Family makes largest gift to university in history

Ferdinand Holler's 1908 painting “Landscape with Rhythmic Shapes” is one of the works included in the Barrett family's collection of Swiss art that was donated to UTD last week. Photo courtesy of UTD News Center.


University officials formally announced the donation of a large collection of Swiss art at the beginning of November.

The announcement, made Nov. 2, stated that the Barrett collection is the highest-valued art donation ever made to a school within UT System and is the largest collection of Swiss art outside of Switzerland. The collection will be housed in a standalone museum to be built on campus, named for the Barrett family who donated the collection. None of the Barretts have ties to UTD, save for a long-term friendship with Richard Brettell, the founding director of UTD’s Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History, and Executive Vice President Hobson Wildenthal.

“Our wish is for our collection to remain intact and have a permanent, public home in our own city as well as in Texas,”  Richard Barrett, one of the donors, said in a statement.

Sarah Kozlowski is the associate director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History, which will oversee the collection. At present, the collection consists of over 400 pieces, according to a statement from the university, and includes paintings that date back to 1490.

“The collection will serve as a point of departure for object-led teaching, original scholarly research and curatorial training, as well as technical study in the context of the Institute’s fledgling conservation science program,” Kozlowski said in an email.

The project is part of a larger effort to build a hub for the arts on campus. The venture is the brainchild of Brettell and notably includes a multi-building art complex, nicknamed the Athenaeum.

In a 2014 presentation to Arts and Humanities faculty, Brettell said that as Dallas grew northward, Richardson was uniquely poised to become both the geographical and cultural center of the metroplex. The Athenaeum would help UTD and Richardson secure that title.

Dean of Arts and Humanities Dennis Kratz said the project will highlight the importance of the arts at UTD.

“It’s a balancing of the role of the humanities and the arts with the acknowledged excellence of science and engineering at the university,” Kratz said. “Great universities need that balance of excellence.”

Brettell said the effort will be multiphase. He said he anticipates additional phases will be announced in the coming months and will be equally monumental as the Barrett collection.

Other components proposed in meetings with Arts and Humanities faculty include an art library, an artist residency program, additional gallery space and expanded studio space.

“(The Athenaeum) will be a complex of buildings, each of which will have its own name and donor,” Brettell said.

Funding for the museum will be separate from the most recent donation, which only includes the art itself.

The collection will become the property of UTD following the death of the current owners, Richard and Luba Barrett. For the time being, the collection is owned and managed by a private foundation set up in their name.

Brettell said a portion of the income generated by the foundation will go into an endowment so the university can maintain and house the collection in perpetuity. He said the funds would allow the collection to continue to grow.

Richard Barrett and his late wife Nona began the collection in 1990. Nona Barrett died in 2014, but Barrett and his new wife, Luba Barrett, have continued to build the collection, at the request of Brettell.

“At the time, Swiss art was something that was overlooked,” Greg Metz, a clinical associate professor in the School of Arts and Humanities, said. “Rick (Brettell) told Barrett that they’d really have something special if they built the collection.”

The value of the collection will not be released until ownership is transferred fully to the university upon the Barrett family’s death. Their donation exceeds the value of Margaret McDermott’s $35 million donation to the school — the largest donation to UTD before the Barretts’ gift — according to an article published in The Dallas Morning News.

Kozlowski said she hopes the collection will help UTD hone a unique approach to art history.

“The gift of the Barrett Collection, extraordinary for its range, depth and quality, will transform research and teaching in art history at the O’Donnell Institute and at UTD,” she said.

Additional reporting by Madeleine Keith


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