MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - On April 15, the Middlebury College Museum of Art will once again be open to the public, and no reservations will be required for attendance. The museum has been open only to Middlebury students, faculty, and staff with advance registration for the past two years, due to the pandemic.
During the hiatus, the museum took the opportunity to make some additions and improvements, including new exhibits.
“When visitors who have been to the museum return, they will see some radical changes,” said Richard Saunders, director of the museum. “And we’ve got two new exhibits to share that we’re very excited about.”
Saunders said the museum’s three first-floor permanent collection galleries have been completely reinstalled along thematic lines to ensure that a visit to the museum is a welcoming experience for anyone. “No previous experience with art is assumed, and one of the goals is to help visitors grasp some of the themes and ways that art is expressed in different cultures and across time,” he said.
One important reason for the changes, he said, was to make sure what is on view reflects a consideration of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Museum staff have also improved the accessibility—works are displayed lower on walls so they can be easily viewed by someone in a wheelchair, and the font size of the wall texts is now larger to make them easier to read by someone with a visual impairment.
One of the two new exhibits, Contemporary to Classical: Highlights from the New Collection Handbook, has been a long time in the making, said Saunders. It includes more than 40 works from the museum’s permanent collection that are among those featured in a new handbook offering highlights of the collection.
The exhibit celebrates the rich diversity of the collection, which ranges from the contemporary to the antique and represents cultures in Asia, Africa, South America, North America, and Europe. Works include a suit of ceremonial armor from Japan; a still life by the 17th-century Italian artist Anna Stanchi; a 1993 drawing by the Colombian artist Fernando Botero, born in 1932; and a silkscreen print created at Middlebury in 2013 by then visiting artist Derrick Adams, born in 1970.
Saunders noted that the items the museum chooses to acquire have changed immeasurably since the collection was started, just as Middlebury’s academic program has evolved and the College has become more diverse.
The second new exhibit, Into the Screen: Digital Art from teamLab, features a digital work depicting a turbulent ocean panorama that Saunders describes as “mesmerizing.” Its creator, teamLab, is one of the world leaders in the creation of digital art.
“We like to say we made COVID lemonade with the lemons we were handed by being closed,” said Saunders. “We were able to rethink our permanent collection, which took 18 months and the involvement of a number of museum staff. We also focused on the completion of the collection handbook—a project that had been languishing for over a year.”
Some of the lessons from the pandemic are now permanent, said Saunders. He and the other museum staff have learned a lot about the importance of the virtual experience, the value of an online presence, and the responsibility to engage in new forms of communication.
Admission to the Middlebury College Museum of Art is free. For more information, visit the museum’s website.