As a tidy lens of sorts, the Brooks looks back on 2013 with the Brooks Calendar at hand. This reinvented bimonthly museum guide debuted a little over a year ago with a lamp from The Brilliance of Tiffany: Lamps From The Neustadt Collection on its cover, an exhibition that lit Brooks’ galleries as 2012 turned 2013. Although these lamps were originally products of America’s Gilded Age, the Neustadt collection was amassed at a time when they were decidedly out of fashion. At the Brooks, this inspired an appreciation for the timeless art of good taste, and all the promise the Gilded Age fell short of delivering. With our own Decorative Arts Trust at the helm of enrichment programming, the Brooks’ decorative art collection is projected to grow throughout the decade.
A typically slow February was anything but this past year, as the Brooks hosted two major special exhibitions: Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey and Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in Nineteenth-Century American Art. Opening on February 2nd, Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey came complete with its own audio guide and iPad app from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The iPad app allowed visitors to “remix” the artist’s signature collage elements, essentially creating their own “Romare Bearden” digital collage. Using technology to aid in museum participation really broke in 2013. The Brooks continues to offer its own app, but we couldn’t help thrusting the remix idea back into the analog world. During the Brooks’ annual Chalk Festival, we re-appropriated “Black Odyssey Remixes” with a collaborative felt board to be “remixed” all day.
From just after Valentine’s Day to Mother’s Day, Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in Nineteenth-Century American Art showcased master paintings by American artists such as Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, and Winslow Homer, as well as sculpture, prints, and photography. As much a history of American art as a sociological study of the development of the American female, Angels & Tomboys covered a lot of material, much of it mentioned in the exhibition audio tour, with entries by exhibition curator Holly Pyne Connor, Memphis College of Art art history professor Ellen Daugherty, University of Memphis costume designer Janice Benning Lacek; and Rhodes College history professor Gail Murray.
In conjunction, the Memphis Knit Mafia “bombed” the Brooks’ plaza with their knitted swatches of color. This was one of our most applauded programs of the year; perhaps it’s that “knit bombing” is the perfect summation of the 21st woman. It seems say, “Although I do not have to knit, I choose to knit. I choose to be a little aggressive about it, and you are not going to have a choice but to like it.”
And then there was the Summer of Cloar, uniting the Mid-South region in a celebration of late painter Carroll Cloar’s body of work–an oeuvre so vast, one major museum exhibition could not hold it. In addition to The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South at the Brooks, Christian Brothers University, Arkansas State University, Mid-South Community College, the David Lusk Gallery, and the University of Memphis all hosted contemporaneous Carroll Cloar shows, in a city wide tribute to the local artist that will forever be known as the Summer of Cloar.
Cloar worked throughout his adult life in Memphis, but he was born in Earle, Arkansas, and scenes from this landscape inspired much of his work. Since Earle is just across the Mississippi, we rallied people to tour the area with us on bikes–twice! On June 29th and September 7th, Dr. Stanton Thomas led people on a ride to see Rev. George Washington’s funeral monument, Gibson Bayou Church, and other sites immortalized in Cloar’s work.
The last major exhibition of the year came down a week and a half into 2014. Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography was a surprise smash-hit, as nobody in the Memphis arts community overlooked the significance of its scope. Thanks to the intuitive sensibilities of collector duo Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla, Memphis saw an intrepid charting of the history of photography as an artistic medium, which, of course, it wasn’t always considered.
When unveiled to the world in 1851 at London’s First World Fair, photography was in the “philosophical instruments” category. In conjunction, the Brooks hosted #MemphisShared, an exhibition of another, more current, contested photographic medium, that of Instagram photography.