RISD Museum Announces New Galleries for Ancient Egyptian Art, Asian Art, Costume and Textiles

  • PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island
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  • June 09, 2014

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The mummy and coffin of ancient Egyptian priest Nesmin (250 BCE) are moved into a new, state-of-the-art, climate-controlled case in the RISD Museum's newly renovated galleries for ancient Egyptian art. Tiered mountings and LED lights allow visitors to more effectively view the mummy, the coffin’s exterior, and beautiful but previously hidden interior paintings.
RISD Museum

The RISD Museum announces the completion of the $8.4 million renovation of its 1926 Eliza G. Radeke Building with the opening of newly renovated galleries for ancient Egyptian art and Asian art, and new spaces for costume and textiles. These eight revitalized sixth-floor galleries open to the public on June 13, 2014; a free Design the Night celebration follows on June 19.

"Museums, art, and historic sites are all the backbone of our creative economy," says Governor Lincoln Chafee, who joins the Museum in commemorating the opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "When you look at what the arts can offer the community and our quality of life, it makes a lot of sense to invest in this important area. It is our goal to make Rhode Island the 'State of the Arts.'"

A highlight of the RISD Museum newly renovated Rockefeller Asian Galleries is a custom-designed, 16-foot-long center case that invites a closer look at a rare, Edo-period Japanese bridal palanquin—or onna norimono (“ride for a bride”). A team of specialists conserved the palanquin’s interior paintings and exterior lacquer and brasses, with the assistance of the Sumitomo Foundation of Japan.
RISD Museum

Part of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the country's top college of art and design, the RISD Museum serves more than 100,000 visitors a year. The seven-year Radeke Restoration Project transformed the Museum's central building, one of five interconnected structures, and reimagined the visitor experience of its internationally acclaimed collection of works of art and design. Initiated in 2006 by a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the project addressed three public floors of galleries and teaching spaces in four phases.

"The completion of the Radeke Restoration Project is a signal achievement for the RISD Museum and has been made possible through the extraordinary generosity of local and national philanthropy," says John W. Smith, Director of the RISD Museum. "Eliza Greene Radeke, in whose honor these galleries were dedicated in 1926, was one of RISD's most visionary leaders; during her long tenure as RISD's president, she led the Museum into a transformative period of expansion and excellence. Throughout this project, our goal has been not only restoring the original architectural integrity of the Radeke building, but to ensure the RISD Museum's relevance as a vital center for art and design for 21st-century audiences. The project's final phase, the newly restored and resequenced sixth-floor galleries, reflect the RISD Museum's unique position as part of a creative community. Deeply rooted in the context of an art and design school and informed by new research and analysis, the galleries offer a unique point of access to cultural history."

Sarah Ganz Blythe, Director of Education, adds, "Working within a community of makers with deep expertise and knowledge, the RISD Museum's new interpretation continues a commitment to highlighting how and why art and design is made and seeks to cultivate an active engagement with all aspects of the creative process. Encountering novel objects in museums often elicits questions such as "How was that made?" Visitors to the new galleries can learn how the scarcity of wood in ancient Egypt affected its use as an artistic material, or how Japanese lacquer differs from that of other cultures, or how the Chinese developed porcelain using a secret formula that took Europeans centuries to replicate. Art in the new galleries is arranged in such a way that the role of the artist and the act of making take center stage."

Costumes and textiles drawn from the Museum's significant but infrequently seen collection are now on view in the Angelo Donghia Costume and Textiles Gallery and Study Center. Dramatic installations in expansive gallery cases and large display drawers juxtapose textiles and garments from different cultures, times periods, and media—illustrating the ebb and flow of ideas, aesthetics, and techniques integral to the history of design, craftsmanship, trade, culture, and current artistic practice.

"For the first time in the Museum's history, we can offer visitors multiple opportunities to explore the riches of this exciting collection," says Kate Irvin, Curator of Costumes and Textiles.

Throughout the galleries, object labels and audio recordings of artists and scholars explore the sources and properties of materials, and communicate the context of cross-cultural trade and systems of belief. The function, cultural importance, and life-history of objects—from large stone sculptures to exquisite woodblock prints—is brought to life by examination of the makers' materials, techniques, and training.

"It's a more focused look," says Gina Borromeo, Curator of Ancient Art. "It's a multicultural world up there—through time, through space, using the lens of medium. It's been fun, looking at the different collections and breaking out the ways of thinking about making. The big excitement is that is gives visitors a chance to revisit old favorites—the Buddha and mummy, for example—these are central figures that may seem familiar, but now we're offering more. For the first time, the coffin of the Egyptian priest Nesmin can be seen open, giving visitors an intimate look at the underside of the lid and the image of the goddess Nut on the inside of the coffin base. Or learn about the beautiful inscriptions on the Buddha that we just discovered and translated."

The significance of several visitor favorites becomes even more apparent when presented in cultural context: the mummy of Nesmin (250 BCE) is surrounded by ancient Egyptian tomb objects that highlight social stature and accompany the deceased on the journey into the afterlife; adjacent displays of artists' models illustrate the skill and fine craftsmanship that went into such sacred objects. A gallery of Asian devotional art invites meditative contemplation, drawing visitors toward a renovated corner gallery in which the monumental Dainichi Nyorai Buddha (ca. 1150-1200) presides in seated serenity. A large walk-around center case invites a closer look at the Museum's exceptional Japanese bridal palanquin, conserved in 2010 with the assistance of the Sumitomo Foundation of Japan and now shown alongside Asian objects of exquisite craftsmanship such as silk Japanese robes woven with brilliant gold, prized Chinese porcelains, and Islamic lacquerware.

