Welcome to the Collections
At Carnegie Museum of Art, we are reinstalling our collection in phases over the next few years, beginning with four galleries that cover the 19th and early 20th centuries that will reopen this fall. Traditionally, art museums summarize the history of art through great works, yet as scholars make new discoveries, and as our culture becomes more global, it becomes evident that no one has a premium on that history. Rather, each collection—great and small—gives us some of part of it and tells the unique story of its own development. CMA’s new installations will emphasize our uniqueness, highlight major works, and attempt to make the art as accessible and compelling as possible to a broad spectrum of the public.
A key to accessibility is good, clear interpretive material that encourages visitors to make a personal connection with the art. Conventionally, curators write wall texts for their area of expertise. The education and publication departments provide help, but are dealing with faits accomplis, texts that the curator has already written. Sometimes this system works well; at other times, curators who are deep into their own research may lose sight of what non-professionals need, and are interested, to know.
Inspired by studies that show that innovation comes more quickly and easily through group activity, we recently experimented with a collaborative way of creating gallery texts. A group of curators, educators, and editors dove into an introduction to the collection that I drafted, and, rather than bowing to my vision of text, we spent about two hours pulling my writing apart and putting it back together again. The process was instructive and enjoyable—even for me—and there was consensus that the introduction was clearer and more useful for the work we’d done. Several staff members suggested that I post it as an Inside the Museum to see what the public thought.
Below is the introduction to the galleries that we wrote in this new, collaborative manner, with a few minor adjustments that—admittedly—I couldn’t resist making. Please read it through and let me know if it provokes thought and makes you want to explore the collections…
All museum collections are unique, revealing much about the culture of the city in which they reside; this is certainly true of Carnegie Museum of Art’s collection. The galleries that follow contain many extraordinary and fascinating works of art, some of them icons of their time.
When Andrew Carnegie founded Carnegie Institute in 1895, he was part of a generation of wealthy benefactors around the country who saw it as a civic duty to bring art galleries to their cities. Carnegie stands out among his peers for his support of the art of his own time. In 1896, he inaugurated an annual exhibition to present the best in current painting from Europe and the United States, directing the Institute to build its collection from that show. (Today the exhibition, called the Carnegie International, occurs every four to five years and contains works in many different media and from all over the world.) Winslow Homer, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and the Impressionists were among the well-known artists who played roles in early Internationals.
While most of the collection dates from 1850 to the present, over the years many members of the Pittsburgh community—Carnegie included—have enriched it with earlier art. These galleries present the museum’s historic paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and design, and significant examples of pre-modern African and Asian art, as well as contemporary work in all areas. The collection speaks volumes about the spirit and personality of this remarkable city, and, like Pittsburgh, it continues to grow and change.
Please enjoy the galleries.
Thank you for your help.
Inside the Museum will be on hiatus next month. I’ll be back in October.