Museum Adventures: University Museum of Contemporary Art

Turning 40, the University Museum of Contemporary Art Continues to Shine

September is a hectic but exciting time of the year. As summer winds down and new routines set in, we invite you to explore what the University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA) has to offer!

Now in our fortieth year as a teaching museum at UMass Amherst, we continue to serve the community as a powerful resource. Through our outstanding exhibitions, visiting artists program, growing permanent collection, and varied educational programming, the museum is an amazing place to explore. 

The UMCA is housed in the Fine Arts Center, a building designed by Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, which demonstrates an extraordinary chapter of the school’s past. At the heart of the UMass Amherst campus, the monumental Fine Arts Center showcases the performing and fine arts with its mammoth size, textured concrete facades, and communal design. Built during the 1970s, the FAC was revolutionary—a world-class architect had designed a top-notch space for students of primarily working class backgrounds. After the Second World War, UMass saw a sharp rise in enrollment due to the passage of the G.I. Bill; this paralleled the rise of early modern architecture. UMass turned to Roche, a rising modernist architect, to provide facilities for students.

You’ll find the UMCA in the lower level of the Fine Arts Center, facing the UMass Pond and the Campus Center. With Haigis Mall on one side and Massachusetts Avenue (the main roadway through the university) on another, the Fine Arts Center is easy to find. The only tricky part may be finding the UMCA’s main entryway; you can enter through the lobby of the Fine Arts Center, or come to our pond-side door. Look for our 20-foot banner on the side of the building!

If you have not yet visited the UMCA, you won’t want to miss Chuck Close Photographs. The exhibition comes to Amherst after opening at the Parrish Art Museum on Long Island. It is fitting that Chuck Close’s extensive photographic work will be on view at the UMCA, as his very first solo exhibition was held here in 1967 when he was a member of the UMass Art Department faculty. Close’s brief time at UMass had a lasting effect on generations of students and faculty. Made famous by his intricately detailed portraiture paintings, Close has also experimented with and expanded the field of photography. Chuck Close Photographs focuses exclusively on this important aspect of Close’s artistic endeavor, amply demonstrating the artist’s range of invention; included are 86 of Close’s photographs, some very large, made between 1968 and the present. The exhibition will travel to other museums across the U.S. following its presentation in Amherst. Related events this fall include two screenings of the film Chuck Close Documentary by the late director Marion Cajori. Check our website for times and locations: Chuck Close Photographs begins September 10, 2015, with an opening reception in the Fine Arts Center lobby from 5-7pm. The exhibition is curated and co-organized by Terrie Sultan, Director of the Parrish Art Museum, and Colin Westerbeck, an internationally acclaimed author, independent curator, and former curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Our second fall offering is Anne Beresford–Ten Thousand Wonderful Things: A Conversation with the University Collections, on view from September 25 through December 6, 2015. Local artist Beresford has curated a special exhibition from collections across campus, including biology, anthropology, and geology. Beresford includes some of her own works and pieces from the UMCA’s permanent collection as well. An accompanying online virtual exhibition has been created by undergraduate students Rachel Mathison and Jacob Liverman, guided by graduate student Emily Devoe. Ten Thousand Wonderful Things blends science and art, the new and the old. Come to our opening reception on September 24, 2015, from 5-7pm to see this ground-breaking show!

As part of our celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the University Museum, we have invited 40 artists to bring to life—in whatever way they choose—40 unadorned wooden chairs, donated to the UMCA by the Lexington Group of West Springfield. This exhibition is called Please Sit on the Art! The UMCA will host a silent auction and reception in the Spring 2016 to auction the art chairs to some lucky art fans.

With the return of students and faculty, and the reopening of the UMCA after summer break, September brings a new life to our community. We look forward to inspiring dialogue, creativity, and interest in contemporary art.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to learn about exhibition openings, special events, and artists’ visits. The museum is free of charge, and all are welcome to visit the UMCA as we engage and cultivate relationships between departments on campus, the local community, and the international contemporary art world.

Image credits:

  • Chuck Close, Self-Portrait, 2004; Daguerreotype; 8-1/2 x 6-1/2”; © Chuck Close in association with Jerry Spagnoli, courtesy Pace Gallery
  • Small Passerine Bird Eggs; from the F. Seymour Hersey Egg collection, part of the Natural History Collections housed in the Biology Department, University of Massachusetts


Betsey Wolfson & Laura Dowd

Submitted Photo: UMASS UMCABetsey Wolfson is the Business and Communications Manager at the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst. Laura Dowd is the UMCA’s Social Media maven. The University Museum is part of Museums10, a collaborative of ten museums in the heart of western Massachusetts. To celebrate their 10th anniversary in 2015, Museums10 members are writing a monthly column in Hilltown Families about all there is to explore and discover in their collections.



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