Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wesleyan's New Museum

I noticed a short piece in the Hartford Courant the other day about Wesleyan University’s plans to build a museum to display its art collection, which numbers about 20,000 pieces. It occurred to me that from where we live, we are within an easy two or two-and-a-half hour drive of a bunch of good small art museums, many of them associated with colleges. This may simply be a function of being within the New York-Boston cultural axis, and my guess is that if I looked further, down through New Jersey and into the Philadelphia area, I’d find a similar number. Nevertheless we’re pretty lucky to be so close to such good stuff, and I wonder if there are many other areas of the country so fortunate.

The museums are all small enough to let you see everything in a couple of hours and not emerge with the numbness of museum-brain. And a lot of them are free, so if you’re in the area you can stop in quickly to look at a handful of paintings without worrying that you’re not getting your money’s worth.

Over on the Hudson there’s the Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center, at Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie. Purchase College has the Neuberger. Up in Williamstown, Massachusetts, there’s the Francine and Sterling Clark Art Institute, which is where you should go if you’re interested in Winslow Homer (they plastered Homer’s Two Guides on a billboard on Route 2, which brightened up the very dreary outskirts of North Adams), and the Williams College Museum of Art.

Central and coastal Connecticut already have a concentration of good museums There’s the Yale Gallery of Art and the Yale Center for British Art, in New Haven. The Florence Griswold, in Old Lyme, specializes in American Impressionists. The Wadsworth Atheneum, in Hartford, has a good collection of Hudson River School paintings. And the New Britain Museum of Art has a Winslow Homer painting, called Skirmish in the Wilderness, that is so dark it demands that you squint and concentrate just to figure out what’s going on.

Every time I’ve been to these museums they’ve been busy but never nearly as mobbed as the big Manhattan museums.

Now Wesleyan wants in. It plans to convert a building that used to house squash courts into a $26 million museum (almost all of which it still has to raise), and to open perhaps in 2010.

From the Courant:

The university displays some of its artworks in a modest campus gallery on a rotating basis, but for the most part, items are kept in storage. But its paintings and antiquities are lent to other institutions, which means "people elsewhere have better access to our things than we do," Paoletti said. …

Wesleyan has a long tradition of turning out curators - graduates of the school have found jobs in the top tier of the art world. A museum on campus will only enhance that by providing a laboratory for art history students, Paoletti said.

But the new facility will also be a community resource. In small college towns such as Middletown, a campus museum can fill a number of roles, from drawing tourists to introducing schoolchildren to art…

Read the story here.


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