Nestled in the heart of the University of Connecticut campus is one of Connecticut’s premiere art museums, The William Benton Museum of Art. It is a cultural asset to the school as well as the general public through its collected works, research endeavors and educational programs that all strive for a greater appreciation and understanding of art.
The museum lives in a small Gothic building built in 1920 and nicknamed “The Beanery” from its service as the campus’ main dining hall when University of Connecticut was known as the Connecticut Agricultural College. Today the structure is a vibrant part of the campus’ art culture flanked by an outdoor sculpture garden. It is also one of many of the university’s buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum’s collection originated from a bequest by the College’s president, Charles Beach. When Beach died in 1933, he left an impressive collection of works including pieces from Childe Hassam, Emil Carlson and Charles H. Davis. Since its inception, the Benton has acquired art work from world renowned artists such as Gustav Climt.
The Benton’s collection grew significantly in the 1960s with a donation of 107 Käthe Kollwitz prints and drawings from Dr. Walter Landauer, a genetics professor. The museum was created to house these works and those left by Charles Beach. Its name was chosen to honor William Benton, a prominent Connecticut Senator and a trustee of the University of Connecticut.
In 1945, Benton was the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State involved with the development of UNESCO and the Fulbright Scholarship Act. He was a leader against McCarthyism and introduced legislation for McCarthy’s expulsion. In retaliation, McCarthy accused Benton of being anti-American, a communist and a displayer of “lewd works of art.” Benton was the owner of the Encyclopaedia Britannica which was printed in England rather than America. Shortly before his death, the museum was named to honor the controversial Connecticut Senator. When he died in 1973, his family donated numerous works by 20th century American artists.
Today, the William Benton Museum of Art has more than 5,500 works of paintings, drawings, prints, drawings, photographs and sculptures. It was recently renovated to add the Evelyn Simon Gilman Gallery for exhibit space as well as lecture areas. The museum also houses a Members Lounge, Café Muse and a small museum shop.
The current exhibits at the William Benton Museum of Art include Great Works!, a rotation of art from the museum’s extensive collection. Works by Rembrandt, George Bellow and Robert Motherwell are among some of the museum’s impressive pieces.
The museum is also currently running The President and the Professor, an exhibit honoring the foundation of pieces that created the museum’s collection. Works in this exhibit are from the College’s president, Charles Lewis Beach, and Professor of animal genetics, Walter Landauer.
The third exhibit currently on display is India: Proximities of Distance, a celebration of the Indian Diaspora, identity, culture and history. The artists whose work appear in this exhibit explore the mythology, art and contemporary life in this mysterious and vast country.
Learning from a Vast River of Suffering: A Global Human Rights Epidemic is also currently running at the Benton. This multi-media installation explores contemporary issues across the globe including hunger, war, poverty, natural disasters and disease. This powerful exhibit is a call for education to bring about change.
The William Benton Museum of Art’s connection with the University of Connecticut makes the museum a vibrant center of exchange and dynamic ideas. It was recently renovated and while its exterior retains its historic identity, its inner spaces have evolved to create an impressive expanse of galleries. In addition to the museum, a visit to the campus also invites those with an interest in architecture to view some of the state’s most interesting old and new buildings.
For more information visit www.benton.uconn.edu