More than 30 new acquisitions go on view in a pandemic-inspired change of plans
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More than 30 new acquisitions go on view in a pandemic-inspired change of plans
Kenji Nakahashi, (Japanese, active in America, 1947-2017), Time (B), 1980; printed 1993, Gelatin silver print, 10 x 13 in., Anonymous gift in memory of Kenji Nakahashi, 2020.5.04.

MADISON, WIS.- By now, the Chazen Museum of Art should be more than a year into a grand experiment. In July 2019, the Chazen introduced new open hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days per week, making it the most-open museum among its peers. For seven months, staff saw the results, as more students, faculty and community members stopped by to visit the museum or its newly opened café. New exhibitions and a celebration of the Chazen’s 50th anniversary were planned.

However, in March, along with museums and universities across the country, the coronavirus pandemic shut down the UW–Madison campus and the Chazen Museum of Art. Now, more than six months later, changes in the Museum are reflecting a new reality.

“These days, we are working on being nimble, because things can – and do – change on a daily basis,” said Amy Gilman, director of the Chazen. In fact, in September, the Chazen closed for two weeks to help control the spread of the coronavirus as students returned to campus. “For the last three years, we’ve challenged ourselves to think differently about our role as a university museum, and the pandemic is adding another layer to that. Long-term planning is harder, but in the short term, there are opportunities to try new things.”

One result of this new thinking is an untitled installation of more than 30 new acquisitions added to the Chazen’s collection over the last three years. It is currently on view in the Chazen’s Pleasant Rowland Gallery, where, in normal times, touring exhibitions are presented. Works featured include Face to Face (2018) by mixed-media American artist Deborah Roberts, multiple prints by Japanese conceptual artist Kenji Nakahashi; Western Landscape (1935) from Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe, the younger sister of Georgia O’Keeffe; and Paysage au ciel clair (Landscape with Clear Sky) (1956) by French painter Jean DuBuffet.

“We are working on a plan for a major reinstallation of the entire permanent collection, but that is a few years away,” said Katherine Alcauskas, chief curator at the Chazen. “Since the pandemic upended our current exhibition schedule, we realized we could do something exciting with a portion of our first floor gallery. It’s a chance to introduce our audience to some of our new acquisitions and invite our students and visitors into the process of how we add new works to the collection.”

The Chazen’s permanent collection had an unusual beginning. Before a museum existed on the University of Wisconsin campus, artworks had been donated or acquired by the University without a focused plan for collecting. After the Museum opened in 1970, thoughtful donors broadened the permanent collection, often through gifts of their entire collections – creating and enhancing pockets of strength and depth. Now unlike any other, this “collection of collections” encompasses vastly different, yet equally inspiring, artistic periods and genres.

The installation of this selection of new acquisitions signals the Chazen shifting from the eclectic early collection strategy to a more traditional style of accessioning new works into the permanent collection and integrating them into the galleries.

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