Date of this Version
Sheldon Art Gallery and Nebraska Art Association, 1987
The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is pleased to present American Paintings from the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery: An Institutional History in Pictures, an exhibition of more than forty-nine paintings that celebrates an important part of the Gallery's considerable permanent collection, which, for over one-hundred years , has come to define its identity and mission as an art museum. Boasting a permanent collection of nearly 13 ,000 objects , the Sheldon Art Gallery has sought to present the historical development and aesthetic diversity of 19th and 20th-century American art in various media.
But the Sheldon's permanent collection does not only document the history of American art, it reveals the history of the Sheldon Art Gallery as a collecting institution. Since the 1970s, historians, critics, and theorists have directed a considerable amount of attention toward the function of art museums in U.S. culture. Despite the diversity of these views, a common observation has emerged. Far from being a neutral space where works of art are allowed to "speak," art museums actively shape how art communicates to the viewer. Far from being a passive space, the art museum is a proactive space, aggressively shaping our experience of the art it presents, from what art is on view and how works of art are exhibited in relation to others, to the didactic text on the walls.
Art museums with active permanent collections, then, participate in several histories. They participate in documenting and constructing histories of art. But they also are documenting and constructing their own histories as institutions. Works of art in permanent collections not only participate in histories of art, but also in histories of the institution that acquired them. They tell not only of an artist who made them, but of a collector or curator who purchased them or a patron who donated them. As important as the permanent collection is, an art museum is not merely the sum total of the art it cares for and exhibits. It includes the people who acquire it, exhibit it, interpret it; in short, invest their passion in the institution.