Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Cleveland Museum of Art

Old Postcard - 1916 Building

The Cleveland Museum of Art is currently undergoing a 10-year, $350 million expansion and renovation. After completing part of the renovation, the museum recently reopened the Historic 1916 building, with 19 galleries and over 900 works of art. If the work done on the 1916 building is any indication of what will be coming for the remainder of the renovation, I think people will be very pleased with the overall results.

But first, before reviewing the renovations to date, I thought I’d give some information on the museum’s history. The museum opened on June 6, 1916, and was made possible by bequests and funding by Hinman Hurlbut, John Huntington, Horace Kelley, and Jeptha H. Wade (the latter who donated the property). The first building opened was what is now called the Historic 1916 building, which is of neoclassic style, with white Georgian marble, designed by Hubbell and Benes. The first addition was completed in March of 1857, which doubled the size of the museum and allowed for an indoor garden court. Another wing for special exhibition galleries, classrooms, lecture halls, and the education department was opened in 1971, and was designed by Marcel Breuer (of Cleveland’s "troubled" Ameritrust/Breuer Tower fame). A third addition was made between 1983-1993, to make room for the museum's library, plus 9 new galleries.

Proposed renovation

In October 2005 the CMA began its fourth – and its largest - expansion project in its history. The new design, by architect Rafael Vinoly, would greatly increase gallery space by reconstructing the museum's east and west wings. The downside to this huge undertaking was that most of the museum's permanent collection had to be placed in storage, and resulted in the museums closure to the public.

The museum reopened – partially - on June 29, 2008. allowing access to the renovated galleries on the main level of its 1916 building. Available exhibits from the permanent collection concentrate on 17th-century European to early 20th-century American art. I’ve been to this museum many times in my lifetime, and was amazed at how beautiful things look. The coloring and lighting in each gallery appears perfectly matched for the art displayed, and each work of art looks fabulous. A few of the large galleries were also lighted by diffused, overhead skylights. My test to the success of the restoration was how the museum would treat one of my favorite pieces, a sculpture called “Terpsichore, Muse of Choral Song and Dance.” I was not disappointed, with her being relocated from what I recall was a poorly lighted wall area to center stage in a gallery, with perfect lighting and surrounding art work. Of course, the museum is not complete without the Armor Court, which I recall seeing several times while attending grade school and high school, and luckily that was one gallery that was also re-opened. The court gleams from the metal and is softened with tapestries, all featured with great lighting which makes the room look more impressive than ever.

What initially seemed like a drawback was the meandering course we had to take to get to the open galleries. But, I have to give the museum high marks for having excellent signage to help get to the destination, plus ample staff on hand at each turn in the course to help find the way. The only thing that annoyed me, and it’s really a small annoyance: on the side of the museum that faces the large pond, huge plain letters flank each side of the outside entrance announcing that it’s OP – EN, the letters separated by the entrance itself. It ruins the whole look of the beauty and simplicity of the old building.

While I am very interested in the architecture of the current and new structures, this renovation means more to me for how it will enhance and improve the whole experience of viewing the art housed in the museum. In fact, based on what is viewable right now, the presentation of the exhibits seems to be art itself. So, if you were holding off on going to the museum until more of it is opened, my suggestion is there is no need to wait, there is plenty to see and plenty to appreciate right now!

The web site for The Cleveland Museum of Art can be found here.

Quick Tour of some of the Restored 1916 Building

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