When architect Ron Tan was interviewed about designing Gonzaga University’s art center and museum, he commented to selection committee members that an art building was different from other campus structures. “It’s a chance to be a little more colorful, more flamboyant,” he told them.
“That almost blew the job for us,” Tan recalls now. “Mr. Jundt,” as in James R. Jundt, vice chairman of Gonzaga’s board of trustees and principal contributor to the new $6 million Jundt Art Center and Museum, “Mr. Jundt pulled me aside later, after we’d been selected, and he said, ‘You can do whatever you want inside, but outside I want a traditional building.’ “
With that, Tan began studying details of the university’s 97-year-old Administration Building and St. Aloysius Church, both of which influenced the lines and textures of the new art center.
The prominent, copper-clad steeple of the Jundt Art Center and Museum has been visible from a distance for the past 18 months. But the public gets its first look inside the 47,000-square-foot facility this Friday. A dedication ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m.
Besides the steeple, Tan’s design incorporates several distinguishing features.
There’s the dominant, arched entry to the museum wing, with a chevron pattern in the glass over the door “to draw the eye into the building,” Tan says.
The smaller, arched east entry leads visitors down a colonnade to the art department.
Beneath the copper steeple is a two-story observation tower that offers unobstructed views toward the Spokane River, GU’s Lake Arthur and the main campus.
While most of the art center’s metal roof will gradually tarnish to a soft greenish-blue patina, the steeple has been treated to maintain its shiny copper finish.
Inside, Jundt Art Museum boasts the biggest, most technically sophisticated art gallery in town. And with 2,700 square feet of floor space, it’s more than four times larger than Gonzaga’s old Ad Gallery, which Scott Patnode started in the Administration Building basement 24 years ago.
Patnode, now director/curator of Jundt Art Museum, says that along with the prestige of having the city’s biggest art venue comes a greater need for hierarchy, committees and docents, more fund-raising, “more getting out and pressing the flesh instead of staying behind the ivory tower.”
Because of the museum’s proximity to the Centennial Trail and downtown Spokane, Patnode predicts the main exhibition hall, arcade gallery, print study room and lounge will enhance Gonzaga’s link with the broader community.
The main gallery opens Friday with the 100-piece Dale Chihuly glass show, and already Patnode is looking ahead to another major contemporary exhibition in 1997 titled “Las (In)visibles: Women Artists of Uruguay.”
“It’s overwhelming,” says the curator, unable to suppress his enthusiasm. “This is my 26th year at Gonzaga, and that whole time we’ve been trying to get better studios for the students and better exhibition space for the (university’s permanent) collection.”
How bad was it during those dark years?
Art department chairman Terry Gieber delights in recounting the tale.
“When I came to Gonzaga in ‘83,” says Gieber, “the clay program studio was housed in an uninsulated tin shack that had served as the laundry at Expo ‘74. The painting, drawing and print-making studio was a converted lumber yard office that dated back to the 1930s.
“The design room was located in the basement of the Administration Building, and I taught art appreciation in the Life Sciences Building,” he says. “For the past 12 years, we’ve been scattered all over campus.”
Jundt Art Center and Museum finally brings GU’s art program together under one roof, with seven spacious studios, a lecture hall, offices and an outdoor kiln yard.
Instead of having to routinely turn students away from core classes, the art department will be able to meet current needs and gradually double its enrollment to 500 students.
Robert Gilmore, the department’s senior faculty member, is still adjusting to the state-of-the-art surroundings. By choice, his office is furnished with a distressed-looking wooden desk and swivel chair.
The sounds of Cuban jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval blare from Gilmore’s portable CD player, while an old reel-to-reel ancestor takes five on the shelf.
“We turned out a lot of fine people and good artists despite the poor conditions,” he says, “and this is kind of our reward.”
Gilmore is particularly pleased with the drawing studio - the industrial-looking ceiling, the track lighting, the exposed ventilation ducts, the movable walls.
“This is a fantastic room,” he says, sounding like someone unused to hyperbole. “This is the greatest thing Ron did, right here.”
But Gilmore is careful not to leave the wrong impression.
“I don’t think the program got better just because of the new building,” he says. “Gonzaga’s art program was always based on what the faculty and the students did together … and that could happen in a tent.
“If students and faculty don’t come together here,” he warns, “all this is just another building.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos
MEMO: Dedication ceremony for the Jundt Art Center and Museum will be Friday at 11 a.m.