AU's Jule Collins Smith Museum helps reunite once controversial art collection

AUBURN, AL (WTVM) - The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Arts at Auburn University is helping reunite a once controversial art collection.

The exhibit, "Art Interrupted" opens Saturday and the story of how this collection came together again begins nearly 70 years ago.

In 1946, the State Department decided to put together an exhibition of American paintings to travel the world and show the freedom of expression enjoyed by artists in the United States.

"This was very much a political tool, part of a large program of similar cultural projects," explains Dennis Harper, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Jule Collins Smith Museum.

However, only five months into the scheduled five year tour, controversy erupted in the American media and among the public. The paintings were labeled as un-American and rebellious. The tour was canceled and the artwork was sold at auction.

Auburn University was determined to acquire the collections and successfully bid on a third of the 117 paintings. These paintings have been on display since the museum opened seven years ago.

"To see the other two-thirds of it gives you a much fuller, completed sense the intention both of the collector and of the St. Departments point of view of American expression and individuality and democracy in 1946," states volunteer Docent, Charlotte Laroux.

The reunion of paintings has been in the making for three years and museum officials are excited to finally be able to share this piece of American history with the public.

"In one way we are trying to give the artist and the State Department what they didn't achieve because it was curtailed, the chance for each of the artworks to be seen on its own terms," says Harper.

"It's like a snapshot of what was going on in America, in the world, in 1946," explains Laroux.

"Art Interrupted" will run from September 8th to January 5th at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Arts in Auburn.

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