Standing in the newly restored Calderwood Courtyard is like standing in a prism; light filters in from all angles, illuminating the square. This marvel is at the center of the new Harvard Art Museums, which reopened to the public in November after more than $250 million in renovations and six years of construction. The museums are now accessible to more people than ever, and the changes in design have improved their interactive aspects. With new features meant to connect and open up the space for optimal art viewing, the renovated buildings really are a sight to behold.
The renovations brought together three previously disconnected museums. The oldest, The Fogg Museum, opened in 1895 and is known for its extensive collection of European and American art, including early Italian Renaissance paintings, 19th century French and British art, and American works on paper from the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum houses pieces by artists ranging from Vincent Van Gogh to Pablo Picasso to Diane Arbus. The Busch-Reisinger Museum opened in 1903 as the Germanic Museum, and is the sole museum in North America that focuses its collection on art from the German-speaking countries of central and northern Europe. The third and most recently established museum is the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, opened in 1985, which exhibits art from Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Before renovations, the collections of the three museums stood on their own. By bringing these varied bodies of work together under one roof, the Harvard Art Museums hope to put the pieces in conversation with one another, thereby enhancing the viewing experience. The Calderwood Courtyard, newly outfitted and extended upward with a glass roof, will be a place for sculptures, paintings and other media from different periods in history and from many cultures. Juxtaposed, Harvard hopes they will give museum-goers the opportunity to see these pieces in the context of a global and ongoing history of art.
In November, the Harvard Art Museums celebrated their grand reopening with an exhibit that was both new and familiar to the museum. In the early 1960s, Harvard University commissioned American postwar artist Mark Rothko to create several murals to be hung in the penthouse dining room of the Holyoke Center. Because the pieces were overexposed to sunlight while on display throughout the following decade, the murals were put into storage in 1979. The Harvard Art Museums have brought the collection back, along with a sixth piece that was painted for the commission but never exhibited. The murals that were damaged years ago have now been restored by an innovative digital solution: projectors placed in front of the murals use non-invasive light to brighten the faded colors.
Also on display is a new exhibit by German artist Rebecca Horn, a clear indicator of the Museum’s intention to incorporate more works by modern and contemporary artists. A multimedia artist, Horn’s works range from films and photographs to motorized sculptures that use sensors to react to the presence of observers in what she describes as an attempt to break down “barriers between passive spectators and active performers.”
In addition to these enhancements and exhibits, the Museums now include improved conservation labs, university galleries for the display and study of pieces specific to courses within the university and an art study center that provides a space for scholars to spend prolonged amounts of time with one piece. The renovations have also increased gallery space by 40 percent, which allows more of the pieces normally kept in storage to be on display. All of these improvements are aimed at increasing accessibility of art to the public and to art historians and scholars, and to open the pieces up to examination in new and intensive ways.
Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy St.
Open daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed major holidays