been collecting art for a very long time,” she explains. “He had gifted his collection to the government with the instruction that it should become a museum. I got hired at the early stages of that. It was a big leap for me, for my career.”

The museum was Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and Al-Khudhairi became the founding director. “It was very exciting because all along the way I had been studying art history, with a particular focus on the Middle East and an interest in learning more about how cultures intersect. So here was an opportunity to go and work with a collection that was basically all of those things, and [the collection] had never been made public,” she says. The position was a big undertaking, bigger than anything Al-Khudhairi had done before. “I was kind of scared, but I just went for it anyway,” she remembers. “A really good mentor of mine said, ‘If it doesn’t work out, you can just come home and write a book about it. But you should jump in.’” And jump in she did—Al-Khudhairi ended up staying in the position for five years, getting the museum well on its way and adding invaluable experience as a museum director to her repertoire. “It was really challenging as a young woman to get the respect I needed to do my job,” she says. “But it was an amazing experience. My favorite parts were being a part of something that was new and changing, helping establish a new institution, and helping audiences connect to contemporary art.”

That last part—helping audiences connect to contemporary art—is a mission of Al-Khudhairi’s. She believes that contemporary art has great value in helping us understand both the world we live in and the ones we don’t get to experience firsthand. It helps us get a feel for other people’s experiences, to empathize with them. And it is a bridge to other cultures as well, she says. “Contemporary art really connects us to our current day,” she says. “It helps us understand the world around us and it helps us understand each other, but in a way that is what you make it. It doesn’t force anything.” She carried that appreciation and passion for contemporary art to South Korea. It was there, in 2012, that she took a position as coartistic director at the Gwangju Biennale Foundation; alongside a team of five other women, she contributed to the curation of the ninth edition of the Gwangju Art Biennale.

Once again, she had completely switched cultures and had to learn the nuances of the one in Korea. “In Qatar, it’s not my culture, but it’s similar to my culture, and I spoke the language. But in Korea, it was a different language, a different culture,” she says. “But it was a really interesting, engaging opportunity. I was introduced and exposed to artists from East Asia who were interested in contemporary works. It was a wonderful, really challenging opportunity.” Some of the challenges were a result of the power structure in Korea, as well as the communication barriers. And there was the fact that she was a woman in a leading role in a very male-dominated world. “It was an interesting opportunity to learn about myself, about my management style and my communication skills. In those different environments, you become very self-reflective, because you’re trying to find new ways to communicate in an environment that’s unfamiliar,” she explains. “I think what it did was it helped me realize that in every setting and in every context, I have to think about ways of communicating differently. For example, think about talking to someone who’s older. Because they’re older, there would be a power structure there that might not come into play somewhere else, like in the U.S.”

From there, she did a lot of traveling—she spoke in Tokyo and Shanghai, and traveled to other places, all the while taking note of the different art scenes she encountered. And then she decided she wanted to be back in the U.S. to take all she’d learned and channel it into something new—or rather, something old. She was interested in working in an established museum, since she’d only had experience in places started from scratch. “I wanted to take all of my experience as an administrator, as a director, as a curator, along with my transnational, global perspective of contemporary art and bring it back to the U.S. and see how I could look at a bigger picture,” she explains. “I wanted to see how I could integrate a Western perspective of contemporary art into a larger conversation.” That’s exactly what she gets to do as the curator of modern and contemporary art: She takes her global understanding of art and spins each exhibit to connect audiences in Birmingham with other parts of the world (and with the people who reside here). So why Birmingham? Al-Khudhairi says it had a certain momentum that drew her in. “I was particularly interested in Birmingham because Birmingham is this interesting, changing landscape. If feels like a place of opportunity,” she says. “There is a strong group of collectors here, which is important to my job, but also a really engaged creative community. Not just artists, but also designers and architects, different people who are personally invested in seeing this place grow. In the same way I thought about Qatar—just jumping in there—I decided to just jump into Birmingham.”

She’s been at the museum for nearly a year and is settling into her position. She has worked to bring the greater arts community—both arts enthusiasts as well as artists of all kinds—into her exhibitions. In fact, one of the most recent events was a performance piece; she’s also interested in the way music, literature, and other art forms interact with visual arts. “When I think about my job as a curator, I think about it in a very multi-disciplinary way. The performance was a good example. It was an opportunity—if you don’t like visual arts, you might like music and sound, and you might be drawn in,” she explains. She also feels that it’s her duty to offer avenues of understanding to people who may not immediately see the value of art. “I think that’s my job at the museum—to find different ways for people to engage with contemporary art,” she says. “I think art helps us further our curiosity and grow as individuals, and it helps us understand other people’s lives and thus the world we live in. It helps us perceive the nuances of culture.”

That said, her ultimate goal is not necessarily to appeal to people who don’t appreciate art or to please those who do, though those are certainly things she appreciates when they happen. Ultimately, she’s trying to gather and share art that offers us all insight to the way we see the world—which is differently. She wants to put together collections that capture exactly how we are responding to what’s happening now, which she feels is illustrated in the art we’re producing. And by “we,” she means humanity as a whole, on this Earth, today. “Something I’m trying to do at the museum is make the collection represent a bigger conversation. Of course it represents a Birmingham, Alabama, perspective, but it also represents a southern perspective, a national perspective, and an international perspective,” she says. “Because that’s the world we live in today—we can have a Skype video conference call with someone on the other side of the world. In the past, there were exchanges between people, but it took so long. Now, it’s instantaneous. I can talk to my mom on my tablet, and she lives in Duabai, a nine-hour time difference, a 16-hour flight away. I think that what I’m trying to do is help reflect those significant changes in society today.”

