On September 14, 2012, Carnegie Museum of Art
opened its newly-reinstalled galleries of 19th-century European and American art. These four galleries have been closed since May, 2012. Visitors to the galleries will discover a shift in the way that the museum presents this particularly strong part of its permanent collection.
Bright, skylit spaces showcase some of the museum's most significant works, with galleries organizing artworks around the social and historical contexts from which they arose. "Each collection—great and small—gives us a part of the larger history of art, and tells the unique story of its own development," said Lynn Zelevansky, The Henry Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art. "CMA’s new installations will emphasize our uniqueness, highlight major works, and attempt to make the art as accessible and compelling as possible." Among the changes, art hangs in a less-dense arrangement than in some of the previous salon-style galleries, and the thematic arrangement of artworks is a departure from the prior chronological approach.
Each gallery encompasses a view of the museum's 19th-century collection strengths: sculpture, Impressionism, the Aesthetic movement, and realist works. New walls subdivide galleries, grouping works into close-knit themes. Wall texts written collaboratively by a group of curators, and educators explore these themes with an eye to history, ideas, and attitudes shaping the visual language of the period. New lighting and casework allow for more flexible display of photography and works on paper—a welcome change that better-integrates the museum's recently-created Department of Photography. "The redesign of our core permanent collection galleries provides an engaging integration of paintings, sculpture, photography, and decorative arts," said Jason Busch, Chief Curator and The Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts. "This approach has been informed by visitor response to the Carnegie collection and the museum's vision, balancing our rich history and aspirations."
According to longtime curator of fine arts Louise Lippincott, "This is the fourth time I have reinstalled the collection. Each time, the growth of the collection, new perspectives on art history, and innovations in the museum field have stimulated a fresh approach."
Each object has its own story to tell, and the object texts provide visitors with fascinating background information on the object’s context, and often, how the work came to the museum. As a whole, these reinstalled galleries display more than art—they tell the story of a major institution and its collecting history. "They take us back to the origins of the museum in the ethos of the 1890s," says Lippincott, "reflecting Pittsburgh's industrial wealth and the philanthropic ideals of Andrew Carnegie."
The reinstallation is the first step in a larger examination of Carnegie Museum of Art's extensive collection. In the spring of 2013, the museum’s modern and contemporary art will be reinstalled and reinterpreted for the public in connection with the upcoming 2013 Carnegie International, which opens in October 2013.