Lafayette’s biggest art museum is kicking off the spring art season with an array of thought-provoking exhibits that museum officials hope will engage the community.
One of the exhibits at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum is a digital composition — video and still photographs — that examines what life would be like without flowers.
Another features large portraits, exploring the search for one’s self through the lenses of popular culture, identity politics, and religious and social environments.
The exhibits were installed in the museum’s 11,000-square-foot gallery earlier this month and come as the museum rolls out its new hours to accommodate events for the spring.
“The overall goal is to make the museum a center for community engagement,” museum Director LouAnne Greenwald said. “Of course, we need to get our community here to make that happen.”
The new hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. The museum will be closed on Mondays and Fridays.
“We really felt that it was important to respond to some feedback we’ve been hearing from the community,” Greenwald said. “With the museum being open on weekdays and Saturdays, a lot of families could come on a Saturday. By staying open in the evenings on a week night, we’re able to attract more folks from campus who are busy with classes as well as people in the community who work all day.”
Greenwald said the museum will stay open on Wednesday nights to hold events like music performances, presentations on gallery exhibits, community programs or lectures.
On Feb. 4, a section from UL-Lafayette’s New Music Ensemble will perform works by Keeril Makan, Lei Liang and Christopher Cerrone. The performance begins at 6 p.m. and is the first event since the museum changed its hours.
“We’re programming the nights to where the museum is more of a destination,” Greenwald said. “You’re not just there to browse the gallery; there’s also a presentation going on.”
The first of the new exhibits is New Orleans native Courtney Egan’s multimedia exhibition, “The New Sublime,” which fuses what was described as “projection-based sculptural installations” with botany to take a glimpse into a future in which photos and video may be the only way humans can view flora.
“The digital works are something new for us,” museum Curator Lee Gray said. “We haven’t shown a lot of new media, so it’s something I’m hoping people will find appealing and will want to see more of.”
“I feel like there’s a lot of experimental work going on in new media,” she said. “I didn’t see a lot of that in the museum’s exhibition program in the past, so bringing the Courtney Egan exhibition in was an important statement that we’re very interested in what’s happening in artists’ experimentations in new media. Hopefully, we’ll do more of that.”
On the other side of the exhibition hall is University of Alabama professor Gary Chapman’s “Truth and Identity: Questions for the Self.” The work features large paintings and mixed media that document the search for the ultimate truth in finding one’s identity.
“They’re just layered in all kinds of different religious and pop culture iconography,” Gray said. “It’s a really fascinating exhibition.”
Gray came across Chapman’s work while working as a curator in Alabama.
“Every time I’d go to a museum in Alabama, I’d see his works, and they were so powerful that they really stuck in my mind,” Gray said.
Acquiring the works of Egan and Chapman highlights a move by the museum to show off the work of more Southern artists, Gray said.
“People should come and see these exhibitions,” Gray said. “I think they’re fascinating. It’s a great opportunity to see some really provocative work.”
The second part of an exhibition examining the works of early 20th-century American artist Henry Botkin will be on display until April 18. The piece, which explores the later years of Botkin’s body of work, features paintings and collages, exemplifying the artist’s maturity.
The first part of the exhibit was housed in the museum last year.
Located on UL-Lafayette’s campus near Girard Park, the museum has the largest exhibition space between Houston and New Orleans.
Visit hilliardmuseum.org for more information on these exhibits and future programs.