By Javacia Harris Bowser
For The Birmingham Times
After being closed to the public for nearly seven months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Birmingham Museum of Art is set to reopen on Tuesday, October 6.
“We feel like we’ve created a safe environment in which to welcome people back,” said Graham C. Boettcher, R. Hugh Daniel Director of the museum. “We have a number of exhibitions that will be open to greet them.”
Art lovers will have three exhibits to explore when the museum opens and more to look forward to later in the fall.
All Things Bright and Beautiful
The exhibition All Things Bright and Beautiful opened just before the museum had to close to the public on March 15 due to the pandemic. Patrons who didn’t get a chance to see that exhibit can finally view it this fall.
All Things Bright and Beautiful explores themes of power and agency with pieces that examine creative endeavors and some that transform everyday objects into works of art. The exhibition takes its name from a painting by Amy Sherald, whose portraits depict Black sitters with pride, dignity, and joy, representation historically only given to white people.
Amy Sherald is also set to give a virtual talk for the museum this fall.
Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments
Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments will also be open on October 6.
This exhibition features nearly 60 works from the museum’s collection that examine the built environment and its impact on individuals and communities.
This exhibition was originally slated to open in April.
“Little did we know that in the midst of being closed that the subject of this exhibition would be front and center in not just the national media but right here in the city,” Boettcher said, noting the recent removal of the Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument from Linn Park. “It looks at the problematic issues of power that sometimes a built edifice — whether it’s a building or a monument — are meant to impose on the society in which they exist.”
Wall to Wall
When patrons return to the museum, the exhibition that will most likely catch their attention first is Wall to Wall.
This new ongoing project invites artists to transform the museum’s lobby and cafe with artwork inspired by the city. The first Wall to Wall exhibit, sponsored by PNC Bank, will feature four works by Alaska-based artist Merritt Johnson. The works, inspired by the land and water of Birmingham, will stretch across the cafe and lobby walls.
“When you walk into that space you will be enveloped by a work of art,” Boettcher said. “It’s a celebration of the Alabama landscape but it also calls attention to the fragility of the landscape and the way we as a society have devalued and not taken care of natural resources the way that we ought to.”
An Epic of Earth and Water
On October 31 the museum will open the exhibition An Epic of Earth and Water: Clare Leighton and the New England Industries Series. This exhibition will highlight the works that British-American artist Clare Leighton created for the Wedgwood company and explore her process as an artist.
“This is an important woman working as a printmaker who in her day was known all over the United States and Europe and now if you say Clare Leighton most people who don’t work in a museum will say, ‘Who?’” Boettcher said. “The history of art has been written mostly about white men for white men by white men.”
And Boettcher wants to help change that.
“One of our goals as a museum is to tell new stories, especially tell new stories for individuals who have been relegated to margins and footnotes,” he added. “And often the individuals who have been relegated to the margins and footnotes are women and people of color.”
The American Struggle
In late November the museum will welcome an exhibition by the iconic American modernist Jacob Lawrence.
Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle features the series of paintings Struggle . . . From the History of the American People (1954–56).
“When we were offered that exhibition, I jumped at it,” Boettcher said. “Jacob Lawrence is one of the foremost American modernists of the 20th century and in this particular series he connects American history with the Black experience.”
This will be the first time all pieces from the series will be displayed together in more than 50 years.
“I think it’s really timely for a lot of reasons,” Boettcher said. “This will open right after an election and in the time leading up to that I think a lot of us are thinking about what makes a nation and what kind of nation do we want to be.”
Boettcher believes this is the question Lawrence was exploring in the works that will be featured in the exhibition.
How the Museum Will Keep You Safe
Boettcher and the staff at the Birmingham Museum of Art have been busy putting in place new policies and procedures to keep visitors safe when they return to the museum.
The museum’s 150,000 square foot building and 30,000 square foot outdoor area (which includes the Red Mountain Garden Club Memorial Garden) mean patrons can easily explore the new exhibitions and maintain a safe distance away from other guests. Also, attendance will be capped at 50 percent capacity to help ensure social distancing.
All staff and visitors over the age of two will be required to wear a face covering. The cafe and interactive exhibits (including Bart’s ArtVenture for children) will remain closed. Signage will be posted in high-traffic areas to help patrons socially distance.
Touch-free sanitizer stations will be located throughout the building. The facilities will be thoroughly cleaned each day and high-touch areas and surfaces will be cleaned multiple times a day.
“We feel really good about the safety measures in place,” Boettcher said.
The Museum Needs You
Even while the museum was closed to the public, Boettcher and his staff continued to bring art to the community in innovative ways.
Through the museum’s website, art lovers could virtually explore the museum’s collection, listen to talks by Boettcher, watch interviews with artists, and more. There are online resources for educators. And the museum even hosted a virtual #BeyDay party on September 4 for Beyonce’s birthday.
Nonetheless, the pandemic has taken its toll on the museum.
The museum had to postpone its critical fundraiser, the Annual Museum Ball, and cancel the 2020 season of Art on the Rocks.
The museum had to lay off part-time staff early on in the pandemic. Some full-time staff were recently furloughed.
And as the City of Birmingham has had to make major budget cuts in the face of revenue shortfalls caused by COVID-19, that’s also meant less money for the museum.
“It’s a pretty significant blow that has been caused not by any person, but it’s been caused by a pandemic beyond anyone’s control,” Boettcher said.
Anyone looking to help the museum during this time can become a member, renew their membership, or simply make a donation.
“Donations in any amount at this point really will help us address our shortfalls and help us retain as many of our talented staff members as possible,” Boettcher said. “Right now, our donors are our lifeblood.”
To learn more about the Birmingham Museum of Art’s fall exhibits, become a member or make a donation, visit artsbma.org.