wenty-two years ago, on October 13, 1993, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the BYU Museum of Art. Then a counselor in the First Presidency, he declared it to be “a beautiful jewel, . . . a magnificent structure, . . . an element of inestimable worth to this beautiful campus.”
President Hinckley was joined by BYU President Rex Lee and Museum Director James A. Mason in cutting the ribbon at the entrance to the galleries. The event marked the culmination of more than a decade of planning, fund raising, and construction.
Earlier that year, President Lee had acknowledged Dr. Mason’s crucial role as the driving force behind the project.
“Indeed,” he wrote, “without your leadership, vision, and energy, the museum project would never have been possible.”
n some ways, Mason was an unlikely man to lead the charge toward a new art museum. Mason’s background was in music, and he served as chairman of BYU’s music department before being appointed Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications in 1982.
Shortly after taking leadership of the college, Mason noted that the value of the university’s art collection had increased substantially in recent years. He worried that the collection had neither the staff nor the facilities to protect and care for it properly.
“I have been eager to use the art collection to provide an important ingredient in the broad education of all of our university students,” Mason wrote in a 1987 memo to then-BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland. “This requires an art museum where our aesthetic treasures can be preserved, restored, and displayed under conditions that invite contemplation.”
he art museum project was officially launched in 1986. The Board of Trustees’ approval required Mason to raise the necessary $20 million entirely from private sources.
Mason’s gift for inspiring others enabled him to build a circle of dedicated supporters for the project. The campaign began with pledges from the faculty and staff of his own college. One employee, who made $18,000 a year, insisted on donating $5,000 to the project. Mason recognized this as one of the most heartfelt gifts of the campaign.
Along with hundreds of modest contributions came the sizable donations of benefactors including the Ashtons, Barlows, Harmans, Hornes, Marriotts, Larsens, Solomons, Wheatleys, Fritz-Burns Foundation, and Lied Foundation. The Wheatleys also provided expert advice on construction planning and artistic questions.
Mason watched from the windows of his office in the HFAC as the elegant red granite structure gradually rose from the massive pit next door. When completed, the imposing 100,000 square-foot building would be one of the finest university art museums in the country.
The four-story Museum of Art includes ten exhibition galleries, an auditorium, classrooms, a small theatre, a print study room, a gift store, a cafeteria, and security and administrative offices. The lower levels house state-of-the-art design, fabrication, imaging, registration, and storage areas. A sculpture garden complements its southern lawn.
Construction of the MOA
he Museum’s dedication fulfilled a dream that Mason shared with many supporters, but it was far from the end of his mission. He accepted the position of Museum Director and served for nearly three years.
Dr. Mason was determined to present world-class exhibitions and programs. He envisioned the MOA as a premier destination for the university and the state.
Some of the first exhibitions to come to the museum set this precedent. The museum’s opening exhibition, The Etruscans: Legacy of a Lost Civilization, containing 2000-year-old artifacts from the Vatican Museums. Two years later, Imperial Tombs of China attracted more than 320,000 visitors, the Musuem’s all-time record.
n 1996, Mason passed the baton of leadership to the museum’s second director, Dr. Campbell Gray. Gray was succeeded by current director, Dr. Mark A. Magleby, in 2011. Under their leadership, the museum has opened ten to twelve new exhibitions each year.
From November 2013 to May 2014, the Museum of Art exhibited Sacred Gifts: The Religious Work of Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann and Frans Schwartz. The exhibition featured various portrayals of the Savior by these three 19th-century masters. Among the nearly two dozen pieces were paintings on loan from the Frederiksberg Castle Museum in Denmark. Most of the works in the exhibit had never been on display before in the United States and were shown only at the Museum of Art.
These exceptional circumstances arose partly from the special appreciation LDS audiences have for the works.
That affinity was borne out by the over 239,000 patrons it attracted from across the globe. Sacred Gifts ended up as one of the highest-attended exhibits ever shown at the BYU Museum of Art.
Major Past and Upcoming Exhibitions
The museum also showcases BYU’s own collections of American and religious paintings, including extensive collections of works by Maynard Dixon and Minerva Teichert.
Embracing the Community
ver the years, the BYU Museum of Art has welcomed more than 7 million visitors. Each year it attracts more than 350,000 patrons, making it one of the highest attended university art museums in North America.
The museum reaches these vast audiences through an array of educational and outreach programs. These range from exhibition opening celebrations and interactive family programs to workshops, lectures, and symposia featuring some of the art world’s greatest minds.
Young families have loved Van Gogh to Play-Doh, an interactive program for young children that incorporates a museum exhibit into a fun, hands-on activity. Older families enjoy the Open Studio program, which offers a self-guided art-making experience.
For university students, the MOA has introduced a variety of lively programming. Art After Dark is a proven student favorite. The first Friday of each month, the museum celebrates an opening or current exhibit with great art, live music, and catering by the MOA Café. Students and others also enjoy Art With Heart, a date night program, as well as regular performances by musical groups in the Lied main gallery.
Serving the University and the World
he museum also takes seriously its university mission. Students have opportunities to visit, take classes, and work as museum interns and employees. The Museum of Art staff works closely with BYU faculty to incorporate the museum’s collection, exhibits, and guest lectures into class curriculum.
Museum of Art
All these activities, exhibitions, and programs fulfill the hope that Dean Mason expressed in his memo to President Holland. Mason envisioned “an art museum where our aesthetic treasures can be preserved, restored, and displayed under conditions that invite contemplation.”
Since he penned those words almost three decades ago, the Museum of Art has indeed become a place where visitors of all ages come to learn, to grow, and to be inspired.