ARTsonville – MOCA and UNF Support One Another

by Madeleine Wagner
Even in our down economy, Jacksonville’s art scene continues to grow. Cooperation, not competition, is what keeps Artsonville afloat and thriving. In this issue we spotlight the new partnership between MOCA and UNF. We also profile local artists, galleries and museums. Whether you show, create or patronize the arts, Artsonville has a place for you.
Perhaps one of the biggest stories this year occurring in the Jacksonville arts community is the acquisition of the Museum of Contemporary Art by the University of North Florida. Rumors abound concerning reorganization and expectations: the ways in which the university will utilize the space, and how the museum itself will benefit.
A conversation with two key figures involved in the new affiliation reveals that though there have been reconfigurations to old committees, and the organization of this new partnership, the relationship is designed to be surprisingly flexible.
Dr. Debra Murphy, chair of the department of Art and Design at UNF is excited for the opportunities that the new alliance provides both professors and students. “It’s a great opportunity for both institutions to investigate the past, present and future, especially in light of the faculty, Motherwell and student shows currently installed.”
Dr. Murphy talks about the two institutions working less within a clearly predefined structure, and instead, one with more an organic/evolving bent. As in the case of professor Elizabeth Heuer’s Tribal Studies class: the students in that class will have access to the museum’s collection of artifacts of native and indigenous cultures. Though the class is tentatively designed to be an anthropological look at different cultures on the continent, access to the objects can inevitably lead to a deeper understanding of the culture that created them.
As for the actual relationship between the museum and the university, it is described thusly: “UNF now becomes the leaseholder of the museum’s 60,000-square-foot downtown facility and is responsible for most of MOCA’s 800-piece collection of paintings, prints, sculptures and photographs. The museum board remains intact and includes University representation,” according to a joint statement released to the press.
Ben Thompson, MOCA curator, goes into a little more detail saying, “MOCA is still manages and cares for the collection. Both institutions, UNF and MOCA, want to maintain the collection according to the best practices outlined by the AAM and AAMD. Officially [the museum] is a cultural resource of UNF, a DSO. A DSO is defined (in the context of UNF) as a separate, not-for-profit corporation organized and operated exclusively to assist the University to achieve excellence by providing supplemental resources from private gifts and bequests, and valuable education support services.”
So unlike the Brandeis University flap earlier this year; which had Brandeis University trustees considering the option of deaccessioning the university’s art collection and selling it off, MOCA has greater protection from such actions. “MOCA retains the responsibility of managing its permanent collection, collection accession and de-accession and continues to adhere to the industry standards set forth by the Association of American Museums,” says Deborah Broder, director of the museum. Incidentally, the artworks slated for possible sale by Brandeis are currently waiting on a ruling that decides whether or not it is legal to sell them.
Broder says of the internal structure: “The MOCA Board of Trustees was increased to include up to 40 members and to incorporate two UNF-appointed members who also serve on the museum’s Executive Committee. MOCA additionally appointed two UNF Executive Staff Members to the MOCA Board, and added several faculty members to serve on advisory committees that help guide the museum’s curatorial, exhibition and educational programs.”
Responding to the question of a possible UNF bias on the part of the museum, Thompson responds, “I have heard the concerns and want the community to know we are here to serve the greater community. MOCA and UNF’s shared goal is education. That pursuit is not exclusive to our involvement with UNF. The affiliation strengthens us and makes us more able to realize that goal. We are happy to work with other institutions and individuals who share that vision for Jacksonville.”
The most immediate (and visible) result of the new relationship is the UNF faculty show, “The Teaching Artist.” Dr. Murphy says the student show is a one-time event because of the specialness of the new relationship; yet, the faculty show raises questions about the ways in which the imprimatur of the museum can be used in personal careers. It’s a complex issue that touches on issues of UNF politics and tenure as well as curatorial independence. However, Thompson says that because of the new ways in which the museum is being used, as well as the appellation “Teaching” in the title of the show, it acts as a kind of explanation and adds flexibility to the uses of the space itself. That rather than a critical event, the show functions almost as a showcase for the personal work of professors and in so doing, gives the public a view into a community of artists that can seem isolated. “The show is worthy of a museum setting and many of the artists have work in the holdings of museums,” Thompson notes.
Another facet of the new union is a lecture series hosted by the museum, with lecturers from the UNF. These art historians and professors may be recognized as experts in their field; however, they aren’t often heard in the wider community. The opportunity for the art-loving public (and art-makers themselves) to have access to this level of discourse parallels those forums and events held in larger cities. Hopefully it will also encourage transparency at all levels of the museum/university relationship. So far, 20 lectures have been given, and though attendance varies, it is growing, averaging about 45 attendees per lecture.
Another little-known museum fact: there is an underutilized photography lab in the basement of the museum. Both Thompson and Dr. Murphy make mention of photography professor Paul Karabinis’s plans to teach an alternate processes photography class. “One of the real benefits to this relationship is the ability to use the museum as a tool…a textbook.”
Thompson goes on to mention that the museum and university are planning master classes that will be open to the community. Taught by professors and by other well-known local artists, Thompson says the classes will function in the manner of a workshop, and will bring a deeper level of practice to the wider art community. Curently six are planned, all of which are a one or two day format. “In my mind, I’ve just gained a number of staff members to my department because they function as satellite staff members curatorally…I can rely on them and their expertise.” In more practical, nuts and bolts terms, the museum is looking forward to an upgrade in the audio and visual system in the theatre and a computer lab. Additionally a museum studies class taught at UNF works in conjunction with other area institutions including the Cummer Museum, the Harn Museum and Jacksonville University.
In addition to the faculty show, MOCA hosted “Lost in Form, Found in Line,” an exhibit of Robert Motherwell’s print works, and from that show acquired “Elegy Fragment II,” “Rite of Passage,” “America-LA France Variations III” and “Seaside Studio.” The funds to purchase the works were made available from the museum’s acquisition fund. “The Jerald Melberg Gallery, NC and the Daedelus Foundation decided that the fee for the Motherwell exhibition would be to purchase works for the collection from the organizer. So unlike other exhibitions where the fee is ‘lost’ to the organizer this gained us four works for the collection,” Thompson explains further.
To start 2010, MOCA opens “Life as Legend: Marilyn Monroe.” The Monroe show is presented in conjunction with a play, “Marilyn…Forever Blonde,” that uses actual quotes to illustrate vignettes from the actress’s life, and attempts to explore her enduring appeal. Saying that Monroe’s life, death and posthumous appeal is a Goridan Knot of overlapping stories, images, and facts is an understatement, hers, perhaps more than any other 20th Century image reflects the seduction and cost of fame; the idea of reinventing oneself, and then regret. Though her image irrevocably conjures ideas of doomed glamour, Thompson says that the work in the show, though some of it biographical, is also very contemporary and counterintuitive to the Marilyn mythos. Life as a Legend opens on January 22, and continues through April 4.