Part art exhibit, part 'laboratory'

BY GRACE HAERR | MARCH 26, 2015 5:00 AM

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, the University of Iowa Museum of Art hopes its current exhibition serves as a novel — no Doud.

From neoclassical to neon, the personal art collection of Iowan Alden Lowell Doud portrays the past and present through mythological subjects, Renaissance drawings, and modern prints. These 75 works can be viewed in the IMU Black Box Theater through May 17 in the exhibit From the Grand Tour to American Pop: Learning with the Alden Lowell Doud Collection. UI art students will soon add to the gallery with their own research.

Doud is an Iowa native, veteran, and Iowa Wesleyan College and Harvard Law School graduate who lived from 1935 to 2012. He was also an avid art collector who accumulated pieces by Carlo Lasinio, Hendrick Goltius, Ed Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud, and Iowa City artist Genie Patrick.

Doud traveled widely and collected widely. After receiving an education and working in international law and finance, Lowell settled in Iowa City, became an avid supporter of the UI Museum of Art, and brought nearly 180 works of art gathered on his own “grand tour.”

“The Grand Tour was a phenomenon in the 18th and 19th centuries,” said Joni Kinsey, a UI professor of art. “Young men typically took a year to travel to the historical sites of Rome. They talked to each other, read books, read poetry, sketched the ruins, and just generally learned about the past to become cultivated individuals. Then they would collect and buy things to fill their manor estates, and what Doud was doing was very comparable with that.”

Doud also collected modern pieces, such as early 20th century etchings, watercolors, photographs, and American pop art from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.

“The collection looks back to the far part of the 18th century and the ancient world of classical Greece and Rome and the ideas and interests of people of those times,” Kinsey said. “But it looks to more recent artistic and creative responses to the world through a range of media that give us a glimpse into our own era of tastes and interests.”

Today, the Black Box Theater functions not only as a venue for Doud’s collection but as a “laboratory” for the students in Kinsey’s course The Art Museum: Theory and Practice, which she has taught since 2008.

“The exhibit’s purpose is to meet the education goals of the students,” said Kathleen Edwards, the chief curator of European and American art at the UI Museum of Art.

The artwork from Doud’s collection was given to the museum; some were donated for educational purposes and are connected to the curriculum of the School of Art & Art History. 

“I think students in this course love the idea of being a detective, figuring out the context of the piece, the period it was made, and what it is,” Edwards said. “If I had been able to take a class like that while I was in undergrad, it would’ve changed my life.”

Edwards said she and Doud met in 1998.

“We were friends, but Lowell was mostly a friend to the museum,” she said. “He was very supportive and involved and clearly very committed to education and teaching through art.”

Doud passed away suddenly in 2012, but Edwards said his collection recounts his life better than an obituary ever could.

“It’s crucial to tell his story. I organize the material and try to find a theme, making a connection among the pieces,” said Edwards, who has been the senior curator for the museum for 17 years.

The museum has borrowed both individual pieces for its exhibits along with entire collections. The Doud collection belongs to the museum, making the process less lengthy, said Allison Phillips, a UI collections specialist and an assistant to Edwards in cataloguing the exhibit. 

“Most museum exhibitions are planned several years in advance,” Phillips said. “Since the Lowell Doud exhibition features works directly from the [museum] collection, the process took about six months. The curator develops the exhibition concept and selects the works, which then need to be evaluated for condition and researched for the wall text and catalogue.”

Edwards said this process provided an educational opportunity for all.

“My assistants learned a lot from being thrown into that situation of deciding what to do with a piece,” she said. “It starts with the object and circles around it to help you understand the piece as a whole in history.”

Phillips favors one piece in particular. 

“David Hockney’s Homage to Michelangelo stands out as an example of pop art that reflects upon the past,” she said. “The print suggests the haunting mood of T.S. Eliot’s poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ with Renaissance drawings that seem to emerge from the ghostly figures’ memories. In the Lowell Doud exhibition, it creates an intriguing boundary between the Grand Tour and modern-art sections.”

The collection, which opened on Feb. 28, will be free and open to the public through May 17. The students from The Art Museum: Theory and Practice will present virtual exhibitions of their own on May 1. Each exhibit is compiled of around 30 pieces, half from the Doud collection and the other half from all over the world. 

“The Lowell Doud exhibition is an eclectic array of objects that reveals a great deal about the collector, his interests, his ambitions, and his taste,” Kinsey said. “The students will take a number of objects and bring them together in ways that they hope become meaningful as well.”

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