The Middlebury Campus

Museum exhibit encourages community

By Middlebury Campus


From Sept. 17 — Dec. 12 Andy Warhol’s famous Soup Can will rub shoulders with Greek terracotta and modern sculpture in the Museum of Art’s newest exhibit, “Friends Bearing Gifts: 40 years of Acquisitions from the Friends of the Art Museum.”

The exhibit, which opened to the general public Sept. 17 and is housed in the Mahaney Center for the Arts (CFA), presents select works gleaned from a collection four decades in the making.

The showcase owes its varied content to the Friends of the Art Museum, first assembled in 1969 when a group of townspeople, faculty, staff and students joined forces to create a vibrant art collection. At the time, work was displayed at the year-old Christian A. Johnson Memorial Building.

Since then the collection has moved to its current location at the CFA, and the Friends of the Art Museum has grown into a dynamic organization comprising over 400 members. Activity is not limited to the confines of the College, and every year the group presents Awards for Distinction in the Visual Arts to recognize individuals who contributed to Addison County’s art scene. To date, Friends’ acquisitions number 73, of which 40 have been selected for the current exhibit.

According to Emmie Donadio, chief curator of the Museum of Art, the works cover a wide range of cultures and time periods, spanning the 16th century BCE to the 21st century. Highlights include an unassuming Egyptian ceramic jar — it once contained its deceased owner’s lung, and accompanied his mummy for burial — in addition to a prehistoric Japanese Haniwa horse head and myriad works by Italian, Dutch and American masters.

Labels accompanying each piece are particularly fascinating. Authors are drawn from among current students, alumni and faculty from across the curriculum, as well as a number of contributions from faculty in History of Art and Architecture.

This interdisciplinary approach is quintessential liberal arts. “Leda”, a kinetic sculpture by Anne Lilly, is accompanied by the Benjamin F. Wissler Professor of Physics Richard Wolfson’s opinion; he compares the moving metal structure to a carbon dioxide atom –— flexing, twisting, vibrating and absorbing energy.

Jason Vrooman ’03, currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, writes another label detailing Andy Warhol’s “Soup Can (Vegetable Made with Beef Stock).” His description ponders questions of art vs. non-art and elite vs. popular culture.

Three 17th century Dutch paintings displayed at the exhibit are not yet part of the museum’s permanent collection. They will be featured Oct. 16 from 7-11 p.m., during the annual Friends of the Art Museum Gala. The Friends will choose one to keep. The event is open to the public, and tickets are available through the Box Office. Tickets for current students include a one-year membership in the Friends, which grants access to special gallery talks, lectures, luncheons and trips.

The Friends Bearing Gifts exhibit is an excellent opportunity for us to appreciate how much we are indebted to the Friends of the Art Museum for building such a wonderful art collection here at Middlebury. The exhibit will be open until Dec. 12, 2010.

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