The grand opening of the new University Arts Building has been highly anticipated since construction began in the summer of 2017. On Friday, Feb. 22, community members at the University of Nevada, Reno, will finally have a chance to explore the campus’ new music and visual arts facility for the first time. Until then, people can have a brief preview of the building by touring its inventive, esthetic museum, called the John & Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art.
Located across a bridge that connects the new building to the Church Fine Arts, the museum has two levels and contains 5,500 works from a variety of time periods, dating as far back as 5,000 years to as recently as last year. The museum also features a list of amenities like UV-reduced and UV-free lighting, humidification and temperature changes, a state-of-the-art security system and an advanced sound and electric system. Although it’s not meant to be a student-display museum, students often contribute to the work that goes up and are more than welcome to explore the space or just hang out there.
The museum is currently displaying a temporary exhibition on its bottom floor called “Terma, Images from the Ear or Groin or Somewhere”, by Toronto artist Sameer Farooq and UNR faculty poet Jared Stanley, curated by Stephanie Gibson. According to the museum’s chief curator and director Paul Baker Prindle, the exhibition considers behind-the-scenes aspects of museums that museum-goers don’t always see. It aims to reflect the role museums play in providing knowledge and information by presenting minimal, satirical wall labels that are not meant to be taken seriously.
Not only that, but the artist behind this exhibition, Farooq, is a queer, Buddhist, Muslim man from Canada, and reflects the museum’s insistence on displaying works that are not just by a small demographic of artists.
“Museums, for a long time in the U.S., have emphasized the work of white men, of Europeans,” said Baker Prindle, “and in so doing have co-valently promoted the notion that it’s really just white people that make important art. And [art by] women, people of color, gay people isn’t important, or it’s craft, or it doesn’t belong in art museums. We really want to emphasize that.”
Baker Prindle also discussed the difficult process that went into making the displays for Farooq’s art. The complex glass and concrete slab structures took about three to four months of research and development to make work, and were created with the help of local fabricators, staff members and several students.
On the top floor of the museum, a permanent exhibition called “To Have and To Hold” features the extensive array of artworks the museum has collected. According to Baker Prindle, the title of the gallery was taken from marriage vows.
“I chose [the title] as the curator because I wanted to emphasize the domestic origins of a lot of this work,” he said, “but also emphasize the commitment […] When you bring an artwork into a collection, you’re making a commitment to keep it forever.”
Art included in this exhibition is not organized by time, artist or region, like typical museums. Instead, it’s organized
into rooms based on human life experiences. As a result, visitors who aren’t aware of this before going in might be surprised and confused to find a photo from 2017 hanging next to a Shoshone cradleboard, among other things.
Each life experience has its own room or section, of which there are seven: Time, Courtship, Family, Community, Ritual, Politics and The Ever After. These are human experiences shared among people of all cultures, allowing us to realize how similar humans across the globe are. Additionally, the top floor also has a visual storage section, which is essentially a wall of windows that allow visitors to see into preservation room where art not being exhibited is stored.
Like the exhibition on the bottom floor, “To Have and To Hold” does not feature wall labels that describe the artworks. Instead, the descriptions and labels are curated into a booklet. Baker Prindle explained that this decision was meant to give visitors more power in deciphering art for themselves.
“One of the things I’m hoping to do is get people to look first and ask questions later,” he said. “Because we often rely on labels to tell us what to think, rather than think for ourselves.”
The art museum is open for touring Tuesdays and Wednesdays between noon and 4 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays between noon and 8 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For viewings outside these hours, contact @thelilleymuseum on Instagram or Baker Prindle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carla Suggs can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @carla_suggs.