If you've never been to the Philbrook Museum, you're missing out. In fact, the Philbrook was recently recognized as one of the nation's best in a three-year study undertaken by the American Alliance of Museums. So it's totally a place you should already have visited. More than once.
Never fear, though, it's not closing down or anything. On the contrary, this week sees the fantastic museum, like a chain of coffee stores, opening a second location.
Aptly called Philbrook Downtown, the new facility opens in the Brady Arts District, just south of the Guthrie Green in a converted building formerly known as the Mathews Warehouse. It's sleek inside, almost to the point of being sparse. With this satellite facility, the Philbrook hopes to position itself as something of an anchor for our ever-impressive arts community. Housing it in the Brady District can only help with that.
"Philbrook Downtown will cultivate and engage new audiences as well as enrich the cultural fabric of our community," director Rand Suffolk said. "Creating a space in this part of town lends to our mission by directly contributing to Tulsa's revitalization efforts."
In addition to this mission, Philbrook Downtown aims to pursue three distinct goals: the display of contemporary art (with a very healthy dose of Native American works), innovation in curating and displaying art, and the providing of research space and materials.
The Native American part stems from a major acquisition of the Philbrook in 2007. The museum already had an extensive and impressive collection of Native American art and artifacts, but acquiring the Adkins Collection of Native American and Southwestern Art added about 1,800 pieces to an already established collection, and it takes up most of the second floor of the new facility.
The early-20th-century warehouse was renovated through a grant from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, and holds much more than just Philbrook Downtown. In fact, the satellite is the latest group to open its doors there, as the warehouse serves as home to the Woody Guthrie Center, the Henry Zarrow Center for Arts and Education, 108 Contemporary, and rehearsal space for several of the city's performing arts groups.
One of Philbrook Downtown's inaugural exhibitions is Identity & Inspiration in 20th Century Native American Art, and it draws on the Philbrook's aforementioned Native American art collection. But it also serves the mission of innovative curation and display.
"It's not even really by school of art," said Jeff Martin, who serves as Philbrook's online communities manager. Curator Christina Burke chose, instead, to group the artwork by theme. "It's kind of a non-traditional setup, the way she decided to do it, because 99 times out of a hundred, you'd see it, like oldest to newest, or by location -- this was done in the northwest, this was done in the southwest."
The themes take into consideration the materials and techniques used, as well as forms and designs within the artwork. As a result, the exhibit is divided into four groups: Adaptation, Preservation, Innovation, and Integration. Each thematic group examines how Native American art has been involved with these themes: work in the Adaptation section examines art in which the artists have adapted to modern culture, and Preservation examines artistic efforts to preserve heritage. The entire exhibition is fascinating, not only the artwork, but especially when looking at it through the lens of these themes and seeing how the artwork fits into them.
What space on the second floor that isn't filled with art is dedicated to the Eugene B. Adkins Study Center and combines artwork from Philbrook collections, from other collections, and from Adkins' own personal archives. In addition to fostering study of and research into Native American artwork, the Center aims to place the Philbrook organization at the forefront of discussion about Native American art and culture.
The ground floor houses another inaugural exhibit, Opening Abstraction, dedicated to abstract art from this and last century and, like Identity & Inspiration, is divided into categories -- The Organic, The Psyche, and The Built Environment. This exhibit, like Identity & Inspiration, will be on display through next summer. There are two smaller first-floor galleries that will bring many more shows into the museum, as well.
"We have two changing gallery spaces, and those will change every three months or so," Martin said.
The public opening of Philbrook Downtown, located at 116 E. Brady St., is Friday night. While the regular museum admission is $9 for adults (with same-day privileges at both Philbrook locations), this opening weekend will be free of charge for all visitors to the new space.
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