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It's telling what they had to leave out.

When the staff of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture was narrowing the Permanent Collection of more than 11,000-some objects down to 120 for a 120th anniversary exhibition, many masters from across centuries didn't make the cut.

Robert Motherwell, the influential American abstract expressionist, won't be on view.

Neither will Eugene Delacroix, the French Romantic painter.

Brandon Reintjes, the MMAC curator, said they wanted to represent the breadth and depth of the state museum's collection, as well as some of its idiosyncrasies. So some famous names didn't make it.

Others such as Picasso, Dali and Rembrandt will be on display, along with indicators of the collection's unique holdings – like the 600 Southeast Asian textiles that reflect Missoula's Hmong population.

"You want to represent that collection the best you can. We wanted to show the quality that's in the collection," he said, as well the history of collecting – the donors and acquisitions since 1895.

The exhibition, "Art of the State: Celebrating 120 Years of the MMAC Permanent Collection," is divided into categories: European art including paintings, religious and decorative objects, ceramics, prints and photography; American art including paintings, traditional and contemporary Native American, prints, photography and ceramics; and Asian art including works on paper and Southeast Asian textiles. (The collection of European tapestries is too large to display.)

The dates range from a Spanish altar piece by an anonymous artist circa 1490 to a carved stone sculpture circa 2004 by Inuit artist Lucassie Etungat.

The holdings are a continual source of surprise to Reintjes, no matter how well he thinks he knows the collection.

"It surprises me that we have this," he said during a recent tour of the exhibition. "Over and over again."

He was standing in front a "Portrait of a Spanish Gentleman," an oil on panel by a Flemish Renaissance painter.

"To have a piece from 1574 of this quality? It's not attributed to the school of Pieter Pourbus, or the follower of Pieter Pourbus," he said.

"This is one that experts looked at throughout history and said, 'This is a painting by Pieter Pourbus.' It kind of makes you break into cold sweats. It's incredible that we have this in the collection."

Reintjes was only four paintings into the exhibition – he hadn't even gotten to the Andy Warhol ("Cow Wallpaper," 1971, serigraph) or the Marc Chagall ("David and Absalom," 1956, lithograph).


The exhibition is part of the MMAC's ongoing efforts to raise awareness about its holdings, which represent the largest fine art collection among the three state museums.

Despite its long history, the MMAC lacks a museum building. Most of the year, the works are in storage.

Some go on display in various departments around campus, and the staff incorporates works into at least half of the exhibitions at the Paxon and Meloy galleries,

With only 1,700 square feet of gallery space, that's still not many artworks.

"One-half of 1 percent of our total collection is viewable at one time for a given exhibition," MMAC director Barbara Koostra said.

They produced the Permanent Collection handbook two years ago, available in soft- and hard-cover volumes, to help remind people of the holdings. The book will be distributed free of charge to school libraries in Missoula and the adjacent counties.

Without a permanent display, keeping the public aware proves difficult.

Reintjes can list off the comments they receive on regular basis: " 'Oh, I didn't know that was in the collection.' 'Oh, I didn't know there was a collection.' Or 'I didn't know where you were.' 'I didn't know where the galleries are.' So we needed a tool that provided greater visibility and a kind of window into the collection," he said.

Regarding its years-long efforts to find building, Koostra said the MMAC is part of the "ongoing conversation" with the UM Capital Campaign.

"We are one of the building projects associated with that effort, and working closely with the UM Foundation and President (Royce) Engstrom, who is hugely supportive of the project."

She couldn't specify any locations that have been part of that discussion.

"We're still working to finalize that, but it will be very soon," she said.

Another project includes a searchable database online at

Twenty-two percent of the works are cataloged there, and the MMAC is applying for grants to push the project forward and have the entire collection in the database.

The website can be a boon to students and residents, and also curators and researchers in far-flung areas. One of the MMAC's holdings was brought to Rome for an exhibition in 2010 after the curator found the work online.

"Auprès du Bois (Near the Woods)" by Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña, a 10-by-14 inch landscape in oil in a well-preserved plaster frame, is historically important because its creator reportedly taught Monet to use color.

"To have these lineages is really surprising," Reinjtes said, and they expect to be uncovered after the collection is cataloged online or permanently displayed.

As a continuation of its efforts, in June the MMAC will exhibit Garden City-specific works in "Hometown: The MMAC Permanent Collection Celebrates Missoula."

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