This article originally appeared in B-Metro’s May 2015 issue.

Week in Review: BMA in the Community

While there’s always plenty going on within the Museum walls, our Education department is always in the community, taking art to students in our surrounding neighborhoods. BMA’s artist-in-residence Toby Richards is constantly creating new and fun art projects for students, particularly in after-school programs at our local libraries.

Just this past week, Toby has visited North Avondale Library, Central Library, West End Library, Smithfield Library, and Titusville Library. Students at the libraries include kids from Hayes K-8 School, Philips Academy, Epic School, ASFA, Hemphill Elementary, Parker High School, Tabernacle Church pre-school, Washington K-8 School, Tom Brown Community Center in North Birmingham, JCCEO, the Kingston neighborhood, among others.

Not only is the reach broad, but the types of art projects at each location is, too. For instance, students at Titusville Library created folk art-inspired frames; students at Central Library created works inspired by artist Radcliffe Bailey; and at  Smithfield Library, the students painted with watercolor, drawing inspiration from the Museum’s piece Still Life with Pineapple.

These programs offer a creative outlet for students and provide arts education, which is dwindling in many schools. The projects stimulate critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and much more.

Take a look at the slideshow below to see Toby’s week in review, a typical week in her busy schedule! If you would like to learn more about these programs, contact our Education department at education@artsbma.org.

Encaustic painting at Smithfield Library Folk-art decorative frames at Titusville Library. Folk-art decorative frames at Titusville Library. Folk-art decorative frames at Titusville Library. Students at Central Library creating Radcliffe Bailey-inspired pieces. Encaustic painting at North Avondale Library. Encaustic painting at North Avondale Library.  Encaustic painting at North Avondale Library. Students at Central Library creating Radcliffe Bailey-inspired pieces. Students at Central Library creating Radcliffe Bailey-inspired pieces.
Students at Central Library creating Radcliffe Bailey-inspired pieces.


5 Ideas For Mother’s Day

Just in time for Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 10, the Museum Store is offering a special 20% off discount! Come in during our normal hours now through Sunday, or during our special after hours event on First Thursday (5-9PM), to find the perfect gift for the mom in your life!

Here are a few gift ideas now in store. Enjoy 20% off your entire, full-priced purchase!

Everything (except water!) a tea lover needs! We also sell locally-blended Piper + Leaf tea. It's the perfect treat! The Museum Store is filled with whimsical and unique home decor. Find the perfect piece that will add a little color and fun to mom's life! Does your mom love local art? These beautiful pieces by local potter Doris Blum are such a sweet addition to any collection! What mom is going to say no to jewelry? The Museum Store has plenty of necklaces and accessories - come find the perfect one! Find a present that reminds you of your mom, your relationship, and the love she's given you. There's something for everyone!
The Museum Store is filled with whimsical and unique home decor. Find the perfect piece that will add a little color and fun to mom's life!

Community News News

Celebrating 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

12The Museum opens its doors to people from our community and beyond to explore thousands of years of art and culture from around the world. Every day, staff works hard to ensure that our building, artworks, and programs are accessible to visitors of all abilities.

This spring, the Museum is working with organizations around Birmingham to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). This landmark legislation prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunities for people with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.

Several programs in May draw attention to accessibility at the Museum. On Saturday, May 9, explore the achievements of artists with disabilities such as Claude Monet, Dale Chihuly, and Josiah Wedgwood during one of two free tours. The 10am tour is geared towards adults with visual impairments, and the 1pm tour is open to the general public. The tour for adults with visual impairments will be repeated on Wednesday, May 27 at 1pm. For more information, please call 205.254.2070.

On Tuesday, May 19 at 12 noon, join Terry Beckham, Exhibitions Designer and Kristi McMillan, Assistant Curator of Education for Visitor Engagement, for Accessibility for All at the BMA. This ArtBreak considers how we use universal design and other strategies to foster a welcoming and inclusive museum environment.

Also that day, the ADA Legacy Project is visiting Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park. As it nears the end of its year-long tour of the country, the ADA Bus brings interactive exhibits that explore the history of self-advocacy, as well as the ADA Legacy Project and its mission to preserve the history of the disability rights movement, to celebrate milestones, and to educate the public and future generations of advocates. There will also be a booth where people can post thoughts and photos that capture how the ADA has made a difference to their lives, an ADA quilt, and more. The Museum joins other local non-profits, service agencies, and disability resource groups at the park from 11am to 4pm.

Finally, this month, verbal descriptions will be added to the BMA smartguide for 12 artworks on the Museum highlights tour. Verbal description, a way of using words to represent the visual world, enables visitors who are blind or visually impaired to form a mental image of what they cannot see. Docents also use verbal description extensively during our Visually Impaired Program tours.

For more information about local events that celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA, please click here. For more information about accessibility and the Museum’s Visually Impaired Program, please click here.