CHAMPAIGN — The first of several Krannert Art Museum galleries to be updated, the African Art Gallery will reopen Thursday evening with the new exhibition "Encounters: The Arts of Africa."
Also opening then will be the exhibition "Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography," showcasing the work of 36 artists who focus on contradictions between the controlled public image of China and personal gestures influenced by Western culture.
In renovating the African Art Gallery, the museum worked with the New York-based architectural firm of Rice + Lipka to update the flooring, display cases and lighting.
The reinstalled gallery will feature 67 works ranging from the ancient to contemporary, most from the museum's collection.
The exhibition includes four new acquisitions of contemporary art, as well as pieces on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, the art museums of the universities of Iowa and Wyoming, and the Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois.
Allyson Purpura, Krannert's curator of African art, said the exhibition emphasizes the fact that Africans continue to make tradition-based art that is relevant to contemporary life, though many traditions have changed.
"What's important to me for the gallery is that people get that sense of relevance and dynamism of African creativity," she said. "By introducing contemporary studio-based artists in the re-installation we want to share with the public that contemporary African artists have been participating in the global art scene for decades."
Also new for the African gallery — and museum visitors — will be five iPads, each mounted in a different section of the gallery. Each will have a menu of videos, most less than four minutes long, of an interview with an artist, a narrative vignette or footage of African masked dancers.
The videos, created with images and film footage shared with the museum by Purpura's Africanist colleagues, are meant to help visitors explore more deeply the connections among the pieces and place them in social context, she said.
"We tried to use technology in ways that enhance the art, rather than compete with it," she told the UI News Bureau.
The exhibition will be permanent, but Purpura will switch pieces in and out to keep it fresh for museum visitors.
"It's permanent in the sense that it's a gallery space dedicated to Krannert's African collection," she said.
The curator also is preparing an exhibition on the work of contemporary South African artist Moshekwa Langa that will open at Krannert Art Museum in January 2013.
Purpura received her doctorate in cultural anthropology from the City University of New York Graduate School and a certificate in museum studies from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
If you go
What: Public reception for the openings of new exhibitions "Encounters: The Arts of Africa" and "Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography," with opening comments at 6 p.m. by Allyson Purpura, curator of African art, followed by live African dance music by Les Vainqueurs with band leader Lebon Mikandu (cash bar by Michael's Catering)
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, with museum remaining open until 9
Where: Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, C
Admission: Free; suggested donation of $3
Reception sponsor: Krannert Art Museum Council