Museum Magazine, Fall 2013, Number 63

Museum Magazine, Fall 2013, Number 63

From the Director, Alex W. Barker

Mathematics has its Klein Bottle, television its Tardis, and we have Pickard Hall. All three seem to have the remarkable and surprising capacity to hold far more on the inside than seems physically possible from the outside.

As we plan for the upcoming move of the Museum from Pickard Hall to Mizzou North, Museum staff have been figuring out how to safely remove, pack, transport, and re-store not only the more than 15,000 catalogued art objects in the Museum’s permanent collection, but all the equipment, gear, and records that accompany the collection, that ensure its integrity and give it meaning. The scale is remarkable—fifty drawers of curatorial object files and donor records, a catalogued reference library requiring linear shelving longer than a football field (and that doesn’t include older auction catalogues and records already in offsite storage), and a full fabrication shop.

Over the forty years that the Museum has occupied Pickard Hall, Museum staff have found ways to use every cubic inch of space. Tables are stored inside the bases of some of the sculptures in the cast gallery, cabinets have been built into the side of display cases in the Weinberg Gallery (and those display cases themselves have drawers for holding more objects on display, or locked doors for storing supplies), and foldable chairs fill a blind hallway in a storage room. Accessing any single thing in the Museum can become a Chinese puzzle where each piece must move in the right direction and the right sequence. Probably the only part of the Museum where every square inch of storage hasn’t been found and utilized is the ancient oak library table in my office, whose drawers were locked when I received it, and remain so to this day.

All of this came into sharper focus recently for two reasons. The first and more obvious reason is that the space we’ll occupy at Mizzou North is blank, and hasn’t yet been inscribed by the cleverness and industry of generations of Museum staff. Moving a room of a particular size in Pickard Hall into another room of the same size in Mizzou North should be easy, but the fixtures designed and installed over the years can’t move with us, and in any case they were designed to fit the unique geometry of Pickard Hall's late nineteenth-century construction. We’ll figure out how to use space as efficiently in our new home, but it will take time. The other reason was a trip to a peer museum—a busman’s holiday, conducting a peer review for the American Alliance of Museums. Stepping away and examining another museum in detail always helps me see our own more clearly. And what struck me most on my return is how proud we should be of all we’ve accomplished. Our budgets are small and our space cramped at best; but I think our staff does more with less than at any other accredited museum anywhere.

Between now and the time we close our exhibition halls in preparation for the move—a date not yet set, but probably sometime in late October—I hope you’ll stop by and see the Museum with fresh eyes. Appreciate the art; appreciate the artistry with which it’s presented. And appreciate the setting. Museums create an environment in which to appreciate and contemplate art, and in our current home that environment is set before one enters the building. Walk through the Quadrangle, past the Columns, and enjoy the Red Campus as the architectural masterpiece of Morris Frederick Bell. Step into the galleries and appreciate thousands of years of art in galleries whose character is as diverse as the art they hold—the intimacy of the Corner Gallery, the soaring heights of the European and American Gallery or the clean lines of the Barton Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Leaving Pickard is bittersweet. Our new home will have a different character, and doubtless we’ll need some time to discover how to harness it to our needs. But we will, and I’ll see you there.

Museum staff wish to congratulate Mary Pixley, Associate Curator of European and American Art, on her wedding in late 2012. Mary has left the Museum to join her new husband on the East Coast. We wish her and Ted all the best!

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Year: 
2013

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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association