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New Space for Museum’s Treasures

06/20/2014

The 11th-century Japanese Buddha radiates serenity from its new home in a beautifully renovated gallery.

The RISD Museum’s newly renovated sixth-floor galleries have opened to the public, and the work is “arranged in such a way that the role of the artist and the act of making take center stage,” according to RISD Museum Director of Education Sarah Ganz Blythe. “Visitors can learn how the scarcity of wood in ancient Egypt affected its use as an artistic material, or how Japanese lacquer differs from that of other cultures or how the Chinese developed porcelain using a secret formula that took Europeans centuries to replicate.”

Led by the Museum’s Director of Planning Ann Woolsey and RISD alumnus Ed Wojcik BArch 87, the  renovation marks the final stage of an $8.4 million overhaul of the Eliza G. Radeke Building that began in 2006 with a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. To celebrate the completion of the project, the newly opened show New Look, Old Favorites offers the public the first opportunity to see some of the museum’s most prized possessions in a new and more contemporary setting.

The final phase of the project reflects the museum’s “unique position as part of a creative community,” says Museum Director John W. Smith. Named in honor of Eliza Greene Radeke, the daughter of RISD founders Jesse and Helen Metcalf, in 1926, the galleries in this part of the connected buildings that comprise the museum recognize “one of RISD’s most visionary leaders,” Smith says. “During her long tenure as RISD’s president, Radeke led the museum into a transformative period of expansion and excellence.”

Inside the bright, open spaces, visitors are discovering new takes on old favorites, many of which have been in storage during the years of construction and renovation. For example, Japanese prints and Asian textiles collected by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and Lucy Truman Aldrich in the first half of the 20th century will now rotate on a semi-annual basis, allowing more of these extraordinary objects to emerge from storage and be exhibited.

A rare Japanese bridal palanquin – conserved with help from a team of specialists at the Sumitomo Foundation of Japan – is now housed in the Rockefeller Asian Art Galleries. The museum’s beloved wooden Japanese Dainichi Nyorai Buddha (c. 1150–1200) has been placed on a newly created pedestal near an original window that was bricked over in the 1950s. And the ever-popular mummy of Nesmin (250 BCE) has been repositioned for increased accessibility. “For the first time, the coffin of the Egyptian priest Nesmin can be seen open,” explains Curator of Ancient Art Gina Borromeo, “giving visitors an intimate look at the underside of the lid and the image of the goddess Nut on the inside of the coffin base.”

With the renovation, Museum visitors are also able to better access some of the 26,000 pieces from around the world housed in the new Angelo Donghia Costume and Textiles Gallery and Study Center. The inaugural exhibition – Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass – features cross-cultural floral textiles and clothing revealing the importance and versatility of flowers in design language. A contemporary dress design by Junya Watanabe in a printed floral Liberty of London fabric, for example, shares the stage with a 19th-century Persian jacket. “For the first time in the museum’s history, we can offer visitors multiple opportunities to explore the riches of this exciting collection,” says Kate Irvin, curator of Costumes and Textiles.

Simone Solondz

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tags: alumni, RISD Museum

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A figure modeling class from 1916.