The Wadsworth Atheneum’s transformation continues to be strong with the exciting news that we are a 2013 Finalist for the IMLS National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor conferred on museums and libraries for service to the community. Being a finalist is both an honor and an endorsement of the museum’s Community Engagement Initiative. Of the 33 finalists, only five are art museums, and our sister institution down the street, the Hartford Public Library, is a finalist as well. Ultimately, five museums and five libraries will be presented the award on May 8, 2013 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Locally, acknowledgement of the importance of the museum’s contributions to the State of Connecticut has come in the form of a $3 million grant from the CT Bond Commission for internal gallery renovations. This is in addition to the $2 million received from the Bond Commission in June 2012. This $3 million signifies the realization of the total budget for both phases of the renovation project – approximately $25 million – allowing the museum to complete the internal transformation so needed to make the galleries as beautiful as the stellar works they house.
The museum team has been working on the overarching vision for the reinstallation of the collection in 2014. We have experimented in the galleries and visited other museums that have undergone reinstallation projects. The Wadsworth Atheneum reinstallation will speak to the community and to the international cultural world at the same time. It will present the progression of historical art movements as they impacted the art of their time and place. At the same time, the reinstallation will integrate different art forms such as decorative art and folk art, and tell the stories that bring the works to life for visitors. There will also be some experimentation including the integration of genres and works from different time periods, when appropriate.
As always, the museum will be mindful to make art the primary experience. In 2014, the renovation and reinstallation will require demolition and upheaval in the galleries, as well as the movement of thousands of works of art. With this in mind, major exhibitions planned for 2014 have been postponed until after the reopening in 2015. MATRIX exhibitions and smaller collection based exhibitions will proceed as planned. The museum’s lively and increasingly popular special events, films, lectures, and community programs will keep visitorship strong. And in early 2015, the Wadsworth Atheneum will be a new museum fully reopening with Coney Island: An American Dreamland.
An anonymous national foundation has for many years funded conservation efforts at major American art museums. A few years ago, it extended its support to a few smaller museums. This past year, the Wadsworth Atheneum was one of five museums invited to apply and was recently awarded $300,000 ($100,000 a year for three years) from the Foundation to hire a Paintings Conservation Associate, purchase an x-ray unit, and employ outside consultants to conduct surveys and select treatments. The President of the foundation said that she was impressed with the steady progress of remarkable change at the Wadsworth Atheneum these past few years. The museum has successfully dealt with pressing financial and community issues while also establishing a new vision as a modern museum.
Burst of Light: Caravaggio and His Legacy opened to the public on March 6. Organized under the auspices of FRAME (French Regional American Museum Exchange), versions of this exhibition have already been to Musée des Augustins in Toulouse, Musée Fabre in Montpellier, and the L.A. County Museum of Art (where there were over 110,000 visitors). The exhibition includes five works by Caravaggio, including the Wadsworth Atheneum’s own St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, and 30 paintings by his followers, known as “Caravaggisti” – artists such as Gentileschi, Saraceni, Riminaldi, Ribera, Zurbarán and Sweerts. St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy was chosen as the signature image for the show and was seen on banners hung throughout Los Angeles and Hartford.
As you can see this exciting moment in our history builds on the tremendous momentum we’ve achieved these past few years – so please stay tuned!