- 1. Places to preserve history,
- 2. Places to establish new history, or
- 3. Places to encourage creative growth?
Can there be a fourth choice- All of the above?
The New Britain Museum of American Art (NBMAA) is an interesting example that falls into the “All of the above” category. The facilities of the NBMAA include a variety of galleries that tell the story of Art History in America, while allowing contemporary artists to show us what tomorrow’s textbooks might include. In addition, the museum has two spaces that allow for the artistic exploration and expression of children and adults alike.
On the first floor of the NBMAA’s gallery space, visitors can literally walk through the history of American art. The central hall features the Museum’s illustration collection, while rooms branching off allow the visitor to stroll through galleries highlighting Colonial Portraiture, the Hudson River School, 19th-20th Century Academic and Genre paintings, and American Impressionism.
The second floor houses the Museum’s collection of Post War and Contemporary Art, or art created from about 1910 to the present. However, many of the artists in this collection have been dead for years, if not decades. This includes such greats as Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe and Thomas Hart Benton.
One truly fantastic feature of the NBMAA’s variety of galleries is the NEW/NOW gallery. Every three months the Museum features an up and coming artist who has been selected from a national competition of hundreds of artists. At many museums, the success of a solo shows rides on how famous the artist is. If the artist is not a “big name,” they are not awarded a show. It is an unfortunate cycle—an artist often cannot get a major show without first being in a major show. The Bravo Television Channel’s new reality show “Work of Art” illustrates the hoops that artists will jump through to get that elusive solo exhibition at a major museum (in this case, the Brooklyn Museum). NEW/NOW gives artists a similar opportunity to burst ontothe museum art scene.
Additionally, the Northeast Utilities Foundation Art Lab on the NBMAA’s first floor and the Art Studio on the basement floor allow children and adults, who may never have considered themselves artists, a chance to explore the field. The Art Lab offers fun activities, such as dress-up, as a way to explore and interpret the art hanging on the museum walls, while the Studio allows everyone to step into the shoes of the artist.
What are some of your favorite museums? How do these museums encourage “undiscovered” artists? In what ways do these museums allow visitors into the art or into the artist’s shoes? Do you think this is an important part of the evolving role of the museum as an institution in the 21st century?