June 2010 Issue
Larger Than Life
The Cleveland Museum of Art celebrates a milestone in renovation.
The Virgin and Child
Date/Origin: Circa 1050–1200 A.D., Byzantium
Medium: Ivory plaque
Winged Genie Pollinating Palm
Date/Origin: Circa 883–859 B.C., Iraq, Nimrud, Assyrian, reign of Ashurnasirpal II, ninth century B.C.
Portrait Head of a Statesman
Date/Origin: Circa 1–100 A.D., Italy
Medium: Possibly Vespasian marble
The Medieval galleries during renovation.
Sleep and Death, Cista Handle
Date/Origin: Circa 100–125 A.D., Italy, Etruscan
Art handler Carlo Maggiora installs works in
Joe Blazer and Jeffrey Strean, the museum’s director of design and architecture, place transenna posts and panels.
Date/Origin: Circa 100–125 A.D. Italy, Rome, Roman Empire
Medium: Greek marble
View of the Early Christian and Byzantine galleries.
Date/Origin: Painter of Berlin 1899, Circa 515–510 B.C., Greek
Medium: Black-figure terracotta
The Gods are clearly smiling down on the Cleveland Museum of Art
of Art this month. Especially Apollo: The Greek icon of intellectual inquiry is dramatically poised to welcome visitors to the completed first phase of the institution’s renovation and expansion project. And the 2,000-year-old, life-sized bronze statue is just one of the treasures being reinstalled this month after a five-year absence.
On June 26, the museum will unveil a major portion of the $350 million makeover that’s scheduled to be finished in 2013. The project is designed by the celebrated architect Rafael Vinoly, creator of a world’s worth of works, ranging from New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center complex to the Oslo Opera House in Norway.
Newly refurbished spaces ready for exploring include 17 galleries showcasing 900 works from the ancient Near East, Greece (where Apollo resides), Rome, Egypt and Africa, as well as artifacts from Late Antiquity, the Byzantine Empire and the European Middle Ages.
“We’re thrilled that key elements in the history of human civilization are returning to our galleries,” says Griffith Mann, the museum’s chief curator. “They’ve been missed.”
When it opened in 1916, the stately Beaux -Arts building was heralded as one of the finest museum designs in the country. But as the number of acquisitions expanded, spaces became cramped. Renovation, explains Mann, was crucial.
“Galleries had become a kind of a maze that could be very disorienting from a visitor point of view,” he says. “Our objective was to create a much more unified museum campus that would really showcase the collections in their breadths.”
The result: A floor plan that puts history in a comprehensible timeline and encourages art appreciation.
An exquisite example is the sarcophagus relief marble altar, which has been brought out of the shadows and into a light-filled airy space reminiscent of the Byzantine church it would have been a part of from 540 to 600 A.D.
“Before, the altar would have simply been placed with other works of the same period,” Mann says. “But now, we’ve provided a sense of the physical and ritual context in which it would have been used and understood in its day.”
Surprises, or what the chief curator calls “Aha! moments,” await around many corners. One of his favorites is the icon of the Virgin and Child, a Coptic tapestry from the sixth century that’s easily visible from both the Early Christian and Medieval galleries.
“We’ve worked hard to provide open sightlines to major objects,” Mann says proudly, “and many can be examined from all sides, which helps visitors become one with the work.”
Next on the drawing board: The second and final phase of renovation, which includes the completion of an atrium, which will serve as the museum’s centerpiece, and the construction of a new wing for Asian art.
“From its early days, the museum was conceived as an asset for all people for all eternity,” Mann says. “We’re committed to continuing that legacy.”