Director's Welcome

Spring 2014: Engaging Contemporary Art at Mount Holyoke

A few weeks ago during that moment just after a gallery talk ends—as the speaker answers a few last individual questions and the audience begins to disperse—a visitor approached me with the most encouraging comment. She confessed to being highly suspicious of contemporary art for too long, adding that she had found the recent flurry of exhibitions and acquisitions of new art at the Museum to be challenging at first. Lately, though, she had become increasingly excited by the art of our time and was beginning to savor the challenges as part of the experience. She concluded her comments with a sentiment common around the Museum these days: “I can’t wait to see the El Anatsui show!”

This spring the Ghanaian-born artist El Anatsui will present six large-scale works at MHCAM. His sculpture resonates deeply with contemporary world culture. From elevating things typically discarded as trash to the level of art material to his evocation of dynamic geo-political forces, Anatsui personifies the ideal of a globally engaged contemporary artist. He also exemplifies all the work the Museum does through its creativity initiative. He encourages others to think of his work as an invitation to create. Both curators and viewers bring necessary ingredients to the mix when engaging his sculpture.

We are honored to be presenting his work in South Hadley.

At the same time, we will have the opportunity to explore our collection afresh with thoughts of El Anatsui’s practice informing our backward glance through time. How many other humble materials now on view have been recast into great art through the intervention of the brilliant and talented individuals we identify as artists? The mud that was clay spun into urns 6000 years ago in Egypt. The marble quarried and carved to represent an Empress 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire. The wooden log cut to reveal Guanyin about 1000 years ago in China. The old box Joseph Cornell transformed 50 years ago in New York. The paint box Arman converted to sculpture just about 40 years ago. And the simple metal wire Afruz Amighi used last year.

These all share with El Anatsui’s aluminum liquor bottle caps and copper wire a transformation reminiscent of, and metaphorically identical to, the ideal of alchemy. El Anatsui takes base material, literally detritus, and with it makes work that embodies values of the greatest importance in an art museum dedicated to a liberal arts mission—creativity, ingenuity, beauty, intelligence, and a sense of humanity as an internationally shared value. We look forward to sharing with you this amazing artwork and to the rich and challenging learning opportunities it offers.

We are excited to see our collection from new vantage points.

None of this would ever be possible without the aggregate support of our remarkable Museum supporters who have stood steadfast in their encouragement of our mission. This season, we take a moment to draw special attention to three such people. All alumnae, they represent the best in inspired philanthropy. Each has focused on a different area of our enterprise and made it possible for us to continue our work in perpetuity. There are many others too, all of whom work diligently year after year to reinforce the excellence that has long characterized both the collection and the Museum at Mount Holyoke College. We wish to highlight the work of these three remarkable women as quintessential examples of the passion that makes the Museum possible.

We now have an endowed educator dedicated to engaging the faculty in teaching with our collections. The Weatherbie Curator of Academic Programs has been made possible by Susan and Matt Weatherbie’s inspired decision to join the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in permanently endowing this position. The individual currently holding the Weatherbie Curatorship is a seasoned museum veteran who represents the best in academic practice and happens (perhaps not so coincidently) to be an alumna of Mount Holyoke herself. At the same time, fellow Art Museum Advisory Board member Patricia Falkenberg and her husband Edward have endowed a lecture series in art history. The Falkenberg Lecture to be held every spring joins the Weiser Lecture featured each fall in anchoring the Museum’s public programs. And finally, Evelyn Harden has endowed a museum fund that directly supports student activities ranging from internships to travel. As the Museum moves forward, endowing each area of our work is absolutely essential.

We are humbled by the generosity of our supporters.

So, as we look forward to the season ahead, it promises the shock of the new, the comfort of the familiar, and the thrill of finding the congruencies between. We look forward to seeing you around the galleries. Stop by the offices or comment on Facebook to tell us what you think.

Thank you.

John R. Stomberg
Florence Finch Abbott Director
Lecturer in Art