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Four Months and Counting: UMFA Readies for Reopening

Posted By Salt Lake County ZAP
April 25, 2017

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the queens of persia

The Queens of Persia at the Feet of Alexander the Great (The Tent of Darius), a seventeenth-century silk and wool French tapestry styled after a Charles LeBrun painting, will be new on view in the European galleries when the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) reopens August 26.

The usually picture-perfect galleries of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) look more like artists’ studios these days, with preparations in full swing for the Museum’s late August reopening.

On a recent morning, metal carts and gurneys sat piled with tools and gallon paint cans as the Museum’s preparator readied empty cases for new objects in the Pacific art exhibition. Nearby in the modern and contemporary gallery, collections staffers carefully mounted three Seer Bonnets by Angela Ellsworth, an artist with Salt Lake City ties. Downstairs in collections storage, a guest conservator assessed, cleaned and treated paintings, including Utah artist Alfred Lambourne's A Nook of the Desert (1875–1876), a new acquisition for the American and regional galleries.

umfa conservator robyn haynie assesses seer bonnet

UMFA conservator Robyn Haynie assesses Seer Bonnet (2010) by Angela Ellsworth before installing it in the Museum’s modern and contemporary gallery. The object, one of three such bonnets that will be on view, is made of 17,214 pearl corsage pins, fabric, and steel.

guest conservator

A guest conservator assesses a painting from the Museum’s collection to help staff develop a treatment plan.

The UMFA has been closed since mid-January 2016 for replacement of the building’s vapor barrier, essential for efficiently maintaining appropriate humidity levels. With that work successfully completed, staff are busy with the most comprehensive reinstallation of the permanent exhibitions since the Marcia and John Price Museum Building opened in 2001.

What will you see when UMFA galleries reopen the last weekend of August? Nearly half the artworks will be new on view, including not only recent contemporary and western art acquisitions but also a giant 17th-century French tapestry, works from the Museum’s African collection, Chinese ceramics and more. Most galleries will be reorganized along fresh storylines—thanks to months of curatorial research and re-envisioning—to give you new, more engaging ways to experience and interpret the objects.

The Pacific Island permanent exhibition, for instance, has been reconsidered under the guidance of a former curator from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who is also curating the Museum’s new gallery of African art. The modern and contemporary gallery will have a larger footprint and initially feature women artists from the collection exclusively. The American and regional galleries, reorganized around the theme of westward expansion, have been relocated from upstairs to a prominent first-floor gallery, so that visitors will see western art soon after they enter the building.

curator whitney tassie (foreground) and collections staff install british artist

UMFA curator Whitney Tassie (foreground) and collections staff install British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Periphery (2013) in the modern and contemporary gallery. 

robyn haynie and guest curator virginia-lee web

Conservator Robyn Haynie and guest curator Virginia-Lee Web evaluate objects for the Museum’s new African gallery.

Meanwhile, curators and educators are collaboratively rewriting every wall and label text in the permanent galleries, seeking to expose viewers to the most current art historical research while encouraging them to explore their own interpretations of these works.

Aside from the reimagined permanent exhibitions, two new temporary shows will also be on view. HERE, HERE by Las Hermanas Iglesias will debut in UMFA’s new ACME Lab, a flexible space for creative exploration and exhibitions housed in the Museum’s Emma Eccles Jones Education Center. Contemporary artist Spencer Finch’s site-specific installation in the Great Hall will also premiere.

So mark your calendar for the UMFA’s public reopening celebration, featuring talks, tours, films, a dance party and more on Saturday, August 26, and Sunday, August 27. (Donors, VIPs and members will enjoy a sneak preview Friday, August 25.)

In the meantime, join us for an artist talk, film, ACME Session, Third Saturday for Families, or other exciting program this summer. Visit, sign up for our e-newsletter, or follow us on Facebook or Instagram to keep up with the latest.

See you soon!

-Mindy Wilson

Mindy Wilson is the UMFA’s marketing and communications director.