New art exhibit kicks off Peoria Riverfront Museum’s partnership in national 'Collection Loan' initiative
An exhibit opening Saturday at the Peoria Riverfront Museum marks the beginning of a partnership aimed at expanding access to American art nationwide.
The museum is one of 12 charter members participating in the Art Bridges Collection Loan Partnership, an initiative announced this week by the Arkansas-based Art Bridges Foundation established by billionaire philanthropist Alice Walton, heiress to the Walmart fortune.
“This represents a collaboration with the biggest, most important philanthropists in American art – maybe in the history of the country – and for her to lend extraordinarily valuable, historic and important works of art to us, and pay for them to come here, and give us grants to help us educate and bring students and families,” said Peoria Riverfront Museum president and CEO John Morris.
“This is a new relationship that is going to grow and is going to give access to the people of central Illinois to works of art they would never otherwise have had. So from that standpoint, it is a pioneering and exciting relationship with philanthropy that our community has never had before.”
Peoria’s first involvement in the partnership will be its largest-scale collaborative exhibition to date, as “American Revolutionaries: Art & Disruption” begins a run that will continue into next spring. The exhibit presents a wide range of socio-political artwork reflecting on America over a period of 166 years.
Chief curator Bill Conger said it’s unlike anything ever presented at the Riverfront Museum or its predecessor, the Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences.
“We have never had an exhibition that spans this much time with this caliber of work, the most important work from 1854 and some of the most important works from 2020 and all the eras in between,” said Conger. “It has never happened at Lakeview or Peoria Riverfront Museum, and I dare say in very many museums. It's a very disparate and surprising grouping that we were offered.”
Abby Hermosilla, a curatorial associate with Art Bridges, said the goal of the Art Bridges Collection Loan Partnership is to bring work from artists of diverse backgrounds out of storage and put them on public display.
“This Collection Loan Partnership aims to increase the display of artists who are Black, indigenous, people of color, LGBTQIA+, and women artists to help expand the narrative of American art and to provide more opportunities for museum collections to show these narratives,” said Hermosilla. “It's also our goal to increase transparency in the process for borrowing artworks among museums of all sizes, and in some ways really revolutionizing traditional collection loan models.”
Conger said the “Art & Disruption” exhibit features 15 works from the loan program augmented by pieces from their own collection and from other local collectors.
“America and American artists have something in common, which is the freedom to express and the freedom to rebel and the freedom to revolt and the freedom to criticize,” said Conger. “Really, that is how America has developed and that is also how American art has developed. So what we're telling here is a story of how artists react to the generations before them, which is how important movements and trends happen as a kind of way of moving the envelope forward.”
Morris said the start of the Fourth of July weekend is an ideal time to open the “American Revolutionaries: Art & Disruption” exhibit and show works that “tell the story of our nation.”
“It's the perfect commemoration of the revolutionary spirit of America which persists to this day. We're constantly revolutionizing our ideas and our thoughts and moving forward, and art does the same thing,” he said.
“I believe the future of this country depends on our ability to understand each other, to speak and communicate with each other, to have empathy with each other, and also to fight for what we believe, which has been the history of the country and what some of these artists say, as you study them and you see the nuanced, layered messages of their own discoveries. This is the biggest thing we've done to date with Art Bridges, and it is worth a big celebration.”