First Reactions

November 4, 2014
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Harmony in Grey and Peach Colour, 1872–74. Oil on canvas. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.165.

“Incredible,” “breathtaking,” and “delightful” were just a few of the superlatives overheard in the renovated Harvard Art Museums last Wednesday, as staff explored all parts of the new facility. The impromptu visiting hour (at the invitation of Tom Lentz, the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the museums) came after an important all-staff meeting—the museums’ last before the November 16 public opening. For many employees, it was their first opportunity to wander freely through all of the galleries and get a sense of how much has been accomplished since the museums closed in 2008.

“It’s amazing,” said Katie Press, associate registrar for the collections, while inside the Naumburg Room. The room has been reassembled in the new museums with repaired and reinstalled stained-glass windows. “I’ve been in and out of the building a lot since we closed,” Press said. “But I hadn’t seen it all together again.”

Lisa Dockstader, office assistant in the Visitor Services department, was struck by a new configuration of women’s portraits, including two by Whistler (Harmony in Grey and Peach Colour and Green and Violet: Mrs. Walter Sickert), displayed in a second-floor arcade overlooking the Calderwood Courtyard. “They’re kind of breathtaking, all of these women,” she said.

Michael Medice, a museum attendant who recently celebrated his tenth year working for the museums, said he was pleased to return to familiar pieces of art, including one of his favorites, Franz Marc’s Grazing Horses IV (Red Horses). “I missed it,” Medice said. As an attendant who worked throughout the museums’ renovation, Medice said the opening felt especially meaningful. “After watching the workers, I have a new appreciation for what it takes to install art,” he said. “It’s been amazing to finally see everything come together.”

Jessica Hong, a curatorial assistant for special exhibitions and publications in the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art, is one of many individuals who recently joined the staff. Even though she wasn’t here for the majority of the renovation process, the moment still feels “exciting, and it also feels like there is a collective sense of relief,” she said. “I can only imagine how much work and effort each person has put into this. Rediscovering works that are in the collections, and seeing them in person, has been an absolute delight.”