For over a century the Montana Museum of Art and Culture at the University of Montana has quietly curated a vast repository of artwork. Established just one year after the university itself, the museum’s permanent collection has grown to encompass an astounding 11,000 pieces, from Dolack to Dali.
While the accumulation has garnered international recognition, it remains a hidden treasure unknown to many Missoulians.
In an effort to change that and bring these rare gems to light, the MMAC is celebrating with the upcoming exhibition, “The Art of the State: 120 Artworks for 120 Years.”
Beginning with an opening reception in the PARTV building on Jan. 22, 2015, the exhibition will run through May 23, 2015, with celebratory events including treasure hunts for the youngsters, a raffle and docent tours available upon request.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting element of Missoula for visitors,” said Barbara Koostra, museum director. “There’s no other collection like it.”
In concordance with the exhibition, a similarly titled book, “The Art of the State: 120 Artworks for 120 years, selections from the MMAC permanent collection” has been printed to serve as a guide to the pieces highlighted in the exhibition. With thoroughly researched biographies and historical information, the tome is the first of its nature for the museum and is already available for purchase.
Additionally, the publication will be placed in libraries at schools across the state of Montana, ensuring that knowledge is passed on.
“Our goal is to make the exhibitions interactive and accessible so people know what the permanent collection is and know what the components of the permanent collection are,” said Brandon Reintjes, curator of art for MMAC. “But it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. The collection is so deep, and so broad, and so rich that these pieces are just representative of the quality that’s there.”
Indeed, the glimpse given by “The Art of the State” book and exhibition is but a scratch at the surface of the prodigious collection. Spanning a huge variety of artists and mediums, the exhibition ranges from ancient Grecian amphora to a Picasso print from the ’60s, and even a unique piece inscribed, “To George Dennison, Andy Warhol.”
Part of the aim in incorporating such a wide sample of styles and eras is a desire to seek feedback on what folks find fascinating and to bring interactivity to the exhibition.
“We want to solicit people’s ideas for what kinds of exhibits they would like in the next 120 years,” Koostra said.
Ultimately, it’s hoped that the dialogue and increased interest driven by the exhibit will help with the museum’s long-time goal of obtaining a permanent physical location. With space at a premium, the MMAC is currently spread across campus with only a portion of a percentage of the collection on view at any given time.
“It’s really important we create a home so this collection is more widely shared and appreciated for generations to come, for the next 120 years,” Koostra said. “This is the story of who we are as a species, as a civilization.”
In addition to exhibitions, that story can be explored on the MMAC’s website where almost a quarter of the permanent collection has been cataloged for digital viewing. For those interested in a first-hand sight outside the main exhibition, a guide is available for a walking self-tour to the numerous satellite exhibitions present across campus.
As both a university and state museum, MMAC balances duties to both students and state citizens by doing everything it can to share these masterpieces with the public.
As Reintjes said, “It’s an amazing collection that we’ve got here in our community, and we should celebrate that as a community. We believe that this is the art of the state, that this is a collection that belongs to every Montanan.”