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There's no doubt about it. The 15 changing exhibitions featured each year at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts are highly palatable. But they're only the appetizers. Believe it or not, the main course is the museum's permanent collection.

Unfortunately, many patrons leave before enjoying the entire meal. "Oh, I looked at the permanent collection last year," some might say. But that's a poor excuse, since these exhibitions are rotated frequently. And new acquisitions are added to the collection all the time.According to museum director Frank Sanguinetti, "Art works totaling over $250,000 have been donated to the museum thus far this year. And they range from 18th century art to contemporary works."

Take a look around the museum. You'll discover a number of new acquisitions including:

"The Death of Saint Joseph," an oil on canvas by Italian painter Francesco Solimena (1657-1747).

"Hercules Slaying the Hydra," an etching by Raphael Lamar West (1769-1850), son of Benjamin West.

"Bust Portrait of Daniel Webster," a marble sculpture by Shobal Vail Clevenger (1812-1843).

A mosaic panel, ca. 4th-5th century A.D.

A black-figure neck amphora with two scenes - Apollo playing a kithara and warriors in combat.

But these are only five of more than 11,000 items that make up the permanent collection.

Of course, the entire collection cannot be viewed at one time. Only about 900 are displayed at a time. That's less that 10 percent. Most of these treasures are hiding in storage vaults. Plans are currently under way to add a new wing with more galleries.

When the museum was initially founded by A. Ray Olpin in the 1950s, the permanent collection was a hodge-podge of art.

Sanguinetti said that when he became the first professional director of the museum in January 1967, he discovered that there had been no organized program for collecting. "And there were only about 800 to 1,000 objects that were museum worthy," he said.

"Since it took two or three years to move from the Park Building into the present facility, I had plenty of time to think about what direction the new museum should take."

Should it spotlight Utah art? American art? World art? or what?

Sanguinetti realized that other museums, organizations and individuals in Utah were collecting works by Utah artists. And American art would be restrictive.

"But when it came to collecting worldart, Utah was virtually a wasteland," he said. So he decided to develop a general collection - "one that would give a panoramic view of world art."

"I realized that many Utahns wouldn't do much traveling to foreign countries. What seemed really essential was to try to develop a general collection - one that would educate people in a very wide range of cultures and periods."

To achieve his goal, Sanguinetti faced a formidable task.

"It was perfectly clear we had to build a fund. So we set up endowments as well as created a climate where people gave annually."

Today, the major source of acquisitions is generated from the the Friends of the Museum. These are individuals who make major contributions of $1,000 or more to the annual acquisition fund. Four hundred of their names are listed on a plaque at the entrance of the museum. "By now, the list has grown to almost 600 names," Sanguinetti said.

The museum also gets gifts every year from donors inside and outside the state. Surprisingly, a number of these gifts are serendipitous, Sanguinetti says. "Sometimes we might not necessarily be searching for that kind of art. But, somehow, each gift fits beautifully into the collection."

Already this year, the museum has received a number of important artworks - thanks to a reversal in the tax ruling.

Sanguinetti explained: "Since 1986, it has been very difficult to claim the appreciated value of works of art when given to institutions. As a result, prospective donors were finding it more advantageous to have them auctioned.

"However, this year, the law has reverted to its original ruling. People can donate art at its appreciated value, and the deduction can be extended over a five-year period," he said. Whether this law will be renewed next year still is in question.

In addition to the permanent collection and changing exhibitions are works that have been lent to the museum. As you enter the museum, you will see two of them - large, impressive oil paintings by French painter Francois Boucher (1703-1770). Titled "The Fountain of Love" and "The Bird Catchers," they are on extended loan by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, Calif.

Over the years, Sanguinetti never lost sight of his goal. As a result, the permanent collection contains quality works spread over the history of art.

"We must be in the top 12 museums in the entire country in respect to a generally balanced, even collection," he said.

Although much of the success of this balanced UMFA collection can be attributed to Sanguinetti's orchestration and the generosity of donors and `friends," there are many others who have played strategic roles.

Working closely with Sanguinetti are assistant director Chuck Loving, curator of exhibitions Tom Southam and five other full-time staff members.

Other support groups at the museum include the Advisory Board, the Special Exhibition Council, the Docent Council and more than 1,200 associate members.

And there are grants. Thanks to an education grant from the R. Harold Burton Foundation, several new brochures have been printed and are available at no charge to museum patrons.

Sanguinetti and his staff are already looking forward to 1995.

"We'll celebrate 25 years in this building beginning Sept. 1995."

But don't wait until then to visit the museum. Do it now. You and your family will find it a chest full of sparkling treasures and visual pleasures.

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The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is located on the campus of the University of Utah, directly east of Rice Stadium. It is part of the Art and Architecture Center. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2-5 p.m. on weekends. For further information, call 581-7332.