by Gene Marrano
Executive Director David Mickenberg, on the job for almost a year and a half now, vowed at a Town Hall meeting last November that he would make the Taubman Museum of Art a livelier place – more of an arts center than a museum. There was evidence of that last Thursday night, when hundreds gathered to listen to several artists talk about works in the galleries, hallways and spacious atrium at the Taubman.
Installation artist Charlie Brouwer came to discuss “Rise Up Roanoke,” in which he fashioned 286 donated or borrowed ladders into the shape of the Roanoke Star. The piece, on display for the next month, takes up most of the atrium as visitors walk in to the Salem Avenue museum. It also starts to fulfill a Mickenberg promise: more art on the ground floor (and in the hallway upstairs), drawing people immediately in to the art experience.
Mickenberg called Rise Up Roanoke “something extraordinary … a remarkable transformation of museum space. [It’s] the end result of a lot of creativity.” Look for more rotating exhibits and more art in the hallway. “There are amazing transformations in this building,” promised Mickenberg, who spent much of his first year at the Taubman working on the museum’s fiscal crisis.
Brouwer said he seeks to aim for the middle, “not for the edges,” when he assembles installation pieces, wanting his art to be accessible to the masses. “My work is [also] highly conceptual … but I don’t think it’s devoid of ideas either.” The retired Radford University professor said he was “fascinated by people doing ordinary things.” What’s more ordinary than owning a stepladder, he asked.
“A lot of the [Roanoke] community is represented here,” noted Brouwer, as he spoke from the sweeping steps that lead to the Taubman’s second floor galleries. He also thanked Mickenberg for “moving the museum in a new direction.”
Elsewhere, adjunct curators and volunteers described new works appearing in some of the galleries and in the upstairs hallway. The brightly colored drawings of Hollis Sigler, many created when the late artist was suffering from breast cancer, reflect loneliness and a sense of fatality; most were depicted without people.
The new adjunct curator of southeast American art, Ray Kass, welcomed visitors to the contemporary gallery. “I’m very happy to be part of the Taubman,” said Kass, who has been looking for museum-worthy art from across the region. “People have been amazingly cooperative,” he noted, “we’ve already attracted a lot of gifts.” Several artists that had made those contributions were on hand.
The adjunct curator of folk art, Brian Sieveking, explained the significance of several pieces now hanging in the upstairs hallway. “A lot of things are going to start appearing up and down this hallway,” said Sieveking. Folk art has lately become more relevant to many he added, after many artists of that ilk felt “estranged” in the 1970’s.
Two of the folk artists on display at the Taubman now have pieces at major museums elsewhere (the Met in New York, the High Museum in Atlanta.) “Folk art is very much an official part of the art world [now],” proclaimed Sieveking, hired by Mickenberg as one of the Taubman’s adjunct curators for special projects.
Displays elsewhere in the hallway include local artists that were asked to draw their own maps of Roanoke, which often turned out humorous or politically tinged.
Textile artist Ann Reardon introduced people to the quilt art now on display in the first gallery at the top of the stairs. “I think they are viewed like any type of art,” said Reardon. “We’ve had kind of a struggle to get in to museums,” she admitted during her talk, “[but] you all be the judge of what is art.”
The Taubman welcomed another big crowd after the St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, when youngsters took part in a scavenger hunt, looking for answers in pieces of art. The free admission family day meant the hallways and galleries were busy again; the Wright Kids of “America’s Got Talent,” fame supplied music in the auditorium.