On a cold day in January of 2016, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, located on the University of Utah campus, shuttered its doors in preparation for a massive metamorphosis. Since its lauded opening in 2001, the gallery hadn’t undergone any major changes or updates in 17 years.
Now, 19 months later, the UMFA is ready to reveal itself, reimagined, to an adoring public. Over half the items now on display will be new to visitors, as the museum aims to showcase the breadth of its impressive collection, one of the largest in the Mountain West region. The museum reopened its galleries in late August of 2017 to much fanfare, parties, and free admission for all guests.
The purpose of the museum’s closure was to replace the building’s vapor barrier, a crucial system that maintains appropriate humidity levels to protect the fragile works of art contained within. Museum staff realized this was also an opportunity to reenvision the collections and showcase the vast treasure trove of artifacts stored beneath the building. With nearly 20,000 items contained in the permanent collection, it was time to rethink the various galleries, tell new stories, and showcase objects of art, previously stowed in the vaults below. “We’re excited to welcome everyone back,” says Gretchen Dietrich, UMFA’s Executive Director.
In closing its doors in 2016, the UMFA reconsidered the use of space and imagined ways to better engage visitors in their experience of the building and the art on display. Rethinking how visitors move through the building has resulted in cozy nooks and conversation areas for people to recharge, relax, and take a moment to absorb their surroundings.
One of the most startling changes visitors will notice is the absence of the bright orange “Guava Jam” hue adorning the walls of the museum. With a new color palette in place, the curators hope to compliment the collection and create a relaxing atmosphere of contemplation for visitors. Knowing that the staff took over 2 weeks to consider 6 versions of white for the large Great Hall downstairs illustrates their commitment to a flawless visitor experience!
The oldest item in the museum, a beautiful Chinese pot dating back to 2600-200 BCE, offers a stark contrast to the museum’s youngest installation, a recently completed installation by artist Spencer Finch in the Great Hall Finch took a journey along the entire shore of the Great Salt Lake with a pantone paint chip book. He identified all the colors and elevations that he experienced along the journey. Stepping into The Great Hall evokes the experience of circumnavigating the Great Salt Lake, an immersive ode to the incredible landscape that surrounds the UMFA.
In the American and Regional Art Gallery, the curators have striven to better weave Utah into the story of American Art, Westward Expansion, and the Native American experience. You’ll find new stories, new conversations, and a better use of the treasures within this collection. Look for an impressive temporary exhibition in December: Go West! Art of the American Frontier from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, featuring over 90 pieces on loan from one of the nation’s most outstanding collections of western art.
Upstairs, the new Arts of Africa collection emphasizes a huge diversity of African art. This hall contains a vibrant scope of pieces from 21 African cultures, encompassing beadwork, photography, woodwork, and more. Down the hall, Arts of the Pacific showcases the handiwork of Oceanic cultures, with many new items and pieces on loan from generous donors.
In the Modern and Contemporary Gallery, the museum is paying special homage to pieces made by women. This rotating exhibit will first showcase works crafted by females or those who identify as females. You’ll admire the work of globally renowned female artists alongside pieces created by women of Utah. The museum aims to challenge gender biases by only presenting work created by women in the current exhibition.
Check back often, as the museum plans to host many temporary and rotating exhibitions, so there will always be something new to discover at UMFA. The museum offers free admission and immersive workshops on the third Saturday of each month. For information on parking and transportation, please visit the UMFA website.
With its grand reopening, UMFA is poised to invigorate the cultural scene in our state. Locals and visitors to Utah alike will find this world class museum unlocks a sense of wonder with its captivating use of space, color, and the incredible treasures it houses within.
Words: Lexi Dowdall