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Updated 10:00 AM July 10, 2006




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UMMA Off/Site opens doors

Neat blue signs and banners set against a red brick exterior proclaim the new UMMA Off/Site facility at 1301 South University at Forest—the U-M Museum of Art's temporary home for the next two years that just opened in splashy style with Gregory Barsamian's spinning, strobe-lit exhibition "Time and Transformation."
(Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

About 100 guests visited UMMA (pronounced "OO-ma") Off/Site June 24 for a black-tie preview party announcing the launch of the new venue. The second floor, 4,000 square foot space, freshly painted in art-world white (set off with hues of teal, yellow and green with blue carpeted stairs in the entrance areas) houses a hip "downtown" gallery space and the Museum Shop.

"We've been working for months to coordinate all of the public information details to let our visitors know we're not going away for two years," says Stephanie Rieke, UMMA associate editor and external relations coordinator. "We'll continue to be part of the community and a public face to the University through a dynamic exhibition schedule, lectures, tours, and special events."

For two years, UMMA Off/Site will present exhibitions of photography, film and video; the first year's presentations will center around a sense of place. There is little space available for a substantial part of the UMMA collection to be on view during the expansion and renovation of Alumni Memorial Hall, the museum's historic home. Highlights drawn from UMMA's 18,000 objects will tour select museums around the state and the country, while the majority will remain in safe storage until the building reopens in late 2008.

So while UMMA Off/Site exhibitions won't be as wide ranging as the public is used to viewing in the permanent space, one could say the Off/Site exhibitions are sharply focused.

"Even on a much smaller basis, Off/Site will allow the museum to continue engaging the University community and the broader public in the visual arts," says James Steward, UMMA director. "Through two series of linked exhibitions over two years, our hope is a modest exhibition program can be, over time, more than the sum of its parts and encourages repeat visits."

Coinciding with the UMMA Off/Site grand opening was the debut of the Barsamian exhibition. It seeks to recreate the world of dreams and to represent the workings of the artist's own unconscious. An early 19th century device for creating moving images, the zoetrope, is the inspiration for the construction and operation of his works.

The artist mounts a series of images on a large wire armature, powered by a small electric motor and illuminated by a synchronized strobe light. As the armature spins, the individual images move in rapid, intricately timed succession, creating a narrative. The narratives contain sometimes humorous fragments, as when soap suds metamorphose into a paper bag. The disjunction between what is observed and what seems possible to our conscious mind creates tension and confusion, and while the constantly repeating cycle of the images adds to the sensation of being trapped in someone else's dream, it also contributes to a sense of inevitability and truth, the artist says.

"During this time of transition, UMMA Off/Site gives us an important opportunity to be a bit experimental, in terms of the works of art we present as well as the kinds of education and social programs we offer, in taking the museum 'off the wall,' so to speak," Steward says. "Adding to this a commitment to much expanded evening open hours, we're using this as a learning period, in ways we hope will inform what we can do once we move back to the expanded museum."

Shop Manager Suzanne Witthoff worked tirelessly over the last several months planning and preparing to move her entire operation from Alumni Memorial Hall to UMMA Off/Site.

To further announce the museum's presence in the one-time Bicycle Jim's restaurant spot, large window films facing south and west show details of artwork, evoking what might be found in the gallery over the course of the coming two years.

Free guided tours of the Barsamian exhibition will be offered at 7 p.m. July 6 and 20, and August 3, 17 and 31; and 2 p.m. July 9 and 23, and August 6 and 20. The exhibition will be followed by "Mary Lucier: The Plains of Sweet Regret," Sept. 30-Nov. 19—a five-channel video installation with surround sound and various artifacts that combine to return us to the Great Plains of our imaginations and challenge us to think about population shift in our own time.

Along with most of the museum's other 35 staff members, Rieke will be moving her office July 10 to the Rackham Building. "It will be strange walking in and not having so much art on the walls," she says. "But even there, we want our temporary quarters to remind us all of our purposes as an art museum."

UMMA Off/Site hours are Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

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