James S. Snyder, the Anne and
Jerome Fisher Director at the Israel Museum and Helen Molesworth, the
chief curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (ICA) joined together
for the keynote address at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on May 14, 2012. What’s the result of aligning two
institutions that seem to sit at opposite ends of the spectrum? The Israel Museum is an encyclopedic museum located
on 20-acre mountaintop campus in Jerusalem. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, (also
known as the ICA) was once a Kunsthalle that rotates a newly established permanent
collection on view as well as traveling or visiting exhibitions of contemporary
art. First, Snyder explained his
institution’s recent major expansion. He
noted that, "renewal” better describes the transformation the museum
experienced. The renewal allowed many new exhibition
possibilities. Snyder gave the audience
of curators a visual tour, beginning with the three new wings equipped to
exhibit sculpture, painting and antiquities.
They are named the Fine Arts Wing, the Jewish Art and Life Wing and the
Archaeology wing that leads to a temporary exhibition space as well. Architectural plans and breathtaking
photographs showed the increase in natural light in the gallery spaces. Snyder says, the natural light was one way to
preserve the spiritual dimension of the space.
He noted that contemporary art installations were a challenge at first
though, he and his team of curators found new ways to exhibit antiquities with
a connection to contemporary art practices as well.
Helen Molesworth also offered insightful ways of conceiving
the modern-day museum. Helen Molesworth
came to the ICA from the Harvard Art Museum where she served as head of the
department of modern and contemporary art and the museum’s Houghton Curator of
Contemporary Art. She posed a similar
question to that of James Snyder’s, "How does a museum successfully exhibit
and/or house ancient and contemporary art under the same roof?” Molesworth
belongs to the ICA, an institution that was originally named the Boston Museum
of Modern Art in 1936. The ICA started
as a Kunsthalle. Molesworth explained
that, the ICA models itself after similar institutions that focus attentions
toward exhibit contemporary art. The New
Museum is a chief example of an institution that aims to both exhibit art and
act as an alternative space. Marcia
Tucker, formerly the curator of painting at the Whitney Museum, found the New
Museum in 1977 and deemed that it would only exhibit contemporary art. The break from the Whitney Museum allowed
Tucker to show work by lesser known living artists on the brink of discovery. The break was a telltale sign that contemporary
art had begun to outgrow the traditional museum format. Alternative spaces like these could be more in
tune to the societal and global shifts that occur, shifts that are almost
imperceptible to those participating in the society, but that artists can
isolate and reinterpret through their art practice.
Where do the two converge?
Helen Molesworth probably summed up it best when she said, "Art historians are like astronomers, both are
concerned with seeing things in the present which were made long ago." Both Snyder and Molesworth explore the best
ways to understand and communicate the cultural treasures of our world.