The Heard Museum opens its new Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust Grand Gallery on Friday, February 10, with an exhibition titled “Beauty Speaks for Us,” featuring more than 200 works culled from several private collections in Phoenix as well as the Heard Museum’s own collection of more than 40,000 works of art.
The opening of the new gallery comes more than a year after the museum’s June 2015 announcement that it had received a $1.25 million grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust to fund renovations that included combining two smaller galleries into one larger gallery with 7,000 square feet of exhibition space.
“This puts us up there with new museums that are building larger galleries,” says Ann Marshall, director of curation and research for the Heard Museum. She cites Denver Art Museum and the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles as institutions that have embraced the larger gallery model.
The new gallery replaces the former Ullman Learning Center, where the museum exhibited artifacts related to more than 20 federally recognized tribes in Arizona, as well as the Lincoln Gallery once used for rotating exhibitions. Jaclyn Roessel, who recently left her position as public programs and education director, curated the last exhibit in the Lincoln Gallery in 2016 before it closed for renovations. Titled “Confluence,” it featured works created by pairs of emerging and established American Indian artists. Rather than creating a new Ullman Gallery, the museum will incorporate information on Arizona tribes into a 2018 exhibition highlighting contemporary American Indian art.
Previously, the museum’s largest exhibition space was the two-story Jacobson Gallery in the southwest area of the museum, where Phoenix artist and Museum of Walking co-founder Steve Yazzie (Navajo/Laguna/European) recently opened his solo exhibition titled “Black White Blue Yellow (BWBY),” exploring human connections to landforms including four mountains sacred to the Navajo people.
Yazzie’s Fear of a Red Planet, a multi-panel mural painted in 2000 that was installed around the top perimeter of the now-defunct Ullman Learning Center, was removed during renovations that created the new Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust Grand Gallery. But several panels are currently on view as part of Yazzie’s current exhibition, giving viewers a chance to explore scenes depicting life for Navajo, Yaqui, and Colorado River people during the boarding school period.
Another mural, by Navajo artist Tony Abeyta, met a different fate. It was painted for a previous exhibition, on a wall that was later covered over by a panel. But the museum decided to reveal the mural during renovations and keep it on view in the new gallery space.
The new gallery isn’t the only change at the Heard Museum in recent years. John Bulla, who served as interim director and CEO when the grant was announced, now serves as deputy director and chief operating officer. In October 2015, Heard Museum hired David M. Roche, formerly director for Sotheby’s American Indian art department, as director and chief executive officer.
And more change is coming.
Expect larger exhibitions, including sizable touring shows, now that the museum has more space to accommodate them, Marshall says. “We won’t have to edit down our traveling exhibitions,” she adds. At one time, they'd hoped to present collaborative work created by contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and Navajo artist Bert Benally, but scheduling issues nixed that plan for the time being, Marshall says. "We would love to revisit it in the future," she says.
Traveling exhibitions coming to the Heard Museum this year include “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera” featuring 33 works by the legendary Mexican artists (the tour’s only North American stop as of this writing) and a retrospective of contemporary works titled “Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain.”
Planned renovations to the museum’s “Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience” should be completed in 2018, Marshall says.
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