Art in the Interim: The Hood Downtown
Amelia Kahl ’01 is an associate curator of academic programming at the Hood Museum of Art. She focuses on mini-curatorial projects, working with faculty members across all disciplines to choose objects to present to their classes.
“The Hood has about 65,000 objects, but only one percent — or even less than one percent — is ever on view at any one time,” Kahl said. “One of the intentions in this whole building expansion project is to be able to show a greater percentage of our collection. To have seven new galleries allows us to show a fraction more.”
Currently, the exhibit “Resonant Spaces: Sound Art at Dartmouth” exhibit lines the walls of the Hood Downtown’s Hanover gallery. In the same vein as the original museum’s mission, entrance to this exhibit is free, and it is open to the public.
“Our initial idea for when the Hood would be under construction was that there wouldn’t be any access to the collection besides public art and public sculpture,” Kahl said, referring to artworks such as the Orozco Mural. “John Stomberg, the director, had the concept for Hood Downtown. The idea was that [Hood] should have a continued presence within the community.”
Nonetheless, the Hood Downtown doesn’t use the Hood’s collection; instead, it displays global contemporary art exhibitions curated specifically for that space. The artwork from the Hood, however, is currