A century ago in 1909, BYU began collecting art when a generous donor gave the university a painting of a sycamore tree by Utah impressionist painter John Hafen (1856–1910). One hundred years later, the university’s art collection has grown to nearly 17,000 works housed in a state-of-the-art museum.
A new exhibition at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art celebrates this century of collecting art and the legacy of philanthropy that has enriched the culture of the university and the community since that first gift. “The First 100 Years: Collecting Art at BYU” tells the remarkable story of the development of the university art collection through the display of 150 of the outstanding works that have been acquired over the past century.
This exhibition will be on view in the Marian Adelaide Morris Cannon Gallery on the museum’s main level through Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010. Admission is free.
“This great achievement was made possible through the dedication of many university leaders, faculty, and staff, together with the generosity of countless donors,” said Museum of Art Curator Paul Anderson.
Although BYU acquired its first painting in 1909, systematic collecting began in the 1930s and 1940s when faculty members and administrators embraced the value of having art collections for educational purposes. The Art Department acquired paintings and works on paper by several early 20th-century Utah artists. In 1937, Herald R. Clark, dean of the College of Business, visited the renowned Western artist Maynard Dixon in his San Francisco studio and negotiated the purchase of 85 paintings, drawings and prints.
In 1959, 50 years after the first painting was given to the university, more than 10,000 artworks came to BYU in a single group. These works that now form the core of the Museum of Art’s collection were partly a gift and partly a purchase from the heirs of the artist Mahonri Mackintosh Young (1877-1957). These works have largely determined the major direction of the museum’s collecting in American art.
Between 1960 and 1990, the BYU art collection continued to grow with many significant gifts. Because the collection depended mostly on the personal choices of generous donors, the new acquisitions varied greatly: European portraits and religious works, 19th- and 20th-century American paintings, Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe serigraph series, original drawings of famous comic strips, Minerva Teichert’s series of 42 murals from the Book of Mormon, and C.C.A. Christensen’s “Mormon Panorama.”
The decades-old dream of building an art museum at BYU became a reality with the construction of a 100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, begun in 1990 and dedicated in 1993. Since the construction of the museum, curators have been developing the collections, focusing on areas such as American art, religious art, southwest art, contemporary art, and photography.