In October, on the 75th anniversary of the state legislature devoting funds to building the people’s collection, the North Carolina Museum of Art will unveil a completely revamped collection. It will feature new thematic and interpretive galleries, as well as numerous special commissions, loans and newly acquired works.
This is the first major reinstallation of the People’s Collection since 2010. The reorganization aims to challenge the way art has traditionally been presented in museums according to geography and chronology, which can marginalize or exclude the works of historically marginalized groups.
Instead, the new exhibition aims to make connections between art across time and space, expand the narratives and representations on display, and increase the accessibility of art and the museum.
“The driving force and the directive is to present what we consider to be a much more expansive and inclusive narrative, and I would emphasize as well, a more accurate narrative,” said chief curator Linda Dougherty.
This change places the NC Art Museum in a broader transformation of the museum world, as a younger generation of curators enters the field and embraces historical practices and interpretations of art history that have served to exclude or to devalue certain artists and groups, Dougherty said. .
For director Valerie Hillings, the reinstallation represents a landmark project “to really change the stories that could be told” through the collection. The project began when she received a grant from the Mellon Foundation at the start of her tenure as a trustee in 2018.
“The goal here is really to remind the people of North Carolina that everything here belongs to the people of North Carolina. This is the collection of the people,” Hillings said. “And so our hope is that by all our different channels, we will get information about the collection outside the walls.”
The museum’s west building has been closed to the public since late May, and much of the east building has been closed since January.
The museum will fully reopen with a series of events on October 8 and 9.
‘Made in Americas’ and other new galleries
Five new themed galleries will be featured as part of the relocation. They will focus on portraits and power, Egypt and Africa, the Americas, art conservation, and interdisciplinary and multimedia art.
The galleries are organized in such a way that “we pick an idea and take work from every part of the collection to tell that story,” Dougherty said, pointing to a sprawling scale model of the West Building filled with art. miniature. and post-its. Conservators call the model the “doll house” and use it to plan the relocation.
“Made in Americas,” for example, will incorporate early American and American art from the collection to illustrate their relationship to each other and to the rest of the world. “The Africa We Should Know” will bring together the collection’s Egyptian and African works where they were previously separate, “celebrating that Africa is a continent where empires have flourished over millennia, each contributing a fascinating antiquity and a vigorous history that extends into a vibrant and creative present,” according to a museum Press release.
“There are ideas, themes and narratives that appear in art across the centuries and all over the world. And we want to bring to your attention all of these ideas that we have in common,” Dougherty said.
The reorganization means that some exhibits will be moved to new locations in the museum. The Judaic art collection, for example, will be placed in the middle of the European collection to place it in a European and religious context.
“Context really impacts how you see a work of art,” Dougherty said. “I always say you can move a painting from one gallery to another and see it in a completely different way because of the conversations it has with the other work.”
What else to expect
Five site-specific commissions, including a new permanent installation by Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno and year-long exhibitions by Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj and North Carolinians Elizabeth Alexander and JP Jermaine Powell, will also be presented for the first time. time.
The collection will feature newly acquired works by Indigenous sculptor Marie Watt, North Carolina native Endia Beal, South African multimedia artist William Kentridge, African American and Indigenous artist Edmonia Lewis and more.
About 100 loaned works will join the collection of museums such as the National Gallery of Art, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill and the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center in Asheville.
The relocation will also introduce a community voices program in which comments from 20 North Carolina residents will appear in conversation with labels written by curators on various objects in the collection.
The community voices program, which will include artists, students, civic leaders, journalists and food activists, intends to further the museum’s goal of “connecting with our audience and our visitors,” Hillings said. “The way a curator talks about a work of art is often very different from how the general public, and why they like something and why they react to it.”
Additionally, to broaden the accessibility of the museum and its collection, the relocation wall texts will be translated into English and Spanish, and QR codes will appear in the galleries to provide visitors with more information and context.
The museum is also clear that there won’t be just one way to experience the collection. Instead, curators hope the collection can spark a certain “visual curiosity” and resonance with viewers and their own daily lives.
“We’re just trying to loosen it up so the visitor can choose and are offered different layers of being able to approach it,” Hillings said. “We will continue to watch [the collection]assess what would be interesting to change and continue to respond to the audience and how the world is changing.
A race to the finish
Two months away from reopening, the West Building is still filled with light and artwork. Many of the building’s white walls are marked with paper placeholders instead of the paintings they represent.
Rodin’s sculptures stand on their platforms wrapped in protective plastic, and the sound of drilling echoes through the lobby. A huge commission is partially complete, with its various elements on hold while the artist works on site to complete it.
The museum is on track to complete the relocation in time for its reopening. But it’s a race to the finish as the curators refine the galleries and the teams in the field reorganize more than a thousand works.
Ian Larson, the museum’s chief art manager, and his team orchestrated thousands of art moves for the relocation.
Director of Collections and Exhibitions Management, Meghan Olis, coordinates the planning of all these maneuvers to ensure that when a work needs to be moved, it has an open place to land. And Maggie Gregory, Head of Collections and Chief Registrar, closely monitored each of the works to ensure none got lost in the reworking.
“It’s kind of like playing a puzzle game,” Olis said of coordinating the relocation. “It’s been a hell of a program.”
And while teams are on track to complete the relocation, Olis noted that supply chain issues and staffing shortages due to the pandemic have slowed the process.
“It takes a village to do a shakeup like this,” Larson said. The artistic management team consists of six people. “It’s a great way to learn about the collection, because I will have literally gotten my hands on every piece of art the museum has” by the time the relocation is complete, he added.
“These kind of big projects will make or break a team. And for us, it really brought everyone together,” Olis said. “I can’t wait to see the finished product and be able to walk around and be proud of how hard we worked.”
In the meantime, visitors can see “Becoming the NCMA: 10 Decades of Collecting, 1924-2022in the East building until August 21, andUnusual: Photographs by Ralph Burns | Photographs from the collection of Allen G. Thomas Jr.from August 20 to February 12.
This story was originally published August 5, 2022 5:31 p.m.