The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art’s permanent collection encompasses over sixteen thousand artworks. Our inaugural exhibition, Homecoming, reintroduces our extraordinary collection to the public. Homecoming comprises a series of related installations: “Generations," which will foreground the University of Iowa’s history of innovative arts education and scholarship; "Fragments of the Canon: African Art from the Saunders and Stanley Collections," featuring African art collected by a Black Iowan, Meredith Saunders; and “History Is Always Now,” in which the Stanley’s celebrated collection of African art will be displayed in a new way that emphasizes movement and cultural exchange through time and across space. Developed collaboratively by curators, educators, and faculty under the museum director’s guidance, Homecoming will illustrate the importance of our world-class collection and allow us to envision new futures in art.
“Generations” celebrates the University of Iowa’s history of inclusive scholarship, creative research, and community building. It explores new avenues of artistic interpretation consistent with the Stanley’s mission as a teaching museum and laboratory of experiential learning. “Generations” will capture the essence of the "Iowa Idea" and present artists in our collection as research practitioners who test the limits of expressive possibility. The Stanley’s core strengths in modern and contemporary art go back to early university acquisitions made in the 1930s to support the nation’s first MFA program. In “Generations” you will see the works that enabled the Iowa Idea, such as Max Beckmann’s Karneval, Mural by Jackson Pollock, Sam Gilliam’s Red April, Spring Embraces Yellow by Alma Thomas, and Red Painting No. 2 by Joan Mitchell. You will also see works that were created by University of Iowa staff and alumni such as Grant Wood, Elizabeth Catlett, Mauricio Lasansky, Miriam Schapiro, Philip Guston, Hans Breder, and Ana Mendieta. Organized around themes of artistic invention and the University of Iowa’s teaching mission, “Generations” collapses hierarchies among fine art media and distinctions between the centers and the periphery of the art world.
In “Fragments of the Canon: African Art from the Saunders and Stanley Collections” we are reintroducing you to our exceptional collection of African art in a brand-new way. The Stanley has never developed an exhibition about a collection of African art created by a Black collector. Few museums have, yet collectors shape art history through the art collections they assemble. If the only collectors we highlight are white, we are missing important, alternative perspectives. The generosity of Max and Betty Stanley has provided a foundation for one of the most impressive collections of African art in the United States. Since the 1980s, we have expanded the collection in exciting ways, acquiring works from the Black Iowan collector Meredith Saunders. While the Stanleys took a universalist approach to collecting—they focused on global trends and big historical changes—Saunders considered African cultures at a local level with the viewpoint of a tourist. Comparing Saunders’s collection to that of the Stanley reveals different ideas about what is canonical, what is valuable, and what is authentic. “Fragments of the Canon” also encourages viewers to contemplate the idea of who can collect art and who has the power to shape the stories we tell about history and culture.
“History Is Always Now” examines how culture constantly evolves, emphasizing movement and artistic exchange through time and space. Historic African and Asian objects, along with indigenous art from many regions including the Americas and Oceania, will be juxtaposed with works by modern and contemporary artists. The exhibition demonstrates how Black and indigenous artists have shaped art and culture around the globe. Artwork and objects will represent all areas of our collection from prints to textiles and drawings to ceramics. In “History Is Always Now,” we depart from the anthropological, siloed way of understanding art and culture. During your visit to this installation, you will discover unexpected connections within the collection and adopt a global perspective. You will see the story of art unfold within a shared memory rather than divided by continent or historical period. “History Is Always Now” encourages viewers to recognize how history shapes the present, how we’ve been connected in the past, and how we are connected now, at this moment, at the Stanley Museum of Art.
As an entryway to surrounding exhibits focused upon the African collection, “Centering on Cloth: The Art of African Textiles” highlights the global scope of interactions that surround the creation, use, and circulation of cloth in Africa. With fifteen examples of cloth from northern, southern, western, and central regions of the continent, and with materials, motifs, and techniques embedded in histories of global exchange, visitor’s will discover powerful works of art that attest to Africa’s global presence. A 20th-century embroidered robe from northern Nigeria and late 19th-century cotton appliqué panels from Egypt with Arabic inscriptions evoke Africa’s embrace of Islam. French-imported silk in a late 19th-century cloth from Tunisia evokes a history of trade borne through colonial presence, and American “Apollo 11” commemorative motifs in a “fancy” print from Liberia that imitates Javanese batik resist-dyed cloth. Abdoulaye Konaté’s Rouge kente et monde combines weaving techniques from Ghana, cloth dyed in Mali, and a minimalist composition that emphasizes the commemorative power of African cloth.
Wooden masks from Africa serve as one of the most common symbols of African culture, and at the same time, masks are not common to the entire continent. As fragments in the museum, they suggest a place in time characterized by ritual performance, spiritual authority, and sculptural ingenuity. To wear a mask is to deny oneself. It is an “about-face” to self-representation, even when the performer’s identity is known to the audience. At the same time, masks are about the face itself and the importance of transforming it—and, through performance, the entire body—in order to be effective. “About Face: African Masks in Iowa” consists of nearly thirty masks from the permanent collection, ranging from a Yoruba-style Gẹ̀lẹ̀dé headdress recently attributed to the Ànàgó Master (also the first African mask acquired by the University of Iowa in 1956) to the recent acquisition of Hervé Youmbi’s Bamiléké-Dogon Ku’ngang Mask, 2019-2022. Visitors will find the African mask collection exhibited in ways that emphasize historical relationships among associated culture groups and artistic relationships among many West and Central African masks from the world-renowned Stanley Collection of African Art.
Gundlach also worked with Dr. Boureima Diamitani to co-curate the African pottery collection located in the display cases east of the stairwell. With over forty vessels on view, the installation is a monument to the artistic work of African women throughout the continent.
Homecoming is supported by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation with additional support from the Richard V.M. Corton, M.D., and Janet Y. Corton Exhibition Fund, the Members Special Exhibition Fund, the John S. and Patricia C. Koza Art Exhibition Fund, the Stanley Building Fund, and the Gerald Eskin Ceramics Art Initiative.
The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., the Luce Foundation advances its mission through grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art, and public policy.
A leader in art funding since 1982, the Luce Foundation's American Art Program supports innovative museum projects nationwide that advance the role of visual arts of the United States in an open and equitable society, and the potential of museums to serve as forums for art-centered conversations that celebrate creativity, explore difference, and seek common ground. The Foundation aims to empower museums and arts organizations to reconsider accepted histories, foreground the voices and experiences of underrepresented artists and cultures, and welcome diverse collaborators and communities into dialogue.