The Montana Museum of Art & Culture will be opening two new summer art exhibitions on June 4 in its gallery spaces at the University of Montana.
Brandon Reintjes, curator of art for the MMAC, said the two shows, in the Meloy and Paxson galleries of the PAR/TV building, will focus on “a sense of patriotism and a sense of love for Missoula.”
Montana artist Ben Steele’s solo exhibition, “Human Condition” includes work stemming from Steele’s experience as a World War II veteran and survivor of the Bataan Death March. Steele, who grew up near Roundup, was a prisoner for 41 months, suffering starvation, dehydration, hard labor, torture and illness.
Much of the prisoner of war artwork included in the exhibition was created during Steele’s recovery at a hospital in Spokane, as well as his time studying at the Cleveland Institute of Art after the war ended. Reintjes said his artwork speaks to his process of survival, recovery and forgiveness. Steele and his wife donated the artwork to the MMAC in 2010, with the understanding that it be put on display every four years so each class of UM students could see and understand the horrors of war.
At the exhibition’s opening reception Thursday, a section of the Congressional Record cataloging Steele’s service will be read alongside an honor-guard reception.
On July 30, art history Henry Freedman will give a lecture at the Masquer Theatre on the history of war art.
“The talk will be on the shift in war art from depictions of the victor to the consequences of war and its impact on the human condition,” Reintjes said.
In addition to celebrating the observance of Missoula’s 150th anniversary as a town, Reintjes said the second exhibition, called “Hometown,” came about after the MMAC received a donation of a painting by Walter Hook last year called “Dinky Landscape of Missoula” and is designed to be a lighter counterpoint to Steele’s work.
All of the artwork on display in both exhibitions are a part of the MMAC’s 11,000-piece permanent collection except one, James Todd’s mural, “The Family of Man.” Reintjes said Todd, a former director of the University of Montana School of Art, made the piece while he was in school at UM with the help of fellow student John Armstrong. It was originally installed at Christ the King Church in 1969.
“It was up for many years, then in 1997 they took it down for renovations. They ended up changing the space so much they couldn't put it up again,” Reintjes said.
He added that this is the first time since then that the massive piece of art, which is more than 11 feet tall and 31 feet wide, has been put on display for the public.
Todd will be giving a talk about the piece and the other artwork in the “Hometown” exhibition during the opening reception event Thursday. The show also will include work by artists Tu Baixiong, James Dew, Marilyn Bruya, Carmen Malsch and Heath Bultman, among others.