Exhibits on pop art, Spokane Symphony and World War II opening Sunday at the MAC

Emilee Geist

After a sold-out reopening in August, albeit at 25% capacity, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture has a packed schedule of exhibitions to offer visitors this fall.

The headliner brings work from pop art powerhouses to Spokane. “Pop Power From Warhol to Koons: Masterworks From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” opens Sunday and continues through Jan. 24.

The exhibit arrives at the MAC from Portland-based collector Schnitzer, who also lends his name and support to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at WSU in Pullman. MAC Executive Director Wes Jessup made contact with Schnitzer three years ago when he became executive director and was able to schedule a “Pop Power” stop in Spokane.

The exhibit features works by pop art icons like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Robert Indiana, as well as contemporary artists including Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami.

Jessup called the show multi-generational and said everybody, children and adults, can access and connect to the work.

“I love the classic pop pieces, like the Warhols and the Lichtensteins,” Jessup said. “Those are some of my favorite pieces because as an art history major and somebody who studied 20th century art, those are big deals, so I’m really happy about those. I love the Keith Haring pieces from the 1980s. I think those are pretty fun. I really like Takashi Murakami, a Japanese artist whose been pretty popular the last 15 years or so internationally. He’s really inspired by anime art.”

Before pop art, the dominant art movements were abstract, impressionism and minimalism, Jessup said. Artists working in those styles tended to take themselves and their work very seriously.

“Pop art kind of exploded that idea of the very intellectual, tormented artists in the studio crafting these masterpieces,” Jessup said. “By introducing popular media images and calling that high art, whether it was a picture of Marilyn Monroe or a soup can or a comic strip in the case of Roy Lichtenstein, they were almost making fun of that whole idea of what came before them. It really lightened the feeling around art and the art world, and I think it opened a lot of possibilities for artists going forward.

“It allowed artists more material to work with, and artists took that in a lot of really interesting directions. The exhibition looks at those early artists and then how the newer artists, which in this exhibition they’re calling neo-pop, how these later artists reinterpreted some of that popular imagery and appropriated it and made their own statement about it.”

“Pop Power” is not the only exhibit opening soon at the MAC. “Music Finds a Way: The Spokane Symphony” also opens on Sunday and continues through Jan. 10. The exhibit celebrates the symphony, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

The MAC and the Spokane Symphony have been in talks since early 2019 about a 75th anniversary exhibit. History curator Freya Liggett worked on obtaining a list of objects with symphony staff, but then the coronavirus pandemic struck, forcing the symphony to cancel its season.

“They had to cancel their season, which was really unfortunate, but then we thought, ‘Maybe people in the community can get their symphony fix by coming to the MAC,’” Jessup said. “We will occasionally be having performances in the gallery of soloists or duets a couple times a month. … I think it’s a cool partnership, musical arts, visual arts. The museum and the symphony, we’ve always talked about how we can work together. We want to do that more, so this is maybe a good start.”

For more on the 75th anniversary of the symphony, check out Serendipity in The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday.

The year 2020 also marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Beginning Sunday, visitors can explore “Bomber Boys: Portraits From the Front,” which continues through May 23. The exhibit features photographs of the combat, crew and camp life of the 445th bomb squadron of the 12th Army Air Corps, which was based in Washington and stationed on Corsica and in Italy and was the inspiration for Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.” The images were discovered in the late 1990s by the daughter of a soldier.

“A lot of the men and women that came back from World War II didn’t like to talk about their experiences,” Jessup said. “It was an insanely difficult conflict and horrible for so many people, and a lot of people buried that stuff.”

A second exhibit, “American Inheritance: Unpacking World War II,” which opens Oct. 10 and continues through May 23, is from the MAC’s collections and focuses on the role the Inland Northwest and the state had in the war.

“(The symphony and World War II anniversaries) were significant dates, and part of the reason we were pursuing them is it gives us an opportunity to dig deep in the collection and our archives, and it gives us an opportunity to do a nicely themed exhibition on an important anniversary,” Jessup said.

Jessup wants to remind visitors that the MAC is still operating at 25% capacity. Visitors must purchase tickets online at northwestmuseum.org in advance, and masks are required to be in the MAC. Social distancing is being enforced, and the galleries are cleaned several times per day.

“The museum experience is a little different than it was before, but as we noticed when we reopened Pompeii is that you can still have a really great experience at the museum,” Jessup said. “You’re just a little more aware of some of the safety precautions.”

Exhibitions previously scheduled for summer 2020, “American Impressionism: Treasures From the Daywood Collection,” “Savages and Princesses: The Persistence of Native American Stereotypes,” “Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge, Shared Science” and “Awakenings: Traditional Canoes and Calling the Salmon Home” are being rescheduled for the 2021-22 exhibition calendar.

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