LSU Museum of Art, Connecting Visitors to Baton Rouge

by Karen LeBlanc

In my world travels as The Design Tourist, I’ve visited many museums, some with marque names and international fame, others with local or regional collections.  Museums that leave a lasting impression are not defined by size nor the prestige of their collections but rather how intimately they connect with and convey the local culture. A visit to the Louisiana Museum of Art is must-see for visitors wanting to connect with the creative soul of the city and state for its expertly curated mix of visual arts and crafts that convey Louisiana’s heritage and culture.

The LSU Museum of Art in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I first fell in love with the museum when it hosted an exhibit of artist Hunt Slonem’s iconic and collectible bunny paintings. The 2016 exhibit “Hunt Slonem: Antebellum Pop!” explored the New York- and Louisiana-based painter’s strong ties to Louisiana art and culture. I was instantly smitten with the museum’s curatorial eye— open-minded, and all-encompassing.

The LSU Museum of Art 2016 exhibit “Hunt Slonem: Antebellum Pop!” put the museum on my radar. When I vist my hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I always make time to check out the museum’s latest exhibits and interesting curatorial eye.

The LSU Museum of Art’s collection is eclectic and inclusive— a mix of known names such as pop artist Roy Lichtenstein and folk artist Clementine Hunter mixed with works by Louisiana artists and instructors at the Louisiana State University Art School. 

Roy Lichtenstein 1923-1997 Untitled Plate 1969

Baton Rouge is home to Louisiana’s flagship university, Louisiana State University, where a prolific art school established in 1935, continues to produce renowned artists, ceramicists, painters, and sculptors. The LSU Art School is part of the College of Art + Design, which includes programs in art, art history, architecture, graphic design, interior design, and landscape architecture.

The Contemporary Gallery at the LSU Museum of Art in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The LSU Museum of Art is both a repository and custodian of the art school’s legacy. The museum also exhibits fine furniture, silver, and commissioned portraiture from Louisiana’s early history and a thought-provoking contemporary art collection. I met up with Grant Benoit, the museum’s educator, to tour the latest exhibits showcasing ceramics. “We are a small museum with an amazing permanent collection such as our New Orleans Silver. We also put on ambitious curatorial projects for a museum of our size. As a University museum, we try to expand visitors’ perspectives and experiences outside of the city and surrounding areas,” Grant explains.

Form & Fire: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection at the LSU Museum of Art

The exhibit, Form & Fire: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection  features more than 100 American studio ceramic works by 69 artists, including important figures in ceramics history.

Ceramic jars on view during the exhibit Form & Fire: American Studio Ceramics at the LSU Museum of Art

The museum says the ceramics are on long-term loan and promised as a gift by bequest to the LSU Museum of Art from E. John Bullard. 

The Boneyard: The Ceramics Teaching Collection at the LSU Museum of Art

The Boneyard: The Ceramics Teaching Collection highlights LSU School of Art’s teaching collection with 200 bisque works from the classroom experience. LSU’s ceramics program ranks in top-ten nationwide and the museum’s ceramics exhibits will serve to help educate students. 

The Boneyard ceramics library on display at the LSU Museum of Art.

“The name, Boneyard, refers to a collection of unglazed ceramics that serve as a library of ceramic forms for teaching. Unglazed ceramics are called bisque or bisqueware which is a  prototype of wet clay that has been fired but unfinished and porous.

Bisque works are on display in The Boneyard Exhibit at the LSU Museum of Art

More than 200 bisque works are on display to imitate the classroom use of the boneyards,” Grant explains. “While LSU is renovating the studio arts building on campus, the museum is housing its ceramics works in The Boneyard. We invite visiting ceramics teachers to hold workshops and demonstrations in The Boneyard to share their techniques with the public. Visitors can attend and make ceramic objects to take home,” he adds.

In addition to the two galleries that host temporary exhibitions, the museum has four permanent collection galleries. “We rotate out pieces in the permanent collections every six months for preservation. We have 6500 individual art objects in the permanent collection that are on rotation,” Grant says. 