The sixth-floor galleries open to RISD Museum members on Thursday, June 12, 10 am-9 pm, with curator-led gallery tours from 6 to 7:30 pm. The galleries open to all visitors on Friday, June 13, 10 am-5 pm. On Thursday, June 19, the Museum celebrates with Design the Night: KNOW HOW, 5-9 pm; this free evening of programs and events offers a close look at creative processes and techniques, from ancient times to present day.



Project Overview

The Radeke Restoration Project is a major renovation of the 1926 Eliza Radeke Building—the core structure of the RISD Museum's five buildings, home to some of Rhode Island's most important treasures, and a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since 2006, the multi-year project has addressed three of the building's gallery floors, restoring the historical character of the original Georgian Revival galleries, reclaiming original windows and a skylight, and allowing the Museum to update its presentation of the art collection with newly designed cases, lighting, and interpretation.

"Opening the original skylight over the south stair is truly a dream come true. Light now flows down four floors and invites visitors into the galleries from the marble landings. It's the perfect capstone to the seven-year project," says Ann Woolsey, Director of Planning.

In 2008, the Radeke building's third floor was transformed from storage and office space to 4,000 square feet of new galleries for the RISD Museum's collection of 20th-century art and design, photography, prints, and new media. The project also added a lecture hall, a dedicated classroom, and new restrooms. In 2010, the Museum's ancient Greek and Roman galleries and European art collection were reinterpreted and reinstalled in renovated galleries on the building's fifth floor. Renovations to the sixth-floor galleries for ancient Egyptian art, Asian art, and costume and textiles began in May 2013.

The Radeke Restoration Project was led by Woolsey and Eric Hanson of RISD's Construction Management Office. Providence architect Ed Wojcik (RISD 1987, BArch) led the design team, working with exhibition designer Stephen Saitas and lighting designer Anita Jorgensen, both of New York. The project involved significant contributions by staff members across the Museum.

Shawmut Design and Construction managed the project's construction. "As this was Shawmut's fourth time managing construction at the Radeke Building, our team brought a deep sense of pride and stewardship to this work," says Ron Simoneau, Shawmut Vice President. "We applied our considerable experience with the building and our strong relationships with RISD's building staff to proactively address every detail in the creation of an optimal environment for RISD's collections."

The budget for the entire Radeke Restoration Project is $8.4 million, with the sixth floor accounting for $2.7 million of the total. Major donors include David Rockefeller, the Angelo Donghia Foundation, The Champlin Foundations, Hope and Michael Hudner, and the Bafflin Foundation. A National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant initiated the project in 2006, and was followed by matching funds from Glenn and MaryJane Creamer, Yvonne and Peter Weiss, the Norman and Rosalie Fain Foundation, Linda and Vincent Buonanno, Anne and Michael Spalter, William and Nancy Tsiaras, Susan and George Wyper, RISD Museum Associates, and the Murray S. Danforth family.

Significant Architectural and Technological Improvements

A new gallery and study center form the RISD Museum's first dedicated spaces for costume and textiles. Reorganized galleries group Asian sculpture, prints, and textiles with the Dainichi Nyorai Buddha—and open sight lines from the south stairway to the Farago building.

A state-of-the-art central case allows visitors to more effectively view the Museum's ancient Egyptian mummy and coffin. The climate-controlled, LED-lighted case features three specifically engineered, tiered mountings that advantageously display the mummy, the coffin's exterior, and beautiful but previously hidden interior paintings.

Expansive central cases encourage visitors to walk around and view the Museum's 18th-century Japanese palanquin and presentations from the costume and textiles collection from various perspectives. Large caseworks and new mountings, designed by Saitas, have been installed throughout the galleries to better present and preserve objects.

Paneled walls create a serene setting in the Japanese print gallery, refurbished to architect Philip Johnson's designs of the 1950s for the Rockefeller family.

The renovation uncovered a skylight and two windows that had been hidden since the 1950s. The skylight allows filtered sunlight to descend the south stairway. One window brings ambient natural light into the Hudner Buddha Gallery; the other provides a view onto the Radeke Garden from the Donghia Study Center.

The Museum's cultural treasures sparkle under lighting improvements, including LED lights, which ensure art preservation and enhance viewers' experiences of colors and details.

Acoustic baffles reduce ambient noise and encourage quiet contemplation.

Updates to electrical, life-safety, and security equipment throughout the galleries.

Wi-Fi access allows visitors to learn more, and share discoveries, right in the galleries.

A new audio program explores the multifaceted lives of objects—beginning with about 100 unique recordings by artists, designers, scholars, and students. Visitors can access these recordings on their mobile devices while at the RISD Museum, or from home computers, at risdmuseum.org/channel.

Classroom resources available through the Museum's website, support K-12 content and skills—including close-looking, careful investigation, and thoughtful reflection.



About the RISD Museum

The RISD Museum was established in 1877 and encompasses more than 72,000 net square feet in three historic and two contemporary buildings. The Chace Center (2008) includes 6,000 square feet of Museum gallery space for temporary exhibitions; the Minskoff Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Michael P. Metcalf Auditorium; RISD WORKS, the Museum's store; and two floors dedicated to RISD academic use. The Daphne Farago Wing (1993) exhibits contemporary art in all media. The Charles Pendleton House (1906) contains exemplary works of American 18th- and 19th-century furniture, silver, and porcelain. The Waterman Galleries (1897) highlight 20th-century American paintings. The 1926 Eliza G. Radeke Building, the largest of the five buildings, connects all of the Museum buildings and features three floors of art ranging from ancient Egyptian to Impressionism to 21st-century designs, drawn from the Museum's collection of more than 91,000 objects.

Information: 401 454 6500 or risdmuseum.org. Follow the Museum at Facebook.com/RISDMuseum, Twitter.com/RISDMuseum, and Instagram.com/RISDMuseum.


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RISD Museum
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