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About Brenau University Galleries
The Brenau University Galleries at the historic Gainesville, Georgia campus consist of five exhibition spaces and a permanent art collection. The Galleries serve as an educational and cultural resource for Northeast Georgia by way of free public programming and exhibitions. A growing docent program allows the Galleries to accommodate free tours of select exhibits and set hours of operation provide opportunities for community visitors throughout the week.
History of the Galleries and Permanent Art Collection
Since the institution’s inception in 1878, the arts have played a prominent role in the history and culture of Brenau University. However, Brenau had no designated gallery space until 1985, when Dr. John S. Burd became president. Having a strong personal interest in the arts and understanding their value to an academic institution, Dr. Burd inaugurated the Brenau Permanent Art Collection in 1986. He encouraged donations from art collectors and placed advertisements in art journals to publicize and further encourage donations to the collection. That same year, the first dedicated gallery space for the University was created – a small chapel outside the balcony of the historic Pearce Auditorium was converted into the Presidents Gallery. There are now a total of five gallery spaces on Brenau’s campus: the Presidents Gallery; Sellars Gallery in the Simmons Visual Arts Center; Castelli Gallery in the John S. Burd Center for Performing Arts; Renaissance Gallery located in the Lobby of the Renaissance Center just off the Downtown Gainesville Square and the Manhattan Gallery in the Brenau University Downtown Center.
The first collection entry was a still life painting by renowned American artist William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). Currently numbering over 4,500 works, the collection includes drawings, paintings and sculptures by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Anna Elizabeth Klumpke (1856-1942), Clyde Connell (1901-1998), and William King (1925-2015). The collection also includes many Pop art prints by Jasper Johns (1930- ), Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), and Frank Stella (1936- ). Also included in the collection are many significant works by Georgia artists, including sculptor Maria Artemis (1945- ), printmaker and sculptor Beverly Buchanan (1940-2015), painter Lamar Dodd (1909-1996), printmaker Ruth Laxson (1924-2019) and folk artist R. A. Miller (1912-2006). Collection works figure prominently throughout all campus buildings and periodically in thematic exhibitions.
The 1914 Neoclassical style campus library building was renovated in 1990 to become the Simmons Visual Arts Center, hosting exhibitions of art by students, alumnae, faculty and nationally and internationally known artists. The Galleries’ exhibition history includes such prominent women artists as Beverly Buchanan, Nancy Graves (1939-1995), Miriam Schapiro (1923-2015), Marisol (1930-2016), Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998), Elizabeth Catlett (1919-2012), and Liliana Porter (1941- ). Unique group exhibitions include Women Artists from the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, ReAppearance: Realism in Contemporary Art, Southern Trace, and Girlschool.
Constructed in 2002, the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts contains the Leo Castelli Art Gallery. Named in honor of the well-known New York gallery dealer who served as a Board of Trustee member from 1991 until his death in 1999, the gallery became the third exhibition space on Brenau’s campus. The institution’s relationship with Castelli spawned several exhibitions of Pop artists’ works and Pop art donations to the collection. The most unique of these particular donations would be the American Center, Paris (1994) print by Augusta-born artist Jasper Johns. Johns donated the work in honor of his two maiden aunts who attended Brenau. Upon its receipt, then-President John Burd wrote to Johns about the print’s subject matter. The famously reticent artist responded with yet another one-of-a-kind work — a hand-drawn diagram identifying the print’s major elements on a sheet of tracing paper.
Upon receipt of this print, donated by the artist in honor of his two maiden aunts who attended Brenau, then-President John Burd inquired directly with the typically reticent Pop icon in order to learn more about the print’s subject matter. The artist’s response came in the form of a hand-drawn diagram on tracing paper, identifying all of the major elements in the print – a very rare item.
In 2014 a fourth gallery space was introduced on Brenau’s campus. The Manhattan Gallery, located in the Brenau University Downtown Center, features an ongoing exhibition of Brenau University Permanent Collection artwork. The installation features work by artists who have some connection to the New York art world that has generously supported Brenau University over the years. The space is anchored by over 100 works from the collection of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, who were very well-known in the New York art scene. The exhibition also features a number of photographs and prints by artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987), which were given to Brenau by the Andy Warhol Foundation. Other notable artists represented include Kiki Smith (1954- ), Francesco Clemente (1952-), Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), and Margaret Evangeline (1943-). Many of the artists in the Manhattan Gallery played major roles in the movements that made New York City the cultural destination that it is today. This installation highlights the extraordinary breadth and caliber of the Brenau University Permanent Art Collection.
The fifth space, Renaissance Gallery opened in 2022 with an exhibition of prints by Pablo Picasso. This space is reserved for mainly special exhibitions and permanent collection works. It is open by appointment only and does open its doors during downtown events such as the annual Historic Downtown Gainesville Artwalk and the Downtown Gainesville’s First Friday Music Series held in the summer months.