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NOMA at 100

Will Coviello on what the New Orleans Museum of Art has planned for its centennial


Painter Odili Donald Odita just completed a commissioned mural marking the centennial of the New Orleans Museum of Art. - PHOTO BY ROMAN ALOKHIN
  • Photo by Roman Alokhin
  • Painter Odili Donald Odita just completed a commissioned mural marking the centennial of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Although the New Orleans Museum of Art isn't celebrating its official birthday until Dec. 16, it is opening a show of its gifts a little early.

"It's an important way to celebrate the museum's history, its legacy and the legacy of our donors," director Susan Taylor says. "A milestone characterizes an institution."

  NOMA began commemorating its centennial year last November with the show Great Collectors, Great Donors: The Making of the New Orleans Museum of Art, 1910-2010. This new exhibition, NOMA 100: Gifts for the Second Century, features more than 100 works solicited as donations to its permanent collection, and the December celebration will mark the actual anniversary with an array of special events.

  Plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary began in 2006, when then-director (current director emeritus) John Bullard started working with Anne Milling and the museum's board of trustees to solicit gifts for the permanent collection. They sought works in a variety of media to add to all of the museum's collections. The museum recently announced a total of 110 gifts, with many featuring multiple pieces for a total of nearly 500 works. Joshua Mann Pailet, the proprietor of A Gallery for Fine Photography, donated 30 portraits of jazz musicians by photographer Herman Leonard. Judy Chicago, a friend of Bullard, donated a master set of her prints, a collection including 106 prints plus related drawings.

  "This exhibit will give people an idea of just how broad our collections are," Bullard says.

  Some of the highlights include works by Jasper Johns, Albrecht Durer, Andy Warhol, Dale Chihuly, Robert Polidori, Matthew Barney, Kathe Kollwitz, Gabrielle Munter, Do-Ho Suh and others. Six of the gifts are sculptures that will be placed in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

  When the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art opened in 1911, it had only nine pieces of art. The institution has grown in a variety of ways (changing its name to the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1971), and is the third oldest museum in the South. Delgado provided funds for construction of the original building, there were major expansions in the early 1970s and '90s, and the sculpture garden opened in 2003. Collections now comprise more than 35,000 pieces.

  "We have top national collections of Japanese art, African art, outsider art, photography and decorative arts," Taylor says.

  The museum also hosted major traveling exhibitions, including the landmark 1977 Treasures of King Tutankhamun, which attracted 900,000 visitors. Other major shows featured works by Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Peter Carl Faberge and others.

  There also are increasing shows and visits by contemporary artists at a time when the city is gaining a reputation for contemporary art made or displayed here.

  "We're firmly planted in the 21st century," Taylor says. "We're in a very vital energized community. Artists are truly enthusiastic about coming here."

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