O U Art Gallery director Dick Goody stands on a ladder to hang some African art with the help of a student. African masks decorate the walls.

Around Campus|


icon of a calendarNovember 16, 2017

icon of a pencilBy Sarah Rose Sharp

Behind the Scenes

Behind the walls of the Oakland University Art Gallery, a world-class art collection waits for the opportunity to shine

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Josh Scott

Appreciating art is easy when the focus is on what can be seen. But the behind-the-scenes care and maintenance of an art collection is a critical piece of the displaying process, explains Stephen Goody, director of the Oakland University Art Gallery on campus.

“These objects are important and need to be seen,” he says. “But they need to be displayed with extreme care with the correct amount of lighting in a climate-controlled environment.”

The OU Art Gallery serves as a storehouse for the Oakland University Art Collection, which is comprised of more than 1,500 objects and artifacts from around the world. But a great wealth of the collection remains largely unseen behind the gallery’s walls, until the day it can be properly preserved, polished and presented.

“Until we have a proper gallery where we can control the humidity,” Goody explains, “it won’t be displayed. It will stay safe, but mostly unseen.”

Stephen Goody

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Josh Scott

OU’s collection includes paintings by Alex Katz, Fernando Botero, Al Held, Malcolm Morley, Horst Antes, Lyonel Feininger, Terry Winters and Richard Artschwager.

Significant print holdings in the “Carl F. Barnes, Jr. and Anna M. Barnes Print Collection” include works by artists Albrecht Dürer, Piranesi, Edvard Munch and Richard Estes. And the “G. Mennen Williams Collection of African Art and Berton London Collection of Ethnographic Art” collection includes objects from both Africa and Asia, the latter is on display on a rotating basis in the gallery foyer.

The most recent acquisition this year is a collection of about 70 photochromes by the American 19th century photographer William Henry Jackson.

“In the past, large parts of the collection were on show around the campus, but its value has meant that this is no longer possible,” explains Goody. “The Chinese scroll collection, for example, was on show in the Kresge Library until last year with 24/7 access. But these objects were just too valuable to be there unguarded. In their place, is a collection of CoBrA prints chiefly by Karel Appel and Pierre Alechinsky.”

Goody is an associate professor of art, chair and also the director of the Department of Art and Art History. Arriving to OU in 1994, he became the director of the OU Gallery in 2000, affording him a long view of the development of the collection over the years.

One of Goody’s first acts as director was to go on an inventory egg hunt, retrieving valuable works of art from locations across campus where they had wandered over the years.

“There was a particularly valuable painting by Malcolm Morley that I simply couldn’t find,” he recalls. “In the end, after searching and searching, I found it in a telemarketing room.”

O U Art Gallery director Dick Goody handle ancient scrolls with the help of a student in a storage room
Oakland University student Sarah Lawrence handles African sculptures in the back storage space of the Oakland University Art Gallery
Back room storage space where art hangs on the wall at the O U Art Gallery
Mixed media paintings hang behind the walls of the Oakland University Art Gallery
African statuettes in the back storage space of the Oakland University Art Gallery

At larger art institutes like the Detroit Institute of Arts and Smithsonian Institution, it is commonplace to display only about 2 or 5 percent of the collection at a time, says Goody. But even with smaller collections like OU’s, the need for space is a constant battle.

“I’d love to do an exhibition that tells the story of African civilization through the lens of objects themselves,” said Goody. “But to show the African Art collection for a six-week exhibition (which is how long our exhibitions usually run) would do it a disservice. These objects need to be carefully curated in permanent exhibitions and that means a new museum building.”

A museum space would enable the gallery to place a larger portion of the OU collection on permanent display and engage a wider audience of art enthusiasts and aspiring artists in metro Detroit. Until then, Goody says he will keep telling anyone who will listen about the gallery’s hidden treasure with hopes that OU will one day receive resources to tap into the collections full potential.

“All of our efforts have been exerted to keep the collection safe,” says Goody. It’s time to show it off. “There is no doubt about it. A collection, as varied and extraordinary as this one, deserves to been seen.”

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