Hood aims for teaching value and continuity in its collections

by Andrea Nease | 5/19/14 6:32pm

Sitting across the Green from Dartmouth’s Baker Tower is a building whose walls hold approximately 65,000 works, the majority of which, when not on display, are kept on site.

The Hood Museum of Art’s collection combines works from the former College museum in Wilson Hall, which housed the College’s archaeological, historical and anthropological works, with the fine arts collection housed in both the Hopkins Center for the Arts and Carpenter Hall. The two collections came under one roof in 1985 when Charles Moore and Chad Floyd of Centerbrook Architects completed construction of the Hood.

In addition to the Hood’s collection, Dartmouth is also home to a collection of scientific instruments that history professor Richard Kramer oversees. Another large collection of note on campus is the College’s archives, cared for by archivist Peter Carini.

Acquisition

Each year, the museum expands its extensive collections with pieces acquired as gifts or through purchase with endowment funds.

Hood director Michael Taylor said that the museum’s main priority when looking to acquire new pieces is their teaching value. This technique distinguishes the Hood from civic art museums, since the Hood may add a piece to its collection because a professor values it.

“We work directly with professors while building our collection,” said Katherine Hart, the senior curator of collections and Barbara C. and Harvey P. Hood 1918 curator of academic programming. “We ask professors what pieces could work in conjunction with their classes and enhance their teaching.”

A recent acquisition, for example, is Dutch painter Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s “Still Life with Grapes.” Art history professor Joy Kenseth had been in dialogue with the museum about acquiring a Dutch still life, Hart said.

The piece promoted the Hood’s other priorities as well. In addition to its high teaching value, the painting holds strong connections to other works in the collection and draws upon historical context and reference. The de Heem, on display in the museum’s Ivan Albright Gallery, is used frequently by Kenseth for her classes, Hart said.

By having pieces build an area of interest in the collection, the Hood can showcase the repertoire of a specific culture or time period.

The Hood must evaluate the current works’ features with regard to culture, time period and genre, Hart said.

“For instance, you look at a certain culture or time period and look for what pieces may be missing,” she said. “You look for what pieces may build a well-rounded representation of a particular area within the collection.”

Representations of war

The Hood’s depiction of war is particularly expansive, spanning across culture and time period and offering a comprehensive representation of the art form for students.

Goya’s “The Disasters of War” consists of 80 separate prints and was gifted to the College by Adolph Weil ’35. The etchings display the brutality of the Peninsular War of 1808-14 between Spain and France. Hart said that the Hood will look for acquisitions that complement Goya’s prints and work toward expanding the war theme through more diverse pieces.

The most recent piece acquired for the theme was “When Photographers are Blinded, Eagles Wings are Clipped” by Daniel Heyman ’85, now on display at the museum.

The piece was chosen for its subject matter, the Afghanistan War, as well as Heyman’s connection to the College. Heyman was featured in this past fall’s artist-in-residence exhibition.

Other pieces that have contributed to this theme are the Assyrian Reliefs that reside on the physical walls of the Hood. Theater professor Laura Edmondson used the Assyrian Reliefs as well as Alfredo Jaar’s “The Eyes of Gutete Emerita” for her class this term on human rights and performance.

Process and maintenance

The museum’s acquisitions committee meets three times a year, every term but summer, to assess potential works for the collection. The committee is comprised of Taylor, library representatives, members of the museum’s advancement and development department and the provost’s office and constituents from the anthropology, art history, classics and studio art departments.

The committee votes on most of the museum’s acquisitions and gifts, but the museum also has a certain number of discretionary purchases each year, which are small acquisitions that can be made without the committee’s assessment.

“We write curatorial reports on proposed works and give presentations before the committee before voting on pieces proposed by donors,” Hart said.

The Hood also must focus on conservation. The pieces not on display are kept in alternative storage on site with controlled humidity and temperature. The Hood belongs to the Williamstown Conservation Consortium, a group of regional art museums that oversees conservational analysis and advice.

A representative from the consortium came to the museum for assessment this May, with another visit expected in July. Consortium representatives examine works that could potentially use maintenance and consult museums as to how to properly preserve them.

Deaccession

An important topic for any museum is deaccession, or the removal of pieces from the collection. When considering whether or not to deaccess a piece, the committee examines the piece in question against external sources to provide an unbiased opinion on whether the Hood should still hold the art.

The Hood would deaccess a piece because its teaching value has diminished or it does not align with the existing collection, Hart said. Lowered monetary value, she said, is not a consideration.

The Hood museum’s collection is organized in an online visual catalog that provides the name, artist and a picture of each work. There is also a list of all of the exhibitions in which a work has been displayed. To bring more attention to the museum’s collections, the Hood has recently published catalogs that provide overviews of certain areas of their collection.