To experience a visual explosion of space, color and form, one need look no further than the highly anticipated exhibit "Methods for Modernism" opening next Thursday at the Bowdoin Museum of Art.

Incorporating works from eight different galleries and museums, "Methods for Modernism" focuses on American art produced in the early years of the 20th century in response to prevailing European artistic trends. Pieces from over 30 different artists in a variety of mediums are displayed in the lower-level Osher and Halford Galleries.

"Methods for Modernism" is part of the Yale University Art Gallery's (YUAG) Collection Sharing Initiative, a program sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. According to a YUAG press release, the grant seeks to "foster intra- and inter-institutional collaboration in the college art museum community" through a "strategic program of loans from YUAG's encyclopedic six partner museums." In December of 2008, Yale chose Bowdoin, along with art museums at Mount Holyoke College, Dartmouth College, Smith College, Williams College and Oberlin College, all institutions with a history of creating ties between curriculum and museum offerings, to participate in the project.

At the time of Yale's decision, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art was under an interim director. For that reason, Mellon Curatorial Fellow Diana Tuite, who holds a Masters in the History of Art from Princeton and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at Princeton in the Department of Art and Archaeology, assumed the lead role in the project. The collaboration with Yale fell into place naturally with Tuite's work as the Mellon fellow, which incorporates curatorial work with a focus on promoting curricular links between museum offerings and courses at the college.

Although Bowdoin is known for its strong American art holdings, its collection of early 20th-century art is limited. Thus, it seemed a natural fit to call on Yale's holdings from this era to embellish the exhibit. Museum Director Kevin Salatino noted that this "ground-breaking exhibition fills a serious collection lacunae" and facilitates the emergence of a dynamic "faculty-student—public synergy." Already, the exhibit has fostered connections between the museum and the art history, English, and German Studies departments

To identify the ways in which the exhibit could intersect with departments across campus, Tuite worked with relevant Bowdoin faculty members including Associate Professors of Art Linda Docherty and Pamela Fletcher, and Professor of English Marilyn Reizbaum. Docherty became intimately involved in the project, curating the closely-connected exhibit "Learning to Paint: American Artists and European Art: 1876-1893," which explores themes of European and American artistic interaction at the close of the 19th century. Additionally, Docherty and Tuite are collaborating on an exhibit catalog that explores the evolution of the interactions between European and American artists at the turn of the 20th century.

Having familiarized herself with the Yale collection as an undergraduate at the university, Tuite returned in July of 2009 with a plan of what pieces would be ideal for the show at Bowdoin. She went with Yale curators to their museum's off-site storage to make final decisions on the pieces that would be part of the Bowdoin show. After establishing the loans from Yale, Tuite and the BCMA staff drew on pieces in the Bowdoin collection and at other schools, including Princeton and Colby, to round out the exhibit's 55 pieces.

Realizing the significance of the pieces with which they were working, the museum called on an exhibit designer, Danielle Hanrahan, to finalize the layout of the gallery space and the color scheme. The decision to depart from the normally open, sedate white-walled gallery space in favor of a vibrant staging, relates to the ways in which the artists themselves challenged traditional conventions of dominant artistic trends in their era.

Notably, "Methods for Modernism" brings together work in a variety of media including painting, works on paper, and photography, and Tuite affirms the importance of having all these media seen on equal grounding, rather than giving way to the traditional museum focus on oil painting.

The exhibit aims to create what Tuite calls "a transatlantic dialogue" between European art and artistic movements and the subsequent American response and reaction to these movements. Unlike earlier movements such as Impressionism that she says "borrowed wholesale from Europe and applied European techniques to the American context," early 20th-century American art is marked by a shift toward active engagement with, and response and reaction to, dominant European artistic trends. European art came to be seen as a mediating and inspiring force, rather than the only way to practice art.

Included in the exhibit are works by Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Joseph Stella, Man Ray and Max Weber. Especially engaging is the seven-and-a-half foot tall Joseph Stella piece titled "Spring" hanging on the central wall of the gallery, where its impressive verticality and vibrant brushwork is immediately evident.

Several classes and departments will be incorporating the exhibit into their classroom teaching, notably a joint project to create thematic exhibit tours that will incorporate students from Fletcher's modern art course and Reizbaum's introduction to poetry class.

The Bowdoin community is invited to attend the opening on Thursday, April 8 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. While the museum traditionally ushers in exhibits with an opening, the event for "Methods of Modernism" is of a larger scale and more elaborate scale. "One of the goals of this exhibit is to promote student engagement with the museum and so we wanted to design the opening with that in mind as well," said Curatorial Assistant Kate Herlihy.

For that reason, the opening features a live performance from the Bowdoin's New Music Ensemble. "Music is especially fitting for this opening because the period of modernism was so alive in the music scene as well."

The group will be performing "Vexations," a piece by Satie who was very active musically in the modernist period. The opening also features receptions on the pavilion and the Zuckert Gallery, with food and a bar in both. The Portland Press Herald will be photographing the event.

"Methods for Modernism: Form and Color in American Art, 1900-1925," runs through July 3 in the Bernard and Barbro Osher Gallery and the Halford Gallery.