‘Reckonings and Transformations’: the Fleming Museum re-examines and reopens | Vermont Arts


Abstract paintings surround the balcony overlooking the neoclassical marble courtyard. In the European and American galleries, in “Absence”, in the middle of landscapes and portraits, texts are hung in spaces of uninstalled works of art, the texts addressing the problematic history or the subject of these works.

In the East Gallery’s learning studio, an ever-changing selection of artwork from the museum’s permanent collections is presented to the University of Vermont courses – open to visitors to see the education here in action. In the Storytelling Salon, a circle of comfortable seating invites conversation amid powerful works of art by various artists.

The Fleming Museum of Art at the University of Vermont reopened to the public at the end of September. With its reopening, the Fleming is entering a new era. Some changes are already in place and more are expected as museum staff conscientiously seek to take into account the Flemish past and take steps to become a more responsive, relevant and inclusive anti-racist museum.

Fleming’s changes are happening on many levels – from eliminating admission fees to make the museum more accessible to all visitors, to launching an extensive process based on a carefully crafted statement of values.

Under the umbrella of “The Fleming Reimagined: Confronting Institutional Racism and Historical Oppression,” new exhibitions and programs are presented in four galleries this fall.

“In the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, we, like many museums, had to face a calculation in terms of the origin of our collections, the way we present them, the audiences we serve. , of the communities we serve, of the welcoming of these communities. are and feel that they are in our institution, ”said Chris Dissinger, deputy director of the Fleming Museum.

Museums in the United States and Europe are re-examining their roles in society and taking a critical look at long-standing practices. Questions of past acquisitions of cultural objects and presented narratives are confronted in large and small institutions.

With over 20,000 objects in its collections – from Neolithic stone tools 25,000 to 50,000 years old to the visual arts created this year – the Fleming has a plethora of stories to tell. Part of the re-imagining process is defining a responsive and responsible path forward, including display ways and contextualized objects, and prioritizing new acquisitions.

“The Fleming reinvented: a living document of the museum’s accounts and transformations” sets out three principles with multiple actions listed for each.

– “Build trust by establishing sustained, mutual relationships with the communities we serve on and off campus, focused on listening, learning and acting based on their feedback. “

– “Transparency in the documentation and reflection on these efforts to become an anti-racist organization. “

– “Become a reactive space based on listening and acting on the feedback we deserve.

The Learning Studio, part gallery and part classroom, almost fills the East Gallery and focuses on creating conversations with art. The newly acquired works are displayed in two parts of the space, but most of the gallery is open. Works of art from the museum’s collections selected by the monitors are placed on the tables.

Recently, Ronald Slayton’s Works Progress Administration-era print “Social Activities of the 1930s” was among the many works of art created with different techniques, all in place for Associate Professor Mildred Beltré’s printmaking class. Slayton’s original woodcut was next to him – a thick, ink-stained block.

Collections Education Specialist Phil Morin was on hand, offering visitors magnifying glasses for a closer look at the works, guiding viewers to see how Slayton’s subtle marks translate into print features, discussing points of the Beltré class.

With its rapid changes – one day’s engraving, 19th century photographs of India a few days before, a bronze statue of Benin in between – the Learning Studio gives the public the opportunity to view not only items from the collections but also the educational work of the museum in action.

“Absence: Seeing and Not Seeing the Fleming Collection” is a first step towards dealing with works of art that are known to be offensive and insulting to members of the community. The European and American Gallery showcases a wide range of Western artistic traditions across the centuries – landscapes, still lifes, portraits, genre paintings and more.

Fleming staff identified several pieces that were clearly problematic on the subject. These exhibits have been removed and, for now, statements from Fleming staff are being released on the reasons for the removal.

A 1756 portrait of an heiress whose family fortune was built on plantations in Jamaica and whose labor was done by slaves is one of the images currently preserved.

Flemish curator Andrea Rosen’s statement notes: “… the festive portrayals of white Europeans and Euro-Americans whose wealth and status have been built on the backs of people of color, reinforces white supremacy.

Rosen notes that as the museum looks to the future, it aims to “raise the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and Colored) instead of elevating the images of their oppressors.”

In recent years, exhibitions at the Marble Court Balcony gallery have typically featured white New England artists. “Abstracts: Open Spaces for Imagination” brings together a spectacular selection of abstract works of art.

“Just as our project ‘Absence’ uses spaces on the wall to envision new possibilities, abstract works of art leave room for the imagination. They allow us to consider outdated traditions and begin to imagine what will come next, ”Fleming’s text for the exhibition reads.

The Wolcott Gallery’s Storytelling Salon is designed as a space for conversation amid evocative works of art that encourage interaction. Several of the gallery’s works are selections from the 2020 “Reckonings” exhibition.

Communication, community building and transparent processes are key elements of “The Fleming Reimagined”. This fair provides a launching space for conversations and reflection on the future directions of the Fleming.

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