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Visitors Enjoy Artistic Benches at the Brooks

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE.- In an innovative effort to provide an aesthetic way for guests to stop and rest … and contemplate art, the Brooks called upon local artists for a project to add art to the galleries ¯ but not for the walls or pedestals. The Museum recently commissioned four contemporary regional artists to design and create benches ¯ functional objects that are also permanent works of art.

Having the ability to rest in the galleries has been a long time request of older Brooks visitors. The Museum approached the H.W. Durham Foundation, an organization that supports programs for aging populations, who generously funded the bench project. The Urban Art Commission (UAC), which strives to enhance and elevate the quality of life in Memphis and Shelby County by promoting and facilitating public art and urban design, stepped in and organized a juried competition.

"We thought the bench project had a particular appeal for seniors, which is, of course, our focus," said Jenks McCrory, President of the Durham Foundation. "This would mean more seating for seniors, and we liked the idea of involving local artists."

In September of 2002 invited artists submitted proposals for the benches along with a one-page description of their design. A committee, comprised of representatives of the community, the Brooks, the UAC, the Durham Foundation, and other art professionals, selected winners on the basis of the uniqueness and practicality of their proposal. The winning designers are Stephen Crump, Val Valgardson, Tim Michael, and Scott Guidry.

Although the benches are a feast for the eyes, they are meant to be used by patrons. Marina Pacini, the Chief Curator of the Brooks said, "The benches are so gorgeous that when they were delivered to the galleries, the security officers called to check several times to make sure that they were to be used! They could easily be mistaken for objects in the permanent collection."

While the benches are currently in certain galleries, as new exhibitions come through the Museum, the benches will be rotated. They are arranged to face the art presented in the galleries, thus making long contemplation of particular art pieces possible.

Stephen Crump, a native of Memphis, is an honors graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. Currently he builds furniture of his own design, primarily on commission. His work can be found on display in the Tennessee State Museum of Nashville, as well as numerous corporate, ecclesiastical, and private collections throughout the Southeast. The bench he designed and built is currently in a contemporary art gallery at the Brooks.

Val Valgardson, also of Memphis, received his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of California, San Diego. His work has been shown in the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in Portland, Oregon, the Beret International Gallery in Chicago, Illinois, and the Children’s Museum in San Diego, California. Currently, Valgardson’s bench can be found in the Kraft Gallery.

Tim Michael of Millington, Tennessee, is a graduate of the University of Memphis with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology. He obtained is Masters of Architecture in May 1999 from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. His architectural and furniture design projects can be found in both public and private collections in areas ranging from Memphis to Dallas, Texas. Currently, Michael is an Architecture Studio Critic at the University of Memphis. His bench can be found in the Schering-Plough Gallery of the Brooks.

Scott Guidry, from Memphis, earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Technology at the University of Memphis in 1993. He has worked with Jones Wood Works, Online Syntax, Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects, and the Haizlip Firm. Currently Guidry is involved with Archimania Architects, a Memphis-based firm dedicated to the development of creative architecture. Guidry’s bench is currently in the special exhibition, The Glory of the Silk Road: Art from Ancient China.

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