UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum Solidifies Itself as an Arts Institution

Old space, new name, new vision

Krystal Ramirez | Vegas Seven

Interim director Alisha Kerlin

There was a moment of time suspended Friday night at Marjorie Barrick Museum’s opening of Process, a group show curated by Los Angeles gallery director Matthew Gardocki. Alisha Kerlin, Barrick’s interim director, referred to the 50-year-old institution by its new name, the Barrick Museum of Art.

It was the first time Kerlin publicly announced the new name to a large crowd (more than 300 turned out), and the pause hung for a split second while visitors absorbed the moment, then applauded.

The Barrick, which originally began as a natural history museum, progressing to a more art-centric institution over the decades, officially became part of UNLV’s College of Fine Arts in 2011, and has since operated as a full-fledged art museum. The name change, likely helpful in branding and marketing, occurred only this year.

“When I think of what the next 50 years will be like at the Barrick, I will think of tonight,” Nancy J. Uscher, the College of Fine Arts’ new dean, said when speaking to the audience, calling the evening an “incredible, spiritual experience of loving art together,” and promising surprises in store, described as “juicy” and “lovely.”

Earlier that week, Uscher spoke of plans to market the Barrick more broadly, work toward accreditation, build partnerships and continue to see the space as a catalyst for conversation and a gathering place for the community.

Krystal Ramirez | Vegas Seven

Once part of UNLV’s Harry Reid Center, the Barrick, which originally featured geology, mammals and reptiles, and Native American artifacts, expanded with the arrival of a private Pre-Columbian art collection donated by Michael C. and Mannetta Braunstein. It suffered during state budget cuts in 2011, and then-director Aurore Giguet led the charge to save it.

After becoming part of the College of Fine Arts, it reopened in 2012 featuring works from the Las Vegas Art Museum’s permanent collection, which is now housed at the Barrick, an arrangement made with LVAM chair Patrick Duffy after LVAM closed its doors in 2009. The Barrick also became home to the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, formerly designated for the LVAM.

Shows have since included If 6 Turned Out to Be 9, an exhibit of John Millei paintings; an exhibition featuring works in the Barrick and LVAM collections; and Art for Art’s Sake: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation. Among other notable shows in its three galleries were Break Ups and Tear Downs, which featured the work of Las Vegas artists JK Russ, Wendy Kveck and Erin Stellmon, and Private/Public: Images of Devotion from 19th and Early 20th Century Mexico, curated by Emmanuel Ortega.

Krystal Ramirez | Vegas Seven

But Barrick’s biggest obstacle, as with so many cultural institutions, has been getting the word out to the community, particularly when it’s tucked out of view at the end of Harmon Avenue, east of Swenson Street between the university’s Donald H. Baepler Xeric Garden and Lied Library.

“We have to make more people aware of it,” Uscher says, adding that its reach extends beyond the student body and faculty. “We want to be a community resource for everyone. … We’re all about possibilities and we want to have agency. It will take some time [and] a lot of strategic thinking.”

Kerlin, a New York artist who first came to UNLV as an Artist in Residence, teaching painting to undergrad and graduate students, returned to Las Vegas to work in the collections at Barrick. She then became interim director last summer, following the departure of longtime head Giguet, who took a job as executive director of Everhart Museum of Natural History, Science & Art in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Kerlin credits Giguet for laying out a successful 50th year, adding, “This was her family’s project, and she didn’t want to leave it without that.”

Krystal Ramirez | Vegas Seven

Giguet, who began as a student employee at Barrick in 1989 when her dad, a French Congo-born artist, was working there, started out taking care of the reptiles and mammals, moving into other positions over the years before becoming director and pushing for an art museum.

In addition to art students, faculty and the community, the museum serves preschoolers on campus with interactive programing, 1,500 undergrads taking English 101 and students studying dance, world literature and art. The next plan is to reach out to senior centers and Clark County School District, Kerlin says.

Krystal Ramirez | Vegas Seven

Friday’s opening (which included exhibit openings in two other galleries) came on the heels of the successful Edward Burtynsky Oil exhibit, which came from the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, and the exuberance was palpable. Semester-long screenings of work by video artist Josh Azzarella were launched, the museum’s teaching gallery opened with an exhibit of Salvador Dalí-illustrated books, and a Karen Roop–curated show opened in the Braunstein Gallery, combining traditional Mexican masks with contemporary artwork.

“I just felt like there was a lot of pride,” Kerlin says of the evening. “It was so awesome to see people ready for art. It was great to see such a wide range of people.

“We’ve done a good job reaching into the UNLV community. Now it’s time to continue to do what we’ve done by speaking to key partners in [Las Vegas]. We are serving the community as an art museum.”