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Where Art Thou, Fogg?

Sketchy plans for the future of Harvard's art collection

By Anjali Motgi, Crimson Staff Writer

Quincy Street is quiet this September. Aside from the slow trickle of students walking to and from the Barker Center and Lamont Library, there’s relatively little traffic flow on the historic road. A few tourists amble by, pausing briefly to glance at the large white placard sitting atop the Georgian facade of the main entrance of two large, brick buildings. “Harvard Art Museum: Closed in preparation for renovation,” it reads.

Since June 30, the Fogg Museum—the oldest of the Harvard Art Museums system—has been on “lock-down” for the purported purpose of readying the museum for its long-discussed renovations. For security reasons, no visitors—whether members of the student body, the public, or, in some cases, the History of Art and Architecture department—can enter the building. Classes and meetings traditionally conducted in the Fogg are now being held elsewhere, and only museum staff members are allowed on the premises. Yet the actual construction on the museum has not yet begun. So what has been going on behind the closed doors of 32 Quincy Street?



KEEP IT SILENT, KEEP IT SAFE

This summer, the staff began the long, involved process of preparing the objects in the museum for transport to the off-site location where they’ll be stored during renovations. “It’s safe to say that it’s a very well-orchestrated and very complex project,” says Daron J. Manoogian, the Harvard Art Museums’ spokesman.

The Fogg has over 260,000 works in its collection, though this number includes every ancient coin and paper drawing. Still, it’s easy to understand why the sheer number of objects to be moved presents a logistical challenge to the renovators. Some of the artwork requires many layers of special packaging to ensure their safety during the move, and most are placed in crates before they are transported.

“It is a very daunting task,” Manoogian says. “It’s a lot of work but it’s something that they’ve been preparing for several months, if not years.”

At least one student has picked up on the museum staff’s cautious attitude towards renovations. “I think right now they’re still sizing things up,” HAA concentrator Kaley L. Bla ’10 says. “If I were the architect or the director, I would be so terrified to start working on this renovation because the Fogg is such a historical building.”

For security reasons, the museum staff cannot discuss when specific objects will be moved, nor can they disclose the location of the new off-site facility where they will be stored during construction. The facility will include office space for the museum staff and will house the art collections of all three museums—Fogg, Sackler, and Busch-Reisinger—but will not be open to the public. This facility is still under construction, however, making it likely that few, if any, works have been removed from the museum to date. (The museum staff declined to confirm this.)

According to staff members, the plan is for moving to begin in early 2009. Meanwhile, many of the Fogg’s administrative offices have been relocated to the Sackler and to an adjacent three-story house on Cambridge Street. Museum director Thomas Lentz’s offices will remain at this location throughout the renovations, and certain departments—visitor services, security, and the education department—will remain close by in the Sackler.

Still, not all of the museum’s departments have been relocated. The Strauss Conservation Center, which will move to a conservation lab in the off-site facility when renovations get underway, remains on the fourth floor of the Fogg and is actively aiding the museum as it prepares objects for transport. The Fine Arts Library, currently located in the Quincy Street building, will remain for now, albeit behind a security barrier that forces students to enter from Otto Hall on the Prescott Street side for the duration of the academic year. The Library will then move to an interim site in Littauer Hall. After the renovations are complete the library will most likely be moved into the Sackler, where gallery spaces will be converted for use by the HAA Department and the Fine Arts Library.

According to the renovation’s projected schedule, the museum staff and all of the objects will have completely vacated the building by September of 2009 so that the actual construction can begin. However, this timetable is contingent upon a routine public approval process that the museum has yet to begin.

It is estimated that the tearing down of old wings and construction of the new expansion will take three years, ending in 2012. After that, it will take at least another year to move back into the building and to complete commissioning of the new wings, which involves ensuring that the air quality is sufficient for the art collections to be reinstalled.

The goal is for the new, expanded Fogg to re-open in 2013, after all current Harvard undergraduate classes have moved on.

NEW WINGS AND OTHER THINGS

The Quincy Street expansion proposed by architect Renzo Piano, who is also currently renovating the Isabella Stuart Gardener museum in Boston, will be the first substantial renovation of the Fogg. Additions have been made to the Prescott Street side of the facility, but the original 1927 section of the building—which replaced the 1895 building that first housed the museum—has never been significantly altered.

Piano’s plan will remove the Prescott Street additions to the museum, “primarily because,” Manoogian says, “those spaces were never really efficiently integrated into the actual building itself.” The Prescott Street additions were each designed and constructed at separate times and are therefore not uniform; each has its own entrance and its own floor-to-ceiling height.

“The new wing that we’re going to build in place of them on Prescott Street will be seamlessly integrated into the original building,” Manoogian says.

The historic elements and overall structure of the 1927 building cannot be altered because the building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986, but the original section will still undergo extensive changes to its infrastructure. “That 1927 building has lots of 1927 wiring and plumbing and it’s not an ideal setting for an art museum at all,” Manoogian says.

While much of the renovations process cannot be divulged to the public “for security reasons,” the museum is expected to reveal its plans at various milestones throughout the project. Piano’s winning design for the museum included only conceptual drawings, so Piano and his associates are currently working on laying out the schematic plan for the new wing.

Once the schematic plan is complete, the museum will finally be able to seek building permits for the renovations. But since there is no timetable for the completion of the schematic plan, and since the museum has yet to secure public approval for much of the construction, there is no rush to evacuate the building just yet. Which is why not much has changed on 32 Quincy Street just yet.

THE FUTURE AWAITS

Though little concrete progress has been made on the building renovations, the museum staff and curators have been busy planning and executing the installation of the new semi-permanent exhibit that will showcase pieces from the collections of the Sackler, the Busch-Reisinger, and the Fogg while the 32 Quincy Street building is under construction. “Re-View,” the current Sackler show, is the first time that so many works from the different Harvard museums have been shown together, representing a small step towards the integration of the museums the renovated Quincy Street building will someday boast.

The hope is that “Re-View” will allow the Fogg to continue, even in its temporary form, to serve its function as a teaching museum. Nora K. Lessersohn ’09, president of OUR MUSE—formerly known as the Organization of Undergraduate Representatives to Harvard University Art Museum, or OUR HUAM—says she doesn’t think the renovations will hinder the organization’s ability to expose students to the Harvard University Art Museums. “I think we’ll actually be able to do more,” she says, “because it’s forced us to be creative.”

But Blackstock, Vice President of OUR MUSE, worries that the Sackler’s museum space may be less inviting to students than the Fogg was. “The question is, how can we get people over the fear of going into museums?” she says. “The majority of our events were focused around gathering people in the courtyard [of the Fogg]. Once they feel comfortable in the courtyard, then they go and explore the galleries.”

Many HAA concentrators see “Re-View” as a preview of the direction the new Fogg museum will take upon its completion. Akili Tommasino ’09, a member of Student Friends of the Art Museums and an HAA concentrator, says he is more excited about the new exhibit in the Sackler than disappointed that the Fogg is closed. “Though the collections are represented on a smaller scale, I believe the Harvard Art Museum’s current configuration may more effectively realize its didactic mission than the previous one,” he says. And though he and his fellow HAA concentrators will have graduated before the Fogg re-opens, many of them laud the facilities and resources that the new museum will house.

“They’re going to offer so many good and beneficial changes for the students,” Blackstock says of the plans, citing the study rooms and the café that have been proposed by Piano as changes that will draw more students into the building.

“I really hope they get it done in five years. I think it’ll be great when I come back for reunions.”

—Staff writer Anjali Motgi can be reached at amotgi@fas.harvard.edu.

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