Brenau University Galleries, located on the campus of Brenau University in Gainesville, feature one of the finest university art collections held by an educational institution in the state of Georgia.
Until 1985, when John S. Burd became president of the university, Brenau lacked a designated art gallery; student and faculty work was displayed in various buildings across the campus. Burd, recognizing the need for a gallery, converted a small chapel outside the balcony of the university’s Pearce Auditorium into the Presidents Gallery. Director of visual arts Mary Jane Taylor became the first gallery director and began expanding the frequency and breadth of art exhibitions on campus throughout the late 1980s.
Burd also initiated the creation of Brenau’s permanent art collection in 1986. The first important acquisition during this period was a still life painted by the American artist William Merritt Chase. The collection of more than 1,100 pieces is periodically exhibited on campus and is open to the public. Highlights include early oil paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cezanne; watercolors by Eugene Delacroix; artifacts from the pre-Columbian period of American history; an oil painting by Anna Elizabeth Klumpke; sculptures by Jean Arp, Maria Artemis, Clyde Connell, and William King; a gouache by Amelia Pelaez; and prints by Jasper Johns.
In 1990 Brenau’s Neoclassical library building (1914) was redesigned to house the Simmons Visual Arts Center. The second art gallery director, Jean Westmacott, was appointed by the university that year. Brenau held its inaugural art exhibition, featuring Jasper Johns’s prints from the Leo Castelli Collection, at the Simmons Visual Arts Center in March 1991. This exhibition also launched an outreach program focusing on art education. Gallery tours and hands-on workshops for children have become a regular feature of this educational curriculum. Since the opening of the Simmons Center, the university has hosted a wide range of art exhibits, including the work of Brenau’s faculty and students as well as the work of nationally and internationally acclaimed artists. The works of Benny Andrews, Beverly Buchanan, Lamar Dodd, Nancy Graves, William King, Roy Lichtenstein, Marisol, R. A. Miller, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Donald Saff, Frank Stella, and Neil Welliver have appeared in the university’s galleries. The Brenau galleries have also featured such group exhibitions as the women artists from the Vogel Collection.
In March 2002 the Burd Performing Arts Center opened and gave the university a new home for visual art on campus. The center’s gallery is known as the Leo Castelli Gallery, in honor of the New York art dealer and university trustee responsible for several major art acquisitions and exhibitions by the Brenau University Galleries. The gallery’s primary function is to house long-term exhibitions of art from the permanent collection of the university.