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Nasher renovations to invite more student engagement

Special to The Chronicle
Special to The Chronicle

The Nasher Museum of Art holds more than 11,000 pieces in its permanent collection, but few of these works are ever seen by students during their years at Duke.

That will soon change at the end of this summer when the Nasher’s newly renovated Wilson Pavilion will start showcasing a significant portion of the collection just as students arrive back on campus. The exhibition, titled The New Galleries: A Collection Come to Light, opens Aug. 27 and runs until Feb. 12 with reinstallations spanning seven different time periods and cultures, each encased in its own gallery. The pavilion has been under construction since mid-May and will be able to showcase twice as many works as before the renovations.

Sarah Schroth, the Mary D.B.T and James H. Semans director of the Nasher, said one of her main initiatives since being named the museum’s director two years ago was to display more of the permanent collection so students and community members could understand the size and span of the Nasher’s properties.

“We really just want to make the Nasher a welcoming place for students,” she said. “The point of [the exhibition] is for students to be proud of the pieces that are in their museum.”

The renovated pavilion—set to be completed in August—will feature a new configuration broken up into eight defined sections. The new sections will include art from North and South America, Europe and Africa, as well as historical divisions of ancient, medieval and modern.

One section of the exhibition will involve students directly in the curatorial process. A gallery named “The Incubator” will exclusively display art curated by undergraduates.

Schroth noted that the student curators will usually be summer interns or those enrolled in the Nasher’s internship course, and potentially those in classes whose faculty make the curation process part of their curricula.

The first show to fill the Incubator will be a selection of Ansel Adams photographs, curated by seniors Rosie Williams and Annalise Johnson.

“Hopefully for some, especially for art history majors, it will give some real world experience… a different type of educational experience from the classroom,” said Marshall Price, Nancy Hanks curator of modern and contemporary art. “It opens up a whole other world.”

Other recent changes to the Nasher have similarly prioritized student experiences. The Museum Undergraduate Student Exec committee has become more involved in the exhibition unveiling process, running the opening event of an exhibition this spring for the first time, Schroth said.

She also noted how the improved Wilson Pavilion can provide a contemplative space for campus denizens, acting as a spot to “sit down and be quiet and slow down from your hectic student life.”

The major changes to the space come as the Nasher celebrates its tenth anniversary since opening in 2005, which Schroth said was “absolutely intentional.” The increased capacity of the pavilion and the 350-plus works to fill it will mark a new phase for the museum while acknowledging what it has accumulated in the past decade.

“The tenth anniversary is a milestone for the institution,” Price said. “It’s an opportunity for us as a museum to look back and see what’s been accomplished and also to look ahead to the future. I think both of those will be manifested in the Wilson Pavilion collection.”