You could call 2015 a year of changes for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Several cosmetic changes happened in anticipation of the centennial celebration in 2016, but the museum also has new leadership. Our new executive director, Dr. Emily Ballew Neff, was announced in April and is leading the museum in providing "dynamic and revelatory experiences for its visitors through great works of art from all over the world.”
"I want all Memphians to know that the museum belongs to them, and that it is one of the region’s greatest treasures—here for them to enjoy and learn from,” said Neff.
Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt was on view through January 18, 2015. This exhibition included artifacts and animal mummies from Egypt, as well as x-rays and research materials from the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. The numerous objects in this exhibition were derived from animal graveyards located around the ancient city of Memphis, the capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 B.C.) and the gateway to the Nile Delta.
This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement opened in January and closed in May. It was comprised of 157 black-and-white images by Bob Adelman, George Ballis, Bob Fitch, Bob Fletcher, Matt Herron, David Prince, Herbert Randall, Maria Varela, and Tamio Wakayama and offers a remarkable, moving view of this crucial period in American history. Visitors were able to see what the Civil Rights Movement was like through the eyes and voices of these activist photographers who experienced it. Brooks Museum also partnered with the National Civil Rights Museum. Pictures Tell the Story, an exhibition of photographs from the Brooks’ permanent collection, was on view at the NCRM through April 20, 2015.
The Art of Video Games opened in June and drew large crowds during its time at the museum. The Art of Video Games is the brainchild of Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels, an organization which records and preserves video games. He planned the exhibition in collaboration with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, but relied upon the public to decide its contents. The Art of Video Games reflects the choices of 119,000 people from 175 countries who cast 3.7 million votes to decide which, among hundreds of games, were the most important. A successful community day was held in July that featured a Minecraft contest with more than 200 entries.
Kids and adults all entered their ideas for art museums, in the world of Minecraft. Brooks Museum also partnered with Voxelbox - a company which specializes in generating digital worlds—to craft a Minecraft map based on The Grand Canal from the Campo San Vio by Canaletto.
Wonder, Whimsy, Wild: Folk Art in America opened in November and highlights American folk art from New England and the Midwest made between 1800 and 1925. Among the paintings are portraits, still lifes, landscapes, and allegorical paintings, while the objects include sculptures, commercial signs, furniture, and household objects. While these objects were long excluded from fine art galleries, they have been taking their place in museums across the country, helping to produce a fuller picture of America’s artistic creative diversity. This exhibition, which is drawn from the Barbara L. Gordon Collection, closes in February 2016.
Brooks Films in 2015
This year was a whirlwind, packed with screenings like The 78 Project, Little White Lie, Salad Days, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, and The Wolfpack. We howled our way through another year of the Internet Cat Video Festival, made Frida-inspired headbands for our Art & A Movie screening of Frida, watched a young Marlon Brando on the big screen, and delved into circa-1968 politics via Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville's Best of Enemies.
Most importantly, we became a community of film lovers. Our spring 2015 partnership with Urban League Young Professionals provided new programming and helped spread the word about the Brooks Films program citywide.
We kicked off December - and our American Quirk Film Series - with the Memphis premiere of Les Blank's ramble through the world of circa 1970s Leon Russell.
In 2015, the museum served 175 schools across the Mid-South, including schools in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas, with just over 10,000 students participating in school tours. We also had several Home School Days with 890 children and their caregivers participating.
A hugely popular, free, summer program is our Wacky Wednesdays, which is sponsored by Thomas & Betts. This summer’s highlight was The Art of Video Games exhibition. More than 4,200 people came through the museum during Wacky Wednesdays in 2015.
Several fun Community Days were held with more than 3,100 people attending the special event. That amounts to more than 18,000 children experiencing the Brooks Museum in 2015. Generous gifts help keep all these programs free to Mid-South families and schools.
Our other education programs also had a great attendance during 2015. Docents, curators, and guest artists or educators led 616 tours this year. Also, the Tea and Tour for Seniors program, which is sponsored by the Brooks Museum League had 579 participants.
Brooks Museum also has a speakers bureau that visits groups and delivers 30-mintute presentations that highlight the collection and exhibitions. Our Speaking of Art program reached more than 580 people in 2015.
Museum changes in 2015
In April, we welcomed Dr. Emily Ballew Neff as the Brooks Museum’s 15th executive director.
A new welcome desk in the rotunda, which was installed in June, has made the film-going experience easier for staff, volunteers, and visitors. In October, we moved one of our major programming days from Thursdays to Wednesdays to offer a better Brooks experience. Brooks Museum is now free and open for 10 hours on Wednesdays, from 10 am to 8 pm.
You’ll also notice some changes in the special exhibition galleries. Walls were painted and a major difference is the new floor. Old carpet was ripped up and the cement floors were refinished.
The Chandler Gallery, located near The Brushmark Restaurant, is now home to a rotating exhibition called William Eggleston & Ernest C. Withers in Conversation, focuses on the work by the two famed Memphis photographers.
We’ve also redesigned BrooksMuseum.org. This update focuses more on art and also highlights our visitor’s experience by curating their social media posts on our #BrooksMuseum page. When visitors use the hashtag #BrooksMuseum their posts will show up in that special section.
These transformations, along with myriad other changes occurring throughout the museum, are in anticipation of our 100th anniversary which kicks off in May 2016.
Upcoming exhibitions and events
Before our centennial celebration in May 2016, we're anticipating the return of the Internet Cat Video Festival and the Oscar Shorts film program. Brooks Films is partnering with Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center's Outflix Film Festival crew for regularly scheduled screenings of films made by or for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community. We're also committed to another dynamic calendar year of new, classic, foreign, and independent film screenings.
Upcoming exhibitions include Hassan Hajjaj: My Rock Stars opening in May 2016 and in October we’re looking forward to Red Grooms: Traveling Correspondent, which is being organized by Brooks Museum’s chief curator Marina Pacini.
Several other special events and exhibitions will be happening in 2016 as we celebrate 100 years of the Brooks Museum’s commitment to transforming lives through the power of art.