In one respect, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center may be in a transitional period as curator Joy Armstrong shifts into the museum director role that Blake Milteer leaves behind as he heads off to Scotland. But they're still rolling out four big summer exhibitions that will dominate the FAC's second floor.
"We like to bring the world here," says Milteer. To that end, they've planned exhibits that showcase a balance of regional art with nationally and internationally known works.
The first of the four exhibits is titled All New Women. Its content, a combination of permanent collection and loaned works, draws on the first-wave feminist idea of the New Woman, an independent woman with an education, a career and when possible, money enough for major philanthropy. Take for instance Mary Elizabeth Garrett, who set up an endowment to fund the revered Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in exchange for its admitting women on an equal basis with men. Her portrait, on loan from Johns Hopkins, is one of three John Singer Sargent portraits hanging in the exhibit. More locally, a series of Sarah Howsam originals depict Colorado Springs-area women of influence, such as Alice Bemis Taylor, Julie Penrose and Elizabeth Sage Hare, who collaborated to found the Fine Arts Center in 1936.
Also look for two of New York photographer Cindy Sherman's works, both untitled but part of the body of work Armstrong says is colloquially known as her "Society Portraits." Sherman transforms herself into the characters she depicts; though they're photos of her, they are not self-portraits, Armstrong says.
Sherman and her work also appear in the circus-themed exhibit Under the Big Top, a vivid and unsettling portrait of a clown. Armstrong says, though, that the exhibit is anchored by Russian-French artist Marc Chagall's Le Cirque series. The exhibit is a mix of permanent collection and on-loan works as well, also featuring works by muralist/sculptor/former FAC teacher Edgar Britton, painter Walt Kuhn and multi-media artist Pamela Joseph. In particular, Joseph's maquettes — a sword-swallower and a strongwoman — have a sense of whimsy about them that is sure to delight.
A Reservoir of Occurrences, the third exhibit, is a solo show, a collection of on-loan works by Stephen Batura, a contemporary painter, although Milteer says you wouldn't know from his subjects. Batura interprets and paints the photographic works of Charles Lillybridge, who worked in Denver at the start of the 20th century. Milteer describes Lillybridge's works as "quintessentially Colorado," noting that he was part of the first wave of photographers to shift from big-money commissioned photos to more mundane scenes.
Though Batura's work is loyal to the original photos, his takes can be sparse and abstract, and his colorizations of Lillybridge's black-and-white works adds new layers to their atmosphere.
Milteer notes that Batura was involved with planning the exhibit, to avoid more standard presentations. To that end, one series dubbed "Stream" is arranged canvas-to-canvas, with no space in between, along a hallway. Armstrong compares the arrangement to a memory, a series of fragmented icons rather than a smooth, movie-like reel.
Finally, in January, Welkin Sciences gifted the FAC with 28 of the 100 wood engraving prints that Salvador Dali made for an edition of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, commissioned by the Italian government to celebrate the poet's 700th birthday. Salvador Dali is disconnected from the other three exhibits — it opened May 21, it doesn't close until Dec. 31 and it's physically separate from the other three shows — but the images are no less striking. Sadly, many of the volumes have been cannibalized for Dali's art, and while full books and touring sets may exist, neither Armstrong nor Milteer knows of any.