The New Orleans Silver Collection at the LSU Museum of Art

The New Orleans Silver collection is one of the most extensive in the region and showcases a progression of different silver styles starting in the 1800s when the city was a major silversmithing center.

The New Orleans Silver Collection at the LSU Museum of Art

The museum’s permanent collection has two paintings by the artist, Clementine Hunter, on display— Gathering Gourds C. 1950, oil on heavy pasteboard and Negro Burial c. 1950, oil on heavy pasteboard.

Clementine Hunter 1886-1988 Gathering Gourds, c. 1950

The African American artist was born on the Cane River region of Louisiana in 1886  and is one of the best-known self-taught American artists. Clementine Hunter’s works are in museums around the United States and in the Louvre.  She died in 1988, leaving a visual chronicle of life along the Cane River,  painting on humble materials including cardboard boxes, scavenged pieces of lumber paper sacks, and milk bottles. Her straightforward, colorful forms often portrayed life events such as births, baptisms, wakes, weddings, and funerals. 

Clementine Hunter 1886-1988 Negor Burial, c. 1950

 

“The landscape gallery has shifted to talking about the environment and includes traditional landscape themes and works that explore how we adjust to the changing environment. One example is the works of artist  Ed Smith, a professor at LSU who does bird paintings. His paintings talk about environments and how birds are adapting to Louisiana’s eroding coastlines,” Grant says. Ed Smith’s work draws upon Louisiana’s beauty juxtaposed with its landscape of chemical plants and oil refineries.

Ed Smith, American b. 1959 Weight of the World, 2009 oil on canvas

 

Mark Messersmith, American b. 1955 Summer 2010, mixed media on canvas with predella boxes and carved wood

The contemporary gallery features Louisiana artists, including Kelli Scott Kelley,  professor of Art at LSU School of Art, who paints and creates mixed media environment scenes.  

The Contemporary Gallery at the LSU Museum of Art in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The Allies, 2008 acrylic on stitched canvas, is a  large-scale stitched canvas representing Kelley’s long-standing relationship with Louisiana’s threatened bayous and swamps. Kelly herself was the model for the central character. 

Kelli Scott Kelley b. 1961 The Allies, 2008 acrylic on stitched canvas. The large-scale stitched canvas represents Kelley’s long-standing relationship with the haunting and threatened bayous and swamps of Louisiana. Kelly herself was the model for the central character.

Dawn Dedeaux, a New Orleans artist, created a mixed media work reflecting water levels in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her work, Over Six Feet of Water, from her series entitled Water Markers represents the floodwater levels reached in her neighbor’s homes.

Dawn Dedeaux b. New Orleans 1952 Over Six Feet of Water, 2008 polished acrylic slabs with embedded digital images.

The piece made of acrylic slabs with embedded digital images explores how to represent water working with highly polished acrylic slabs.  Each work documents and memorializes an individual experience with Hurricane Katrina. 

“Sonja Clark is an African American textile artist and her work is a new acquisition. The museum is finding connection points with the entirety of the community. This is part of an initiative to broaden the diversity of our collections,” Grant explains. 

Sonya Clark b. 1967 French Braid and Cornrow, 2013 Clark is known for using fiber art techniques with everyday materials to lead conversations on the impact of the African Diaspora. French Braid refers to Clark’s Jamacian heritage where the hairstyle conrows is called canerows in reference to the economic dependence on sugar cane. The cash crop heavily influenced the Atlantic Slave Trade in the Western Hemisphere.

Lesley Dill’s wire sculpture, Word Queen of Itchy Water with Suspended Crown, 2007 wire, steel, is a fun conversation piece for museum visitors because it’s embedded with hidden text and letters.

Lesley Dill b. 1950 Word Queen of Itchy Water with Suspended Crown, 2007 wire, steel,

The LSU Museum of Art has a robust calendar of public events including lectures and hands-on programs. To learn more check out the website.  

 

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