A German billionaire with deep Tacoma roots is giving his Western American art collection to the Tacoma Art Museum, and the museum will build a new wing to house it, doubling its gallery space.
Most of the new 15,000-square-foot wing and all of the 280-piece art collection come courtesy of Erivan Haub and his wife Helga, who own property here. They amassed the collection over 25 years. Its the largest gift in the museums history, said Rock Hushka, curator of contemporary and Northwest art for TAM. The museum will formally announce the gift and expansion plans on Monday.
Its amazing material. It pretty much records the history of Western art from the early expeditionary time (1820s) to the early 21st century, Hushka said. Museum director Stephanie Stebich called the gift transformative.
Its a huge moment for us, she said. It places Tacoma Art Museum among the top 12 museums that have this breadth and quality (of Western American art). Stebich declined to reveal how much of the building project is being financed by the Haubs but called the Haubs portion significant. We still have some fund-raising to do, she said. The $15 million needed for the expansion is an estimate, she said, and might go higher or lower. Construction will begin in about 10 months, with completion expected in spring of 2014, Stebich said. Plans are being drawn up now.
The museums current exhibition space is 12,000 square feet. While some of the new wing will house bathrooms and other auxiliary spaces, it will essentially double the gallery space. The museum plans to build the rectangular wing along Pacific Avenue, south of the existing structure, toward Union Station. Like the existing building, it will cantilever over the parking lot on tall piers. A grand staircase will be built from the parking lot to a redesigned plaza on Pacific Avenue. The plaza will be linked to a new lobby. The staircase will be an art space itself, much like the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, Hushka said.
We want people to think they are at the Tacoma Art Museum as soon as they drive in the parking lot. Art will guide them up the stairway and into the lobby. There will be a reason for people to make that trip up the stairs, Hushka said. Discussions with the Haubs about the gift began in earnest last fall, Stebich said. A redesign for the plaza was already in the works. Funding for it will come from other sources.
TAM has hired Seattle design architect Tom Kundig to design the expansion and plaza project. Kundigs firm was the architects of record for the current 2003 building. Antoine Predock was the design architect on that project, but Predock will not be involved in the expansion, Hushka said.
Were doing everything we can to preserve the integrity of the existing architecture, but the new wing will have a unique identity that will integrate with the existing building, Hushka said.
The news is being greeted with praise by the museum community.
This just underscores how strong the cultural community is in Tacoma and how great the assets are here, said Jennifer Kilmer, director of the nearby Washington State Historical Museum. Kilmer said she couldnt think of another city of Tacomas size that has so many prominent museums. Where else can you go and get all that within walking distance?
The Haub family could have made this investment in any other community but they chose Tacoma. ... Were lucky to have them as benefactors, Kilmer said.
Susan Warner, the director of Tacomas other art museum, the Museum of Glass, said she is thrilled by the news.
Its an amazing accomplishment on the part of the Tacoma Art Museum and its going to have a positive impact on all of us, Warner said. Visitors will go to TAM and come see us as well. Its a win-win situation for all of us.
The Haub collection is a whos who of Western art: Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Georgia OKeeffe, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, John Clymer, and Tom Lovell as well as contemporary artists such as Bill Schenck. It contains both paintings and sculptures. The new wing will display anywhere from 100 to 150 pieces at a time, Hushka said.
This is definitely one of the finest Western art collections in private hands, Hushka said. Only the Denver Art Museum with its extensive collections of Native American art and Western painting and photography has a substantially greater collection, Stebich and Hushka said. The Haubs have established an endowment to care for the art that they have been collecting since 1984. Before accepting the gift, TAM consulted with Peter Hassrick, director emeritus of Denver Art Museums Petrie Institute of Western American Art and senior scholar and director emeritus of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo. In a telephone interview from Cody, Hassrick said he became aware of the Haub collection about six years ago. It looked to me to be a really intriguing collection. A lot of it was contemporary living artists, Hassrick said. Since then, he said, the Haubs have been very ambitious in acquiring more works. Western American art didnt become differentiated from American art until the 1950s, Hassrick said. And then it was really easy for East Coast culture to say, Oh thats out West. Thats provincial. They isolated and marginalized the art. Western Art became associated with stereotypes of cowboys, Indians and desert landscapes. It wasnt just the poor stepchild. It was the idiot cousin, Hassrick said of the movements reputation.
Now, the genre has come into its own. Its an element of the American experience. A lot of these paintings tell a story. A lot of the meanings are hidden and you have to understand the history behind them, Hassrick said.
Its a broader definition of the West, Stebich said of the collection. The Haubs collected both for quality and breadth.
Some of the artists represented, such as Schenck, bear little resemblance to cowboy artists like Remington. (Schenck is) like Andy Warhol meets the West. Hes got a pop sensibility. (His art says) Were not finished with the West, Stebich said.
The gift raises the stature of TAM in the art world and comes on the heels of a major gift of glass art from artist Paul Marioni. Does it dilute TAMs mission of focusing on Northwest art? Stebich said no.
Our focus continues to be on the Northwest. I think we broaden our definition of Northwest and the West as well, she said.
The history of Northwest art cant be told unless you know the story of American art. A full story of American art has to include these images of the American West, Hushka said. By keeping this collection intact and in Tacoma it helps us understand who we are as Northwesterners, Hushka said.
TAM will use the collection to interpret other Western American art forms including photography, Huskha said. The American West is so rich and complicated. We have 100 years of stories to understand. Native Americans, environmentalism, immigrants, exploration, cities, railroads. There are so many things that this collection will allow us to tell, Hushka said. The Haubs are not done collecting, Stebich said. They enjoy collecting and we have a vision of helping them collect, Stebich said. TAM hopes to expand the collection to include photography and perhaps video.
We have to make the West relevant and meaningful for the next generation, she said.