“It was completely gutted,” explains Aurore Giguet, director of the Marjorie Barrick Museum, discussing the renovations to the Barrick’s main exhibition space. “Only the four outer walls were left.” The faint outline of lettering spelling out “of Natural History,” recently removed from signage at the main entrance, is all that remains of the museum’s former focus on archeological objects. On Sept. 18, the brand new Barrick will celebrate its grand reopening with a preview and reception.
The past year has been tumultuous for the exhibition spot. Funding cuts imperiled its existence, followed by new museum programing and mission statement that reclassified the Barrick under UNLV’s College of Fine Arts. The expansion of the university’s gallery system coincided with agreements made to house and display the Las Vegas Art Museum collection, a partnership bolstering both Barrick and LVAM.
Preparations to host the LVAM collection began in the spring, with the museum shutting its doors, installing a spiffy new visitor information desk, knocking down walls and completely reconfiguring its interior. The building is no stranger to transformations, existing first as a basketball court — the circled Rebel logo still lingers on the floor — then as a natural history museum and now as an art museum. Alcoves with display cases placed toward the back pay homage to the Barrick’s natural history heritage, with rotating displays of its permanent collection of cultural artifacts. For the grand opening, a selection of Andean textiles and ceramics will be shown.
A space at the center of the museum offers a spot for smaller, more intimate exhibits. “The Barrick is at the heart of UNLV,” says UNLV Donna Beam Gallery Director Jerry Shefcik, also in charge of curating the LVAM Collection. “So this area is the museum’s heart.” Fittingly, among the works on display in the center space is an oil painting depicting an arrangement of women in kerchiefs titled “Bahianas,” by Mary Cady Johnson. Purchased in 1956, the painting was LVAM’s first acquisition. The historic note of the individual works is one of many factors Schefcik considers in arranging placement of the works in the exhibit.
“It’s still telling me what it wants to do,” he says of the final placement of the works. “Some artists are from an earlier time period, some art is more contemporary, and there are pieces of those groups that I would definitely like to use for the exhibition. I’m looking for other work that will work well with those pieces. Maybe create a dialogue, or there will be a contrast or something about it that one piece reinforces the other piece, one piece informs the other piece. They just help each other out. That is the conversation that I’m looking for. … We just brought some [LVAM] work in from the Smith Center and there will be some changes.”
Preliminary work pairings are already stirring up visual dialogue. Cindy Wright’s “Curtain” portrays the painted illusion of a delicate web of blue crochet. Next to it, the beaded and skirted form of Wayne Littlejohn’s sculpture “Matahari” wavers between phallic and squid-like forms brazenly rising, like the exotic dancer of its namesake. Whispering back and forth, the two pieces abstract and explore intimate intricacies.
Reminiscent of the tail of an airplane, the swooping red and gold graphics of James Hough’s painted offering harkens back to the 1950s, as do Curtis Fairman’s abstracted kitchen appliance-like white and chrome spheres. The organic yet precise circular cuts of David Ryan’s piece contrast yet complement the machined black aluminum planks of Brad Corman’s work.
Some art match-ups in the exhibit even involve a little accidental romance. A felt portrait by James Gobel depicting Jeffery Valance paired well with an oil painting depicting marbled slices of beef by Victoria Reynolds. It turns out the artist of the meat painting is married to Valance, “but I did not know that it was his portrait when I got these two [works] together!” says Schefcik.
Celebrating the renewal of the Barrick, the partnership with LVAM and supporting future programing, a cocktail reception and special exhibit preview will be held Sept. 18, with speakers including Patrick Duffy, president of the LVAM Collection, and UNLV Dean of Fine Arts Jeffery Koep. On Sept. 19, the museum will hold special extended hours, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Visitors are invited to participate in the first new piece of art to be created at the museum: a mural sized collage to be displayed in the lobby upon completion. The collage mural project highlights the museum’s programing goals for the future:
“It’s not just the university’s museum,” Giguet says. “We’re open to showing student work, faculty work, local artists, participation, volunteers. It’s for everyone.”
Marjorie Barrick Museum Thu, 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri, Mon-Wed, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat, 12-5 p.m., starting Sept. 19; UNLV, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, 895-3381 and barrickmuseum.unlv.edu. Grand reopening preview/reception: Sept. 18, 5:30 p.m., $100.