Behind Stanley’s ‘Homecoming’

The “Homecoming” exhibit celebrates the return of art while celebrating a new chapter in UI’s art community, aiming to bring people together.


“Mural” (1943), by Jackson Pollock, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim, 1959.6. Photo taken on Aug. 23, 2022, by Jerod Ringwald.

Emma Gaughan, Arts Reporter

In the Stanley Museum of Art’s galleries, viewers can experience a vast range of art, from contemporary paintings to ceramics and photography to an abundance of Asian and African pieces. The “Homecoming” exhibit showcases the story of the original museum before it flooded 14 years ago.

The museum opened its new building in August 2022, returning old art to campus as well as introducing new pieces. The inaugural exhibit, aptly titled “Homecoming,” allows students and community members to experience the artwork firsthand. The art featured in the exhibit will be on display until July 2025.

“Homecoming” is composed of multiple smaller installations titled “Generations,” “Fragments of the Canon: African Art from the Saunders and Stanley Collections,” and “History is Always Now.” Each of the installations tell stories about the Stanley and its mission.

“Generations” aims to tell the story of the UI’s history with art and art education through pieces that symbolize these concepts. Important modern and contemporary artists are featured alongside university staff and alumni like Elizabeth Catlett, Mauricio Lasansky, and Ana Mendieta.

“Fragments of the Canon: African Art from the Saunders and Stanley Collections” shares a unique perspective on African art. The extensive collection displays art from the Stanley collection and from the collection of Meredith Saunders, who was a Black Iowan collector.

Additionally, two other installations preface the works in “Fragments of the Canon.” One, titled “Centering on Cloth: The Art of African Textiles” serves as an entryway to the surrounding works from the African collection. With 15 works, it highlights the use and creation of cloth from various time periods across Africa, including examples from Egypt, Nigeria, Tunisia, Liberia, Ghana, and more.

The other installation, “About Face: African Masks in Iowa,” features nearly 30 wooden masks that the UI has acquired since 1956. This portion of the exhibit emphasizes the historical artistic relationships between many West and Central African cultures, which were characterized by “ritual performance, spiritual authority, and sculptural ingenuity,” according to the Stanley’s website.

“History is Always Now” shares a personal approach to the understanding of art and culture, aiming to connect the viewer to these concepts more deeply. This installation features art from Africa and Asia and Indigenous pieces from the Americas and Oceania.

“By default, most universities are organized in terms of departmental classifications, and a museum is a place where everyone can come together and collaborate in ways that aren’t necessarily as possible within the silos of the arts and sciences,” said Cory Gundlach, the curator of African art at the Stanley.

Aside from being a place of collection and display, Gundlach said the museum seeks to reach across boundaries as a gathering place and allow for open communication between people and art. This communication then allows for further creativity and audience connection.

“People can get together and talk across the disciplines, and that can be very challenging because we develop our own sort of idioms and expressions. As art historians, as engineers, as creative writers, we each have our own style and language to a certain extent,” Gundlach said.

Gundlach added that those kinds of interdisciplinary interactions force viewers to rethink the way they function in their work or way of thinking.

With the reopening of the museum, the Stanley’s vast collection has been brought back to the university in an environment where students can learn and grow from it. The collections are curated and structured to aid museumgoers and students to gain as much as they can from the art while they are there.

“One of the biggest problems with museums is that they’ve been too narrowly focused on serving the art history community,” Gundlach said. “With that sort of restriction, there’s been this perception of elitism, and I think museums have finally recognized, at least in the last generation, it’s important to embrace more than just people who are working in art history so that we can offer an inclusive experience.”

As the art community grows, especially in Iowa City, the Stanley aims to connect people in all fields of study or paths, creating a more diverse understanding of art.

“Students are encouraged to use it as a resource for their own research,” Gundlach said. “I think it’s really important to recognize that the University of Iowa was the first university in the world to offer the MFA in creative art.”

The inaugural exhibit displays a wide variety of art, including pieces that were displayed at the old museum as well as brand-new pieces that the UI is displaying for the first time. The collection invites its viewers to explore the many types and styles of art throughout the gallery from a plethora of acclaimed artists.

One displayed piece is by Elizabeth Catlett, the first African American woman in the country to earn a Master of Fine Arts, Gundlach said. Some of Catlett’s art can be seen at the Stanley, including a recently acquired 1981 sculpted portrait bust called “Glory”.

“The Homecoming exhibition is much like it sounds — a homecoming exhibition,” student gallery host Josie Duccini said. “Now that we have this new building and can have our whole collection back in one place, it really is like welcoming the art back home to Iowa City.”

Before the new museum opened, the UI’s art collection was moved to other museums and collections until it could be returned to the UI.

“The art has been everywhere. A lot of it has been in Davenport since the old museum flooded,” Duccini said.

As a university museum, the Stanley creates an open space for learning and exploring to occur, Duccini said. Students of all fields and disciplines are invited to gather and learn about art, as well as themselves.

“Art is so much more than just paint on paper or just a sculpture out of bronze,” Duccini said. “It really can do something for you, it is something you can interact with and start a dialogue with. It is something that introduces you to your own past, even.”

The piece that draws many to the Stanley is “Mural” by Jackson Pollock, Duccini shared. This piece from 1943 is featured in many of the advertisements for the Homecoming Exhibit. “Mural” is an abstract piece using a variety of different shapes and colors contrasting circular shapes with straight lines, and light yellows and pinks with dark blues and greens.

The museum also hosts events throughout the year to bring its audiences together and draw in new visitors. These events allow students and others to connect to people and art, further connecting the Iowa City and the UI communities.

Duccini said the museum ultimately seeks to teach students that they should interact with art and how to do so. Different events and tours allow viewers to experience art in different ways, and the different collections each seek to guide this experience while appealing to students.

“Art can certainly have an impact on student life,” third-year UI art student Trick Lucero said. “It helps to expose people to objects and ways of thinking they wouldn’t experience in their own bubbles.”

Lucero shared they visited the museum multiple times, and they thought it was an important part of the university.

“Art is meant to push through to neglected but important topics,” Lucero said. “This is especially important for college students.”