The Norman Transcript
By Doug Hill
HUNG LUI, White Rice Bowl, 2022
Oil on Canvas, 60” x 96”
In 1972, a dozen members of the University Women’s Association founded a new group with a specific mission of benefiting the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
This undertaking planted the seeds for a Museum Association membership community that would provide the money to purchase more art, expand programming and broaden the scope of collections.
In recognition of this endeavor, which has grown over the decades, The Fred is honoring Museum Association members past and present with an exhibition up now through April 9 titled “A Collective Story … Fifty Years of Gifts from the Museum Association.”
The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, 555 Elm Ave., is open to the public with no admission from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. The museum is closed on university holidays.
“During the past 50 years, the association has given a total of 167 works by 62 artists to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art,” the museum’s Wylodean and Bill Saxon Director Thomas Smith said. “It’s truly a remarkable and diverse collection of work ranging from early photographs to contemporary art.
“The museum and the university is fortunate to have such a dedicated membership group devoted to transforming lives through experiences with art.”
The Collective Story exhibition is a mixture of expected and unexpected art. Regular museum goers will recognize these works because they’ve been on display, but for some of the art, it’s been many years.
Some, such as the Albrecht Durer woodcut circa 1511 titled “The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple,” are fine art, with several being age-old specimens.
More eye-opening is a sexy, gelatin silver print photograph from James Van Der Zee’s “New York, 1930” series.
It’s of an attractive young woman wearing a dress seated with her legs over the arm of a chair. She has a lit cigarette in one hand and is gazing adoringly at a lover’s framed picture on a stand.
A startling 1997 lithograph is Luis Jiminez’ “Mustang,” which follows the deceased artist’s familiar theme of nightmarish equines. The Fred also has a fiberglass sculpture by the artist sharing similar disturbing traits.
It’s notable that Jiminez was killed in a studio accident when an enormous section of a blue Mustang sculpture intended for installation at the Denver airport fell, severing an artery in his leg.
Viewing The Fred’s lithograph provokes a sense of foreboding.
Significant art museums, such as The Fred, often receive high sales priority and deep discounts from dealers.
A recent association acquisition of a series of 40 photos titled “Nuclear Enchantment” by American photographer Patrick Nagatani (1945-2017) is an example.
OU got a steal. A call from an independent collector (me) to the dealer holding most of the artist’s estate collection found individual prints priced at 10 times what the association paid.
On display in Collective Story is Nagatani’s “Lysistratus,” with its shapely, bare female bottoms in an unlikely National Atomic Museum setting.
Those aren’t the only naked butts in this show.
“PBY blister gunner” is a 1944 pigment print by Horace Bristol depicting a WWII action scene. It’s a U.S. airman standing in an amphibious aircraft cockpit with a radio headset on but not a stich of clothing. His athletic derriere has more exposure than the profile of his face.
An explanation for the famous photo was found at the Brooklyn Museum website. The airman had stripped down to dive into Rabaul Harbor to save a fellow serviceman shot down by Japanese forces who was floundering blindly in the drink.
The star of the exhibition is Hung Liu’s (1948-2021) oversized oil on canvas painting “Tenderfoot.”
Liu was a distinguished visiting artist at OU in 2008. It’s a fitting tribute that the female Chinese immigrant to the U.S., who became a famous artist in her lifetime, should be such a remarkable part of this collection.
The “Tenderfoot” picture is surreal. It’s dominated by an enormous duck on the left side of the canvas, next to a pair of Chinese boys wearing Boy Scout neckerchiefs. The lads are each holding up live young pigs by their front legs for display.
It’s an inexplicable image that the museum label struggles to explain in graduate school terminology.
Another distinguished visiting artist represented in the exhibition is Mildred Howard, who was at OU in 2019. The Black lady is a treasure of the San Francisco art scene.
Her 2018 Jacquard tapestry, titled “Casanova: Style, Swagger and the Embracement of Other,” is a big, lush, tongues-entwined kiss of an image.
The museum label says it’s a comment on interracial desire, which sounds about right.
It should be understood that Museum Association members don’t get a vote on what art purchases are made with the dues they pay or other money donated.
Museum leadership makes those decisions, and they’ve accomplished some excellent acquisitions over the years, as illustrated by Collective Story. Anyone is welcome to become a member of the association.
Paid-up dues come with the benefit of North American Reciprocal Museum Program inclusion, which gets one free or discounted admission into over 400 museums and 1,000 institutions on this continent.