Downtown Decade: The GRAM celebrates 10 years in the heart of the city

A pair of 15th century engravings by Martin Schongauer, a 17th century etching on paper by Rembrandt, and Adonna Khare’s ArtPrize 2012 winner Elephant Whirlpool exemplify the diversity of recent gifts, promised gifts and art purchases at Grand Rapids Art Museum.

The special exhibition, A Decade at the Center: Recent Gifts and Acquisitions, runs Jan. 26-April 28 and celebrates the museum’s first decade at 101 Monroe Center.

GRAM plans to debut several pieces from a major recent gift of 100-plus design objects, gifted by a prominent national collector of industrial design. The collection is a boon for the museum’s design holdings and helps tell the story of West Michigan’s design and manufacturing history.

“I think people are interested to see how museums are building and shaping the things they own that are central to the institution,” said Chief Curator Ron Platt. “This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate this aspect of this institution at the 10-year point here in the center of the city.”

Featuring more than 100 works of art and design, nearly half of the exhibit’s works have never been shown before. The rest are works acquired in the last five years, encompassing a wide range of materials and mediums.

“We wanted the exhibition to reflect the diversity and the scope of our collection and so the show is going to feature works of art and design from the 15th century to the present,” Platt said.

“We also were really grateful to receive some gifts and promise gifts in recognition of this anniversary.”

For example, Sid and Cate Jansma, founders of GRAM’s extensive Jansma Print Collection, promised the two 15th century religious engravings by Martin Schongauer. They are among the oldest works on display.

A print by American artist Kara Walker in her recognizable silhouette-style — a promised gift from Martin and Enid Packard — represents new contemporary works.

Viewers can see a sampling of the museum’s unique holdings and collection interests, from 19th century paintings to modern furniture, vintage photographs, rare Renaissance-era engravings and contemporary art.

The exhibit also recognizes the integral role of gifts and support of notable West Michigan residents, institutions and foundations in GRAM’s evolution and expansion. The museum continues to build “one of the most notable collections in the American Midwest,” an effort that dates back to the museum’s founding in 1910.

The generous support of patrons and donors has enabled GRAM to build its permanent collection of more than 6,000 objects.

“There’s definitely going to be some big surprises in the mix that we are really excited to be sharing with people,” Platt said. “The exhibition represents gifts from people who have been generous with the museum for years and others who are making donations for the first time.”

Artists represented include Monir Farmanfarmaian, Janet Fish, Alfred Stieglitz and James Van Der Zee, among many others. Local artists also have wall space, showcasing the work of well-known Grand Rapids artists Reynold Weidenaar, Mathias Alten, Margaret Vega, Jerry Gretzinger, Rick Beerhorst, Stephen Frykholm, Salvador Jiménez-Flores and Donald Kerr.

“GRAM continues to purchase works of art for the collection and will be debuting a selection of new purchases, including two photographs by one of today’s most important and influential photographers, Dawoud Bey,” said Jennifer Wcisel, curatorial assistant.

GRAM plans to offer various educational programs and gallery tours, including an exhibition talk with Director and CEO Dana Friis-Hansen and Platt on the crucial role of donors and their gifts to growing a museum collection and insights on organizing the exhibition. A few of the local artists included are giving gallery talks as well.

The exhibit also pays tribute to the museum’s commitment to design and craft with the inclusion of important works of furniture, ceramics, glass and other design objects.

Patrons can peruse furniture pieces from Herman Miller and renowned designers George Nelson and Charles and Ray Eames.

“There will be some works shown in a chronology; there will be some pairings and juxtapositions to show how we talk about and think about art here,” Platt said. “There will be many teachable moments in the exhibition and lots of surprising and interesting connections people will be able to make.”

A Decade at the Center: Recent Gifts and Acquisitions
Grand Rapids Art Museum
101 Monroe Center St. NW, Grand Rapids
Jan. 26-April 28, (616) 831-1000