Krannert Art Museum Presents Building a Modern Collection A Look Back

The Krannert Art Museum presents Building a Modern Collection: A Look Back on view January 28 through May 1, 2011.

In honor of Krannert Art Museum’s 50th Anniversary, KAM will be focusing on an installation of works that speak to the strength of its permanent collection.

Hans Hofmann, Apparition, 1947. Oil on reinforced plywood. Festival of Arts Purchase Fund © Estate of Hans Hofmann/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Contemporary American Painting exhibition at the University of Illinois began in 1948 with the foresight of three individuals—University president George D. Stoddard, dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts Rexford Newcomb, and head of the Art Department Frank Roos—who felt a desire and a need to promote contemporary art as well as build a collection for the university. In 1953, sculpture was added and it became known as the Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture exhibition (CAPS). These exhibitions aimed to showcase a stylistic cross-section of contemporary American paintings and coincided with the campus-wide Festival of Contemporary Arts, which invited such notables as artist Abraham Rattner, composer John Cage, performers Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham, writer Dylan Thomas, and many others to the university to “improve the new art’s chances for acceptance.”

The exhibitions occurred annually for the first five years and then biennially until 1974, with each installation including over 100 individual works chosen by a committee. The Urbana-Champaign communities voiced conflicting opinions of the art displayed at these exhibitions, which ranged from more representational paintings of portraits and landscapes to non-objective works, and included both established artists, such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Motherwell, as well as lesser-known artists. The University of Illinois wanted to compete with the major art metropolises of New York and Chicago, and many of these exhibitions actually traveled with great success and received praise from the larger art community. The fact that Urbana-Champaign attracted such artists baffled some, with many newspaper articles addressing the midwestern location of these very modern works of art—in 1950 Look magazine published “Corn Country Campus Puts on Biggest USA Arts Festival.”

The Art Department, and later Krannert Art Museum in 1961, was allocated a significant acquisitions budget to purchase works from the CAPS exhibitions for the University’s collection. Within the first five years of exhibitions, the University acquired paintings from Max Beckmann, Philip Guston, Hans Hofmann, Hedda Sterne, and Rufino Tamayo that helped develop a focus and strength of modern art within Krannert Art Museum’s collection. Building a Modern Collection: A Look Back will include approximately 25 paintings and sculptures purchased from the CAPS exhibitions, as well as archival photographs and other printed material.

Curator: Kathryn Koca Polite

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