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Harvard Art Up for "Re-View"

By Victoria D. Sung, Crimson Staff Writer

The renovation of the Fogg may be the best thing that has happened to the Sackler.

The lesser-known little brother of the Fogg Art Museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, originally housed ancient, Asian, Islamic, and Later Indian art. However, with the renovation of the Fogg Art Museum that began over the summer, the Fogg and the Busch-Reisinger Museum’s collections have found a home in the walls of the Sackler.

“Re-View,” the new exhibit showcasing works from all three museums together for the first time, spans continents and centuries. The first floor displays European and American art since 1900; the second floor, Asian and Islamic art from 5000 BC to the present; and the fourth, Western art from antiquity to 1900.

The breadth and quality of the combined collections is apparent when walking through the three floors, as are the endless possibilities to mix and match works from different genres, time periods, and regions with the conglomeration of so many resources. The museum’s permanent collection on the second floor has also been transformed, with Indian and Islamic Art now displayed in the same room, highlighting their similarities and shared influences.

The strength of the collection, however, lies not only in the individual works themselves, which include time-honored masterpieces and works completed as recently as this year, but in its innovative groupings. With so much art crammed into one building—hanging, propped up against the walls, in glass cases, and standing in the middle of the rooms—it is conceivable that the exhibit could very well have deteriorated into a crowded jumble of art and artifacts. However, the careful placement of the works allows viewers to easily comprehend them in small clusters and then, if they wish, to step back and make larger associations among works from various groupings.

The exhibit’s didactic intent is evident. The wall tags are incredibly informative and have thorough explanations, taking time to explain not only the background history of a specific art movement with which an artist is associated, but to offer deep analysis and interpretation of the work itself.

In the show’s first gallery, four works that one may never have imagined would occupy the same wall combine to produce a progression in three-dimensionality. The horizontal and vertical black lines that run across Mondrian’s “Composition with Blue, Black, Yellow, and Red” clearly emphasize the geometric, flat nature of the piece. To its right, El Lissitzky’s “Proun 12E” continues in the vein of Mondrian’s geometric shapes and two-dimensionality, but manages to take one step further in creating the illusion of jutting out toward the viewer, approaching three-dimensionality. Charles Sheeler’s “Upper Deck” again follows the blueprint of clean shapes and echoes the white and gray squares of Mondrian’s piece, but it presents them through painted industrial and mechanical objects that are depicted as fully three-dimensional. Finally, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s “Light Prop for an Electric Stage (Light-Space Modulator),” a machine made out of aluminum, steel, and other materials, manifests the geometric, industrial quality of Sheeler’s painting in real space.

The exhibit makes connections that are more explicit and traditional, such as the juxtaposition of the Picasso and the Braque on the first floor, as well as those that are far more surprising.

There are too many great works to talk about in one room, let alone three floors. There’s the Byzantine stone and glass mosaic on the fourth floor that recalls the short, bright strokes of color in Klimt’s “Pear Tree” on the first, as well as Josiah Wedgwood’s 18th century English reproduction of the Portland Vase which is not only reminiscent of Greek red and black figure pottery, but also appears in William Michael Harnett’s “Still Life with Bric-a-Brac” along with a late 16th century Iranian torch stand also on display. The connections between works are endless and can be overwhelming if not explored leisurely.

As the hyphen suggests, “Re-View” is not merely a review of the Harvard Art Museum’s collection, but prompts the viewer to reconsider the works, even the most famous and recognizable of them. If a measure of a good exhibition is one to which you can always return and learn something new, “Re-View” is certainly a success.

—Staff writer Victoria D. Sung can be reached at vsung@fas.harvard.edu.

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