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Big City Art. Southern Hospitality

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

When modern art hit the American scene post-War, people didn’t know what to make of Jackson Pollock’s action drip paintings or Mark Rothko’s experiments with color. These pioneers shook the very foundations of academic modes of art making. Now, works by more than fifty of these iconic mid-20th century trailblazers are on view in Mississippi for the very first time. The Museum is the first stop on an unprecedented traveling tour; it’s the first time these works have left their home in Purchase, New York since 1969.

Even now, more than fifty years since the creation of most of the work on view in When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection (through October 30), modern art can feel intimidating. Luckily, there is a unique group of people here at the Mississippi Museum of Art who help to demystify these mythic and experimental artists and artworks.

This group of gallery attendants brush elbows (metaphorically, of course) with the Georgia O’Keeffe paintings and the Alexander Calder mobile and the Willem de Kooning portrait of Marilyn Monroe. They are equal parts security guards, hosts, and storytellers. They protect the high profile art, but they also illuminate it and make it approachable to visitors from Mississippi and around the world.

Let’s learn a little more about a few of them.

Mike Wharton

Other life:

Graphic Designer, Art Director, Artist

Favorite artwork in the exhibition:

“Too many to choose from.”

Best part of the job:

“It’s gratifying being able to enhance the experience for visitors. We point out stories and things people might not have seen, like the ledger book that recorded Roy Neuberger’s acquisition of these artworks [he bought the Jackson Pollock in 1950 for only a few hundred dollars]. There are so many stories to discover. It makes me want to lasso people and bring them in. We read body language and give people their space, but make ourselves available when they have questions.”

Earsley Quinn

Other life:


Favorite artwork in the exhibition:

Romare Bearden’s Melon Season, created in 1967.

“It focuses on the positive aspects and connection in the African American community in the South during a period of great turmoil. That’s what art is about. Seeing the beauty in all things.”

Best part of the job:

“People sometimes feel intimidated because museums are quiet and art is traditionally perceived as being for the elite. But I think that it’s important for all people to appreciate art for whatever they want to appreciate it for. It could be because an artist was classically trained in the best art schools and displays amazing technique, or it could be that you just like the colors. And that’s enough.”

Jackie Brown

Other life:

Retired Military

Favorite artwork in the exhibition:

“For me, it’s the Bertoia sculpture [Harry Bertoia, Construction (Radiant),1959]. I tell children, he’s the American Idol of artists [like Jennifer Hudson or Adam Lambert]. He entered this into a competition and didn’t win, and yet here we are. One of the great pieces in this exhibit.”

Bubba Hendrix

Other life:

Retired Marketing Executive

Best part of the job:

“What I’ve enjoyed most is meeting people, different people. Being able to share this experience with other Mississippians is a wonderful opportunity for me. Not only to learn more about the art but to turn around and educate others about the arts.”

Favorite artwork in the exhibition:

Jackson Pollock’s Number 8, 1949

“You either love or hate the Pollock, and that’s just fine. It’s up to everybody’s interpretation. People shouldn’t be overwhelmed by modern art. Just come enjoy it.”

See it before it’s gone!