Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2017

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Closed museum taking a hard look at UNLV


Leila Navidi

Barbicon,” by Charles Clough, is part of the “Vogel 50 x 50” exhibit at Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery.

UNLV’s College of Fine Arts, with a growing art collection of its own, is in talks with the financially beleaguered and homeless Las Vegas Art Museum about placing the museum’s permanent collection on campus.

Patrick Duffy, the museum board president, says the two are discussing what it would take to make the collaboration happen and for the organization to build a museum on campus.

But skeptics on and off campus say the college is ill-prepared to take on a new level of responsibility, given its track record:

• A commissioned mural by Las Vegas artist and former UNLV instructor Rita Deanin Abbey that hung in the Judy Bayley Theatre lobby for about 20 years, was damaged while in storage at UNLV and is back with the artist.

• Scroll paintings donated to the university by the late civic leader and philanthropist Lilly Fong in the early 1980s were removed from Artemus Ham Hall because they fell into disrepair.

• The college took no measures to protect and preserve a painting it thought at the time to be an abstract painting by Frank Stella from his “Protractor” series. The donation came from a woman who died before the paperwork was complete. The school learned from the Sun last year that the painting, hanging in the Bayley Theatre lobby, was not a Stella.

• A large abstract steel sculpture by California artist William Wareham, installed in the 1970s, disappeared from the campus in the early ’90s because of what was later described only as a groundskeeping incident. The sculpture was partially funded by a community member’s donation to UNLV. The rest of the funding came from the artist, who said just a few months ago that he didn’t know his art had been discarded.

Duffy said such information “is very, very important to firm up accountability.”

“We’re going to exercise every bit of necessary due diligence before LVAM and UNLV come to any agreement,” he said.

Jennifer Vaughan, a spokeswoman for the College of Fine Arts, said most of those incidents happened in the distant past and that the new administration is aware of the value of the art the college receives and is working to ensure that all art be accounted for and is well-maintained.

Other works, including Claes Oldenburg’s massive “Flashlight,” which sits outside Ham Hall, and a metal Kevin Robb sculpture on Pida Plaza seem to be in good condition.

UNLV’s small collection of artwork includes the recent acquisition of 50 mostly minimalist works on paper that were donated to the university as part of a national gift program between New York art collectors Herbert and Dorothy Vogel and the National Gallery of Art.

The program parceled out artwork to 50 states. Nevada’s collection landed in UNLV’s hands after closure of the Las Vegas Art Museum, its original recipient. School officials welcomed the collection and stated its importance to the community and to raising the cultural status of the College of Fine Arts.

“The Vogel collection was a gift to the College of Fine Arts,” Vaughan said. “It is ours, we oversee it, and as such, Jerry Schefcik ensures its safe storage in the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery.” Schefcik is director of the gallery at UNLV.

Robert Tracy, art history professor and curator of the College of Fine Arts, says UNLV does not have an inventory of its art on campus.

By at least some measures, UNLV trails other universities in collecting and displaying art.

The Association of College & University Museums & Galleries lists more than 130 college and university art museums as members. UNLV’s gallery is not on the list. Other universities and colleges with established public art collections also track and list them on their Web sites.

David Robertson, president of the association, says donors commonly give art to colleges and universities for the purpose of education.

Duffy is emphasizing education in the possible partnership that he refers to as a natural collaboration because the collection could serve the students who are studying conserving, curating and cataloging. Additionally, he says, “You get all the elementary schools coming onto campus and all the high school kids coming onto campus. Whenever we can bring those kids onto campus is a stimulus for higher education.”

Aurore Giguet, director of UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum, says its collections management policy follows various art association guidelines. It catalogs, photographs and tracks its 5,000 objects, which are mostly pre-Columbian, Native American and Mexican artifacts and materials.

But the Barrick Museum is operated separately from the College of Fine Arts.

The college has not been following similar guidelines and has no person assigned to oversee the college’s art collection.

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