With nearly the entire University of Oregon campus shut down due to COVID-19, certain parts of the university are still functioning — albeit in a unique fashion. The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is one of those still-functioning entities.
Debbie Smith, the museum’s communication manager, said that the museum has been keeping active during these last few months. “Staff have been hard at work throughout this period,” she said. “We have used this time to launch a rich variety of new digital programs to support academic needs and visitor engagement.”
JSMA has continued supporting both the academics on campus and its Masterworks on Loan Program. The MOL program — which provides a tax break for some loaners — encourages collectors to temporarily put pieces of art that may not otherwise be seen up for public display. “We have been working to present this program digitally to our audiences,” Smith said. For example, a class of 100 students engaged with about 70 artworks funded by MOL remotely over spring term.
The art conservators on site have also been busy. “The museum is eagerly awaiting the January 2021 return of a 14th-century Japanese handscroll fragment,” Smith said. “[The fragment] is currently being conserved in a traditional scroll-mounting studio through a grant from the Sumitomo Foundation.”
Smith said the collections team worked through summer archiving, scanning documents, deinstalling exhibitions and returning artworks from shows like Carrie Mae Weems: The Usual Suspects. The Usual Suspects is a mixed-medium installation from the Portland artist that highlights representations that “associate Black bodies with criminality and the resultant killings of black men, women, and children without consequence,” according to the JMSA’s overview video.
Another exhibit is Roger Shimomura: By Looking Back, We Look Forward. This one is a collection of artworks by the Seattle-born artist who is known for mixing traditional Japanese visual elements with the pop art styles made popular by Roy Lichtenstein during the 1960s.
“Now the staff is busy preparing for our fall reopening,” Smith said. The JSMA’s current plan is to reopen as the academic term starts in early October but may change based on university and state-wide directives.
When the museum does open, though, it will have structural repairs as well as new exhibits. The museum has made changes “from roof upgrades to work in collections storage and the galleries, and the museum staff have used this time to move many long-planned projects forward,” Smith stated.
Permitting a reopening of the museum, the new exhibit Nuestra imagen actual | Our Present Image: Mexico and the Graphic Arts 1925-1956 will be on display this fall. Co-organized with the Portland Art Museum, the exhibit “aims to deepen and broaden the understanding and appreciation of the graphic art of post-revolutionary Mexico,” Smith noted.
Furthermore, the museum extended the opening of Every Word Was Once an Animal to November 29, 2020. UO Professor of Art Carla Bengtson led this collaborative project that incorporates audio, visual and aromatic elements. The goal of the exhibit is to “shed light on the material basis of all language,” according to the JSMA’s overview. Additionally, there will be new shows featuring Korean ceramics and Japanese prints of the Utagawa School.
For anyone interested in the museum, Smith recommends checking out the JSMA’s website for updates on reopening and new exhibitions.