While a graduate student at Harvard University I spent much of my time in the Fogg Art Museum, either visiting the collection or attending art history courses. I recently returned to visit the newly renovated Renzo Piano building which not only combines the renowned collections of three museums, but also offers considerable public and student access to behind-the-scenes facets of the art world like conservation, scholarship and research. The thoughtfully designed new structure, which opened to the public last November, houses an extensive Art Study Center, new special exhibition spaces and university galleries curated to reflect the ideas examined by the University community and to highlight the diversity of the collections across time periods, locations and media.
The new building combines the exceptional strength of collections from the Fogg Museum (known for it’s American and European collections), the Busch-Reisinger Museum (which is uniquely committed to central and northern European art from the late medieval period to the present), and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum — which has one of the most significant holdings of Asian art in the United States. I would make special trips to Boston to visit the museums at Harvard — the Busch-Reisinger was one of my favorites because of a love for medieval art instilled from my Williams College professor Wit Stoddard (one of the Williams Art Mafia heads) and of baroque art and architecture from my studies with another Williams Mafia Art head, Lane Faison.
As I walked up the familiar steps and entrance everything seemed as it had been during my time as a student. The inside, however, was quite different and the courtyard was bathed in light, still surrounded by some familiar artwork. I well remember going to the second floor through this courtyard for Emily Vermeule’s course on Greek Art and Architecture. I had spent time at the Sackler Museum with my friend, Curator and scholar David Mitten, who wrote one of my first catalogue introductions for an early exhibit of my work in New York and who introduced me to the world of antiquities. In fact, one of my early exhibits was at Harvard College and three of my paintings are in the collection of Harvard Business School.
I walked through the first floor galleries and was greeted by the familiar stare of an old friend, Max Beckman’s painting Self Portrait in Tuxedo. One of my paintings in a private collection in Munich hangs next to a Beckman (along with a Lyonel Feininger and a Franz Marc. The Busch-Reisinger Museum is home to the Lyonel Feininger Archive and received a bequest of more than 400 Feininger drawings and watercolors from the estate of curator and collector William S. Lieberman). Other revisits included Simon Martini’s Christ on the Cross, Degas The Rehearsal, a small Fra Angelico which I think is divine and a Tilman Riemenschneider sculpture (there was a great Tilman Riemenschneider exhibit a couple of years ago at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time with his work while on a Fulbright Scholarship in Europe).
I walked through the former Sackler collection, and it reminded me of my Harvard graduate seminar in Greece with Professor Mitten with the PhD students (I was not one of them and at times a little over my head -I seemed to spend more time sketching the archeological sites while everybody else was examining them intellectually…..)
Not to be missed are the Bernini sculptures set apart and highlighted in a separate room. The display is exquisite. Be sure to visit the Rothko Murals and when leaving take a look at the sculpture of the capitals on the columns in the Calderwood Courtyard. I look forward to my next visit.