Internationally noted scholar and curator David Penney of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will give the keynote address for the opening exhibition of the James T. Bialac collection at The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art on Friday, Sept. 21.
The gift was given to OU by James T. Bialac of Arizona, who has built one of the most important private collections of Native American art in the country. The collection of more than 4,000 works reflects indigenous cultures across North America, especially the Pueblos of the Southwest, the Navajo, the Hopi, many of the tribes of the Northern and Southern Plains and the Southeastern tribes and represents major Native artists such as Fred Kabotie, Awa Tsireh, Fritz Scholder, Joe Herrera, Allan Houser, Jerome Tiger, Tonita Pena, Helen Hardin, Pablita Velarde, George Morrison, Richard “Dick” West, Patrick DesJarlait and Pop Chalee.
“The opening of the exhibition of the James T. Bialac collection gives the university the opportunity to celebrate Jim Bialac’s incredible generosity and his commitment to increased understanding and appreciation of Native American art,” said OU President David L. Boren. “We are especially happy that David Penney will keynote this special event.”
The collection will open to the public on Saturday, Sept. 22, with complimentary admission. A community celebration is scheduled from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, featuring artist demonstrations by Tony Abeyta, Anita Fields, Ben Harjo, Linda Lomahaftewa and America Meredith. A special OU School of Dance performance, created by professors Derrick Minter and Austin Hartel, will feature choreography inspired by works from the Bialac Collection. The opening celebration is open to the public and will feature complimentary admission.
In addition to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, works from the collection will be on display at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, the Donald E. Pray Law Library at the College of Law and the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West. Each will showcase works from the collection, bringing a combined exhibition space of approximately 40,000 square feet dedicated to the collection on OU’s Norman campus. The Sam Noble Museum opens a second exhibition of the works Friday, Oct. 5.
A special catalog of selected works from the collection is being produced through the leadership of the Jon R. Stuart family of Tulsa and $150,000 in funding provided by the Stuart Family Foundation.
In 1964, Bialac purchased a painting by Robert Chee (Hashke-Yil-Cale), the first of what would become a nearly 50-year journey into collecting art. As a successful lawyer over the past few decades, he has become close friends with many prominent artists through his legal practice, including Houser, a Chiricahua Apache artist whose sculpture Sacred Rain Arrow is now reproduced on the Oklahoma state license plate, Houser’s sons Bob and Phillip, Hopi artist Charles Loloma and others.
His lifetime collection spans 100 years of Native culture in a wide variety of media from across North America.
The Bialac collection will complement other outstanding Native and Southwest collections held by the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art including the Eugene B. Adkins Collection and the Rennard Strickland Collection, both of which were given in the last few years. The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa are joint stewards of the Adkins Collection.
“It was truly a pleasure to work with Mr. Bialac throughout this process, as his first requirement was education and the use of the collection for this purpose,” said Ghislain d’Humières, the Wylodean and Bill Saxon Director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. “We hope the community will join us for an exciting celebration of Mr. Bialac’s lifetime collection and his contribution to the university and the state of Oklahoma.”
Penney was named as the first Associate Director of the newly organized Museum Scholarship Group at National Museum of the American Indian in April of 2011, after a distinguished career at The Detroit Institute of Arts.
Penney joined the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1980 as curator of Native American Art, was promoted to Chief Curator in 1996 and later was named Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Strategies. At the Detroit Institute of Arts, Penney directed the creation of one of the finest Native American collections in the country, spanning 3,000 years of history and including masterworks from the renowned Chandler Pohrt Collection of Woodlands, Great Lakes, Prairie and Plains culture artistry gallery. Penney also planned and designed a major reinstallation project of 5,000 objects from the museum’s permanent collection in 150,000-square-feet of renovated space.
Currently, Penney is an adjunct professor of Art History at Wayne State University, a position he has held since 1988. He earned his Ph.D. in art history and archaeology from Columbia University and his Bachelor of Arts degree in art history from New York University, where he graduated summa cum laude.
The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is located in the OU Arts District on the corner of Elm Avenue and Boyd Street, at 555 Elm Ave., on the OU Norman campus. The museum’s website is www.ou.edu/fjjma.