IO Krannert Art Museum

The 'Art Since 1948' installation at Krannert Art Museum features art by Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, Arthur Osver, Andy Tsinnajinnie, and Ezio Martinelli. The exhibition was designed by Julia Di Castri and curated by Amy L. Powell.

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Krannert Art Museum has a great reputation all across the country for its amazing art collection. We’re particularly unique, though, for our modern art collection containing major works by Frank Stella, Mark Rothko, Leon Golub, Stuart Davis, Robert Indiana, Hedda Sterne — the list goes on and on.

Many News-Gazette readers may recall how this came to be. In 1948, the University of Illinois started a program called the Festival of the Arts.

It was a celebration of contemporary visual and performing arts, including a huge exhibition of contemporary painting and, later, sculpture.

For 26 years, the university collected art from the show, and midway through its run (in 1961), Krannert Art Museum opened its doors.

The Festival of the Arts and the university’s strong tradition of collecting had created an amazing 20th-century art collection.

To my surprise, when I arrived here in Champaign, I discovered that these great mid-century paintings weren’t regularly on view, and there hadn’t been a permanent display for over a decade. That will all change this month with the new exhibition, Art Since 1948.

KAM curator Amy L. Powell is giving an imaginative new look at the modern and contemporary collection, partnering with an up-and-coming architect, Julia Di Castri, who has created a striking design for the Rosann Gelvin Noel Gallery — one of the museum’s showcase spaces.

Our big challenge as we planned to put this collection on display was that there was so much terrific art to show to the public. It’s a great problem to have.

Di Castri’s elegant solution was to design two interlocking L-shaped walls, creating large, yet intimate, spaces for thematic displays.

Placed on a diagonal, the walls create interesting sightlines, with new views from every angle, creating exciting new relationships among the works of art hanging on the walls.

The museum has continued to collect contemporary art, and we’ve been thinking about how our art collection can expand the story we’re telling for all our visitors.

Most of the artists collected early on were white and male, and so in recent years, we’ve been expanding the range of voices in the collection to tell a more comprehensive and more complex narrative about the art of our time.

Some of my favorites in this new exhibition are a recently acquired painting by Louise Fishman highlighted in The News-Gazette in January, called “Blonde Ambition.” It’s over 7 feet tall — a powerful, abstract painting that shows how vital abstraction remains today. And a beautiful watercolor by the Diné (Navajo) artist Andy Tsinnajinnie, “Leaving the Hogan,” that brings Native American voices into the larger story of contemporary art.

Everyone is invited for a first look at “Art Since 1948” on Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m.

We’ll host KAM Fest Opening Night with music by DJ Silkee, free food from Maize Mexican Grill, screen printing and giveaways.

Admission is always free, so we hope you’ll bring a friend and celebrate with us at KAM.

Jon L. Seydl is the director at Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois.