Olivia Miller ’05, curator at the University of Arizona Museum of Art, is the mastermind behind The Art of Food, a popular — and provocative — exhibition that’s all about food.
Three years ago, though, the beginnings of the show gave Miller a considerable art challenge.
Portland collector Jordan Schnitzer had visited the UAMA and was so impressed with the museum that he offered to lend some of his artworks to the university for a show. That’s not unusual for Schnitzer, a commercial real estate mogul; he often lends pieces in his collection to universities free of charge.
“As much as I have passion for the art I live with,” he says, “my greater passion is sharing it.”
UAMA’s The Art of Food
He invited Miller to Portland to peruse the phenomenal collection he and his art-focused foundation, the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, have amassed. It includes works by the most famous modern and contemporary artists of our time: Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Wayne Thiebaud, Jenny Holzer.
Miller eagerly traveled to Portland with Meg Hagyard, then the interim UAMA director. But it was no easy task to decide which of the treasures to bring back to Tucson. After all, Schnitzer’s collection holds no fewer than 19,000 artworks. Yes, 19,000.
How did she whittle those 19,000 pieces down to a reasonable number?
She laughs at the question.
“Jordan had his collection organized in binders that you could flip alphabetically,” she explains, adding that it was much easier than going through works in storage.
They first considered a solo exhibition, but then moved on to the idea of a thematic show featuring many artists. “We wanted it to be interdisciplinary,” she says. “We had the same goal we have for every exhibition we do: We wanted every student or person from the community to feel they can connect with the show, get something new from it and see themselves in it.”
Surprisingly, the collection has hundreds of pieces of artwork related to food, and soon, food was what they were thinking about.
Tucson had recently been named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in honor of the region’s long and colorful food history, Miller points out. And food production and food insecurity were hot topics everywhere. The idea of doing a show entirely devoted to food emerged.
Schnitzer admits to being a little dubious when he heard Miller’s proposal.
“I must say, when she first mentioned it, I said, ‘Oh my God.’” he chuckles. “But as I saw what she picked out and I thought about it, I realized it was utterly brilliant.”
Originally published in the Winter 2022 Arizona Alumni magazine.
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