WCMA reopens as reinstallation continues

After its closure in early December, most of the galleries at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) reopened on Thursday. The rest of the galleries will continue to reopen over the course of the next few months, with the annual faculty exhibition opening on Feb. 25. Everything will be re-opened by April 7.

The museum was closed for the reinstallation called “Reflections on a Museum,” an exhibit which includes installations of over 400 works of art in addition to 50 loans from the Yale University Art Gallery. The eight new exhibitions will be located in 10 of the 13 galleries at WCMA, with the focus on the museum as a subject. According to a Jan. 18 WCMA press release, “This project is an opportunity to rediscover WCMA and what makes it unique: its commitment to raising questions about the function and meaning of art across time and cultures and the role of museums in shaping understandings of art.”

“Reflections on a Museum” will be on display for about three years.
According to Lisa Corrin, director of WCMA, “a reinstallation is like a military operation with many moving parts requiring carefully coordinated logistics to ensure that the works of art are moved around the museum safely.”

The renovations have involved a great deal of thought on the part of the entire WCMA staff, since “they needed to make many important decisions that impact the ways in which visitors experience the ‘new’ galleries,” Corrin said. These decisions include “what gets moved, where and when, wall colors, interpretation strategies including the approach to label texts, which objects needed cleaning or conservation and how they would be hung and lit.”

Corrin said the reinstallation’s title, “Reflections on a Museum,” is displayed through these renovations as a result of the “desire to shed fresh light on works of art in the collection, some of which have not seen the light of day for a long, long time.”

In spite of all these changes, nothing was renovated dramatically. With regards to the most significant changes, Corrin said, “We have improved walls, added or taken away a few and, most dramatically, opened up the windows in the 1935 Gallery, filling the space with natural light and enabling the visitor to take in the views once again. This not only retuned the space to the architect’s original concept, but it is also important to us symbolically,” she said.

Another important change that occurred was that “the staff also wanted to make the museum more transparent in terms of its history and practices as well as being more transparent to the community,” according to Corrin. This new change is also reflected in the 1935 Gallery, titled “The Gallery of Crossed Destinies.” It is “being dedicated to four guest curators, none of whom is a museum professional. This, too, underscores our desire to be open to many voices and perspectives, a core WCMA value,” Corrin said. The four guest curators over the next several months will be a florist, a high school class, a College coach and finally the artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

“The idea is that this gallery looks at the role of the curator in making an exhibition. It is the people and perspectives – not the artwork – that change,” said Suzanne Silitch, associate director of communications for the arts. “Each curator in this gallery uses the same set of 25 objects to curate a show. It is in how they set the objects up in the gallery that changes the meaning of the show.”

According to the WCMA press release, “The Gallery of Crossed Destinies” is a microcosm of the entire collection reinstallation and re-presentation project, examining the process by which objects are arranged and exhibited in a museum setting.”

As for the other galleries, “There is a lot of new art to see,” Silitch said. The galleries “The Object of Art” and “The Medium and the Message” will “engage two essential questions of art: what is it and what does it mean?” while “Don’t Fence U.S. In: Crossing Boundaries in American Art” will focus on the many ways that art expresses the power of boundaries: making, breaking, crossing, drawing and erasing,” Silitch said.

Another new gallery, “A Collection of Histories,” will “[use] WCMA’s two Assyrian reliefs as case studies for how works of art accumulate collections of histories over time,” according to the press release. “Room for Reflection” will offer “the opportunity for visitors to experience a single object with nothing else to lend it context.”

Jesse Aron Green, artist-in-residence in art, was also commissioned to create an art piece in response to “Reflections on a Museum.” His work will be on display in the museum’s historic rotunda this spring.

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