After a flood in Iowa City in 2008, the Figge Art Museum housed 12,000 works from the Stanley Museum of Art at the University of Iowa. They are going home now. | Arts and theater



After 14 years, the artworks stored at the Figge Art Museum because of the Iowa City floods are coming home.

Massive flooding destroyed parts of Iowa City in 2008, and approximately 12,000 works of art from the Stanley Museum of Art at the University of Iowa were moved to the Figge for safekeeping.

With the new Stanley Museum of Art building set to open Aug. 26, Katherine Wilson, associate director of collections and exhibits at the Stanley Museum, said they’ve been working to bring pieces back to Iowa City since March 2020.

About 12,000 works of art from the Stanley Museum’s collection of 18,000 works were in storage at the Figge, Wilson said. Michelle Hargrave, executive director and CEO of the Figge, said three galleries were dedicated to showing pieces from the Stanley Museum, two of which held rotating exhibits.

“Their contemporary and modern works complemented our collection very well,” said Hargrave.

The Stanley Museum has moved about 80% of its collection from the Figge’s storage facilities and galleries, Hargrave said, storing them in a separate space while the final touches on the new museum are completed.

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Wilson hopes to move the rest of the Figge by the end of August.

“I’m not going to hold my breath on this,” Wilson said.

Transporting 12,000 works of art is a complicated and slow process, Wilson said, as each piece must be assessed individually to see how best to store it and if there are any concerns with fragility. An oil painting must be preserved differently from a metal figurine, which cannot be preserved in the same way as a terracotta statue.

The extra space will allow the Figge to showcase some of its own permanent collection, Hargrave said, of which only about 3% are on display.

“Of course we will miss having the university’s collection in the museum,” Hargrave said. “[Moving the collection out] certainly presents an opportunity for us to bring more of our own works out of storage and into our galleries, including some of our new acquisitions.”

The extra room will also allow for new partnerships, Hargrave said, such as the collaboration with the Arts Bridges Foundation in Arkansas, which will bring some pieces to the Figge this summer.

Over the years, the Figge and Stanley museums have shared their expertise and shared their space. While they don’t have a specific future program planned together, Wilson said, they will strive to continue to be good, helpful neighbors.

“Partnering with the Figge has just made all the difference for us since the flood…” Wilson said. “We have a small space on campus to show art, but it wouldn’t have held many of our masterpieces. Being able to stay open and operate with the help of the Figge has been just a blessing.”

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