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Behind the Scenes at the New Hood Museum of Art

Museum director John Stomberg gives Dartmouth News a tour of the building in progress.

Workers are still mudding drywall and stringing electrical wire, but for the most part the shape of the newly renovated and expanded Hood Museum of Art is in place. John Stomberg, the Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director of the Hood, recently gave Dartmouth News a sneak preview of the interior of the museum, which is expected to open to the public in 2019.

On the first floor of the original wing, which was designed by Charles Moore and opened in 1985, the first thing the visitors notice, after the scaffolding and drywall dust, is how familiar the space feels.

“One of the key features of the renovation of the original Charles Moore building is that each of the galleries will be returned to the way it looked the day it opened in 1985, painstakingly recreating details,” says Stomberg.

Among those original details: signature tiered capitals on the interior gallery columns, and the central staircase, which Moore designed with alternating stretches of short steps and long landings, creating what Stomberg describes as a cinematic experience. “The experience of walking up the stairs unfolds slowly, the same way that film unfolds slowly,” he says.

Stomberg points out where the original structure now opens up into the new expansion, designed by the architectural team of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. “The wonderful thing about this building is from the outside it will really appear as two buildings—the original Charles Moore building and the new Tod Williams and Billie Tsien building,” Stomberg says. “But on the inside, it will be absolutely seamless.”

Next, we enter what Stomberg calls “the beating heart of the new Hood”: the Center for Object Study. This three-classroom suite will allow students and faculty to engage directly with the nearly 70,000 objects in the Hood’s collection.

The state-of-the-art classrooms in the center are each designed for different-sized groups and different uses, from presentations and video conferencing to hands-on group projects. The center also includes an object-staging room where the museum’s educators and curators can tailor presentations to specific classes. Each classroom, Stomberg says, can accommodate up to three classes a day.

“What that means for us is curating nine miniature exhibitions every day. This will be a very busy space that the public will never see,” Stomberg says.

The museum’s new entrance is a grand atrium adjoining the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts—and a new venue for students to use for events—open 18 hours a day just like the Hop.

Stomberg calls the atrium “a subtle but serious architectural metaphor for the experience of the whole building.” Museum visitors will enter through a narrow space that widens first to “a space dedicated to business”—coat check and information desk—then to an expansive, two-story hall showcasing Juan Muñoz’s Figure Hanging from One Foot sculpture, which will be suspended overhead.

“It’s an unmediated experience of art that we’re about and that the space gives,” Stomberg says.

Upstairs, Stomberg describes how the new museum’s 16 public galleries will provide opportunities to show more of the collection, and give curators flexibility in how they install exhibitions of art “from around the world and through time.” Notably, special projects, such as student-curated Space for Dialogue exhibitions, will now be able to be installed in any of several galleries.

“The museum has been designed for maximum flexibility. All of these spaces can be rearranged,” Stomberg says.

Finally, Stomberg shows off the element of the new design that is perhaps the most striking from the street: the vitrine gallery, which features a 14-square-foot window overlooking the Green.

For visitors who have watched the Hood take shape from the outside over the past year, standing in the vitrine gallery and looking out toward Baker Tower feels dramatic. It’s not hard to imagine the completed gallery, when it can finally display work from the collection, serving as a beacon for art that will draw the Dartmouth community and the public into the Hood for many years to come.

Hannah Silverstein can be reached at hannah.silverstein@dartmouth.edu.

This article originally appeared in Dartmouth News on January 10, 2018.

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