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Cover Story - Posted August 25, 2017 10:24 a.m.
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Photos courtesy of Amarillo Museum of Art

Amarillo Museum of Art

At Amarillo Museum of Art, curator Alex Gregory knows the precise place his museum occupies in the local arts-and-culture scene. “We are the only visual arts museum that’s strictly devoted entirely to the visual arts,” he says. While Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum boasts an extensive art collection among its many treasures, AMoA remains the only dedicated visual art museum in the entire Panhandle.

The weight of that responsibility informs every aspect of Gregory’s work.

“We rely a lot on our community returning to the museum to see something new,” he says. “A lot of museums have a permanent collections space where nothing changes. I don’t think that is the direction we can go because we expect return visitation from our members and the community.”

Regardless, the permanent collection of the museum, which opened in 1972, is filled with surprises. It features four watercolors by Georgia O’Keeffe related to her time in Amarillo and the Panhandle. It holds several paintings by American modernist John Marin. Other works include a large construction from Louise Nevelson and photos from Dorothea Lange. For some visitors, among the most unexpected holdings are the Middle East textiles, Japanese wood block prints, and ancient Buddhist and Hindu sculptures displayed in the museum’s Price Gallery of Asian Art.

That variety is purposeful on the part of Gregory and the museum. “I believe keeping the exhibitions diverse and bringing diverse materials – in terms of showing photography, drawings, paintings, sculpture, and all that – is important,” he says.

The museum’s commitment to visual diversity is on display right now as part of its “AMoA Biennial 600” exhibit, which this year is devoted to architecture. Containing works selected by show juror Rand Elliot, a celebrated Oklahoma City architect, the unique exhibit began this past summer and will remain open through Oct. 1.

Gregory says architecture is one of the most interesting areas of focus in the history of the Biennial exhibit. “An exhibition on architecture is kind of difficult because how are you going to represent that? You can’t build the actual building,” he explains. Instead, the show relies upon photography, renderings, and philosophical statements and writing from the featured architects. “It’s really an exhibition of ideas. When [people] come visit, I hope that they take time to read what the artists and architects were thinking about, based on the images.” By themselves, the images alone don’t necessarily reflect the full idea or overall architectural approach.

He admits the focus on architecture brings with it an immediate challenge: Not all patrons will immediately equate architecture with more conventional forms of art. But aesthetics are just as important to building design as they are to painting, sculpture or photography. “Architecture is functional, but at the same time, you’re setting this object out in the landscape. That becomes an art object on the land,” Gregory says. “Architects think a lot about that and the object – the context of its place and its time and what its function is.” These are all ideas and challenges that traditional artists face as well.

“Certainly for the better architects, you’re thinking about aesthetics and creativity,” says Gregory. “Great architectural buildings are [art] objects in themselves.”

Following the Biennial exhibition is another themed show. AMoA and Panhandle PBS are both associated with Amarillo College. This month, PBS premieres “The Vietnam War”, a 10-part, 18-hour documentary series by filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The museum is collaborating with the long-awaited PBS film by offering its own perspective on Vietnam and the war. “What I wanted to do was showcase another aspect of Vietnam,” Gregory says. He hoped to avoid a more predictable approach, like showing art from the period or war documentary photographs.

Instead, he turned his attention to the work of two contemporary Vietnamese artists working in the area. Anh-Thuy Nguyen, a multimedia artist, and Du Chau, who primarily works in porcelain, both are based in Dallas but were born in Vietnam. While Chau arrived as a refugee in the early 1980s, Nguyen came to the United States later for educational reasons. “They offer two different perspectives on that experience, and what it means to be Vietnamese and American following the war,” says Gregory.

Also part of the Vietnam exhibit are the photographs of Lawrence D’Attilio, a fine art photographer who once studied with Ansel Adams. A frequent visitor to Vietnam – particularly the northern part of the country – his works document how quickly the developing economy has brought changes to its cultural heritage. “These are beautiful images of where Vietnam is currently, amidst this change and culture and economy,” says Gregory.

Larry Collins is another artist featured in the Vietnam show. “He was a combat artist and soldier in Vietnam,” Gregory explains. Collins made a number of illustrations and took photographs during the war, then continued as an artist upon returning to civilian life. “We’re going to show some of the paintings he did based on his experiences in Vietnam, getting the soldier’s side of the story, in a sense. The Vietnam experience certainly impacted him.”

These unique perspectives on Vietnam and the war will be on display at Amarillo Museum of Art from Oct. 20 through the end of the year.

Discover more about Amarillo Museum of Art, its collections and upcoming exhibitions, at amarilloart.org.

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by Jason Boyett

Jason has written more than a dozen books and is the host and creator of “Hey Amarillo”, a local interview podcast. Visit heyamarillo.com and jasonboyett.com.
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