Competing for the Arts in a Football World

By Verna GatesPhotography courtesy of University of Mississippi Museum, Georgia Museum of Art and Auburn University

Andy Warhol cuts to the left, tosses a soup can. Claude Monet catches light on the right. Edvard Munch screams down to the finish line. These “players” are tops in their field, but they are not playing on the gridiron. Instead, they are competing for fandom in Southern university art museums.
While the nation looks to the South for great football, the region was known for its arts long before the gridiron dominated the time of falling leaves. The rich culture of the South has created some of the best art, literature, music and food that is recognized world-wide. The fine art museums dot campuses across the region, bringing in works from not only Southern culture but also global cultures.
When the noise and revelry get a little overwhelming – and even if you like noise and revelry – take time to explore these noteworthy and highly regarded museums only a short distance from the stadiums. They are always winners even when your team loses.

University of Mississippi
The helmet is covered in pink, blue and green flowers, a design by Alexis Bittar, a name more likely to be recognized by a football wife than a football player. It is one of three helmets owned by the University of Mississippi Museum, bought from Bloomingdale’s Fashion Touchdown. These items join the other 20,000 art treasurers found in the museum, including the 2,000 pieces of Greco Roman art, a nationally-known collection.
In a can’t-beat-them-join-them attitude, the museum prides itself on its good relationship with the athletics department, which has supported them with sponsorships.
“When we bought those helmets, we got to meet with the athletics director. They must have made his head spin around. We are a good case of partnering with athletics,” said Robert Saarnio, Director, University Museum and Historic Houses.
This October, stroll two blocks from The Grove to the museum for an exhibit featuring famed Mississippi photographers Maude Schuyler Clay and Langdon Clay.

University of Memphis
Egypt dominates the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, honoring the first Memphis, so named by the Pharaoh Menes in 1550 BCE. The mummies are back in a brand-new installation. Since Egypt sits on the African continent, the museum features an extensive collection of Sub-Saharan art. As an American city, Civil Rights also exerts an influence and, in the fall, a collection of Art Shay, Time Life photographer, will be on display.
“He talked his way into the room at the Lorraine Motel and into the funeral parlor where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was taken. He photographed celebrities, events and sports – just amazing photographs of amazing times,” said Jennifer Draffen, Assistant Director.

University of Florida
“Our vibrant art scene is right up there with the Gatorade legacy,” said Jessica Berube, Communications Specialist with the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, considered the top contender in the SEC art museum scrum.
Within the 40,400 feet of exhibit space, the Harn Museum hosts works ranging from a Monet to Korean landscapes to Kehinde Wiley, Obama’s presidential portraitist. While attending the most American of pastimes, you can browse through Asian, African and Oceanic art, just for the change of scenery. Or stick with the Gatorade legacy with Florida artists.
This fall, an Andrew Kertész show takes you off-center with the ground-breaking work that revolutionized modern photography. Or, you can shamelessly pop into the gift shop for the most unique Gator-themed jewelry and gifts.

University of Georgia
An impressive team line up with muscular artistic names such as Warhol, Picasso, Gauguin, Renoir, Manet, Rodin, Cassatt, Durer, Matisse, Dali, and Klee puts the Georgia Museum of Art at University of Georgia in the museum ballgame. Founded in 1945, this museum serves the entire state with its massive collection.
While it can hoist the Old Masters on its shoulders, it also indulges in quirky exhibitions, such as the upcoming Food Ways exhibit. Thomas Jefferson wanted Georgia to grow olives, which is now becoming a reality. Along with the silver olive spoon on display, is a pair of silver fried chicken tongs – dating back to a time when that tailgate favorite was a delicacy.
Bulldog fans have something special to look forward to this fall. “We have a cool, giant pot representation of the first football game, played against Yale,” said Hillary Brown, Director of Communications, who also suggested paying homage to the “lovely air-conditioning” on sweltering game days.

Auburn University
Auburn University may eternally struggle against in-state rival, but its art museum ranks steadily in the top 10. From the peaceful landscape of a Georgia O’Keefe to the tortured image of Edvard Munch of The Scream fame the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art challenges the mind with 2,500 works of art. “Creative Cadences: Works by Roger and Greg Brown” features works by the Opelika brothers. Roger is considered one of the most important contemporary artists to come from Alabama.

Vanderbilt University
In Nashville, Vanderbilt University fields its art gallery with Old Masters, Renaissance paintings, ancient art from Greco Roman to Mesoamerican, along with Asian, African and American art.
The Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries Fine Art Gallery features one of the broader assortments of arts found on SEC university walls. A Symbols and Archetypes exhibition brings together images through a variety of eras and areas to connect shared symbolism.

University of North Carolina
The neighbor to the east, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, won a hard-fought court battle to receive the bequest from William Ackland’s will to found the Ackland Museum. The estate invested wisely in what is now more than 18,000 works of art.
The museum is known for its Asian collection, art on paper, and North Carolina pottery. An impressive list of master works features major artists such as Delacroix, Dürer, Fragonard, Picasso and Dali. The fall exhibit, “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World” will question tradition, change, and perceptions of the Arab identity.

Louisiana State University
From a Gainsborough portrait to a world-class Chinese jade collection to Louisiana ceramics, the LSU Museum of Art in downtown Baton Rouge competes in national and regional art arenas. With Tiger pride, it focuses much of its collection on local artists and presents wide-ranging exhibits.
As testosterone pounds the football field, the “Public/Private/Shared Self” exhibit explores masculinity and gender fluidity, along with femininity and the intimacy of domestic life. A contemporary jewelry collection, “Adore/Adorn,” combines sculpture with fashion and a ceramic artist pushes materials and forms to the verge of collapse.

The Rest of the Pack
Some universities, such as the University of Alabama, focus on natural history. The University of Tennessee has its McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture. Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, focuses on music with a GRAMMY Museum celebrating the Delta’s rich musical heritage. Often free and open to the public on game day, campus galleries offer all sorts of art, history and cultural exhibits – from presidential papers to medical devices to Southern history and more.
While you are cheering on your team, take a moment to toast the talented artists who contribute to a different kind of campus culture. Perhaps before or after game day, you can walk among the other champions awaiting you on campus.

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.