From the Director, Alex W. Barker
Our new galleries have already moved me to tears.
In December our colleagues from U.S. Art Company returned to help us install some of the larger and heavier works from the permanent collection—the nineteenth-century marble Bathing Nymphs, for example, and the Roman cippus, or funerary monument. Since we also needed to determine the eventual location for a pair of polychrome statues which were planned to flank our painting of Abraham Sacrificing Isaac, we decided we should hang all the works along that wall to make sure the spacing, sight lines, and lighting would work as envisioned.
So in addition to the monumental Abraham, after Rembrandt (The Hermitage in St Petersburg has the original with more detail in the background, and the Alte Pinakothek in Munich holds a version with the angel approaching from a different orientation), we also installed Noli me Tangere (ca. 1630, circle of Rubens), and Nuvolone’s marvelous Portrait of Giovanni Battista Silva (ca. 1660), filling one wall.
You’ve probably had the experience of focusing on details and not fully appreciating the whole until all the parts are finished. After everything was up on that single (and fairly short) wall, I experimented with sight lines, imagining how a visitor would enter the gallery, and what they would see, and what would immediately draw their gaze. For the first time I could do more than imagine the way art might look installed, the play of the new colors chosen for the gallery walls, and for a long moment I was transfixed.
We’ve been closed for more than a year—the artworks stored away safely but far from sight, inaccessible to the audiences we serve. That has been a sore trial for Museum staff who take profound joy both in the works themselves and in the ability to introduce and interpret those works to the broadest possible public. Finally seeing works, no matter how few, on the walls of the new galleries was surprisingly moving for me. It was a glimpse of normalcy after a long and unsettled period of transition.
We have much left to do before we can open our doors to the public. We have hundreds of works to install, construction to be completed (our own, rather than renovations by contractors), new labels and label brackets for all of the ancient galleries, additional security, environmental controls to configure and test, and myriad details requiring thought, attention, and decision. Under other circumstances we’d have gotten a head start and begun fabrication of labels and mounts even before gallery renovations were completed, but unfortunately the renovation of our fabrication shop and work areas was on the same schedule, and they too have just become available to us. It is only now, as the year draws to a close, that the galleries and shop areas have been transferred to us so we can begin our remaining tasks. We’ll be diligent and have the galleries ready as quickly as possible.
My goal is still to return to campus or a location adjacent to campus at the earliest opportunity. That’s where our mission and mandate demand we be. But we’ll do so by succeeding here, by being so bright a jewel that all concerned demand we return to a more central and accessible location, serving our proper role as both a physical and conceptual gateway between campus and community.
Look for an announcement of our opening date in the weeks to come, and an invitation to be among the first to see the new galleries in all their splendor. I hope they affect you as deeply as they did me.
See you at the Museum!
Alex W. Barker