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An experts’ guide to Stanley Museum must-sees (besides ‘Mural’)



A section of “Mural” by Jackson Pollock. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Sure, Mural represents a breakthrough, American ascendency in the art world. Yeah, yeah, it has its own documentary film. And sure, the new University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art where it’s housed is gorgeous, sexing up Burlington Street like the Voxman before it.

But what else should you look for in the Stanley’s collections? I asked museum staff, interns and docents to provide their personal favorites and must-see objects. You may have already gotten some of these recommendations from the museum’s recent social media posts, but here are a few more. All of the works are from the 20th or 21st century, and some are recent additions, acquired in the last five years. We’ve listed objects in alphabetical order by the artist’s last name, because we felt like it. A reminder that the museum is free of charge, so please take advantage of this old/new cultural resource in Iowa City.

Eric Adjetey Anang’s Fantasy Coffins

“[They have] a rich history from the country of Ghana. These coffins, sometimes referred to as “receptacles of proverbs,” are figurative coffins that relate to the life of its inhabitant; in many ways it is a final tribute to the lives lived, because of the images carved in the wooden receptacle.” —Ann Donahue, docent

“These hand carved coffins have several meanings. The fish coffin would be utilized traditionally for a fisher person, fishmonger or, in a social awareness context, British colonial authority in Ghana and the rules for burial forced upon the Ga peoples. Eric is using a traditional art form that is part of his family’s legacy to make statements about current events.” —Eliza Rose, docent

Elizabeth Catlett, Glory (Glorie)

“This 1981 bronze bust exhibits [Catlett’s] ability to celebrate the strength and beauty of Black women. Glory Van Scott was a performer and educator well-known for her work as a principal dancer with several dance companies in the latter half of the 20th century.” —David Duer, docent

Sam Gilliam, Red April

“I feel something strong each time I am near it. You’ll see the amazing, rich texture achieved by the innovative way Gilliam handled the canvas before it was stretched — folding and painting and saturating, then applying additional elements as the canvas was stretched. The painting commemorates the pain and strife of the assassination of Martin Luther King. It is a rich, deep, enigmatic and very personal painting.” —Barbara McFadden, docent

Stanley Museum of Art visitors observe ‘Red April’ by Sam Gilliam

Abdoulaye Konate, Rouge Kente et Monde

“It is a gorgeous textile located in Gallery 13. I would urge visitors to simply stand before it and take in the intense colors of the vertical strips of ribbons in red (blood), black (earth) and white (spirits). To me the three-dimensional fabrics feel intensely present in the space, a very different type of presence than the paint equivalents. The textile is a total WOW!” —Pat Hanick, docent

Simone Leigh, #103 (Face Jug Series)

“Her work honors Black women and connects art from central Africa brought by slaves to the U.S. and interpreted by Leigh in an exquisite sculpture/portrait. The curators have placed it in conversation with a Grant Wood portrait and a Gordon Parks photograph.” —Laurie Zaiger, docent

Stanley Museum patrons walk through the second floor galleries. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Mark Rothko, Untitled

“I’d recommend people spend time with smaller works … My favorite is probably the small untitled Mark Rothko painting we have — I love it because it’s a bit funky and enigmatic (you don’t have to “get” everything you look at!). It’s also an interesting counterpart/precursor to more abstract works like Mural or the works that later defined Rothko’s own career. And I think, on a larger scale, too, that’s what’s so great about [current museum exhibit] Homecoming — seeing all these works in conversation with one another really helps you make interesting connections between artists, mediums and cultures!” —Allie Torkarski, Assistant Curator of Student Engagement

Alma Thomas, Spring Embraces Yellow

“You should look at Spring Embraces Yellow [accession number 1975. 103] because it will warm your soul. Alma Thomas’ works are vibrant and inspiring; they can brighten up the dreariest of days.” —Kathryn Reuter, Academic Outreach Coordinator

Hervé Youmbi, Bamiléké-Dogon Ku’ngang Mask, Series: Visages de masques (VI)

“This work is visually powerful, conceptually disruptive and it highlights the vitality of contemporary artistic practice in Africa. It also complements the strength of historical masks from Africa in the museum collection.” —Cory Gundlach, Curator of African Art

Guro-style masks from Cote d’Ivoire in The Stanley Collection of African Art. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Earthenware, Stoneware and Ceramics Collection

“I recommend UI Stanley Museum of Art visitors view the museum’s earthenware, stoneware and ceramic art collection in the Savin and Fieselmann Galleries (Galleries 3 and 4). Each individual vessel is a gorgeous masterpiece on its own, and the wall arrangement of all of them together is absolutely stunning. It took my breath away when I saw it.” —Anne Welsh

“You should follow one of our self-guided tours! They’ve been thoughtfully designed for guests to explore objects as they relate to the tour themes. A fun and new way of experiencing the Stanley collection. My favorite is Color Tour – Red. Color tours focus on the significance of particular hues across time and cultures. The featured color changes periodically.” —Amanda Lensing, Senior Living Communities Program Coordinator

A ceramics display at the museum. – Adria Carpenter/Little Village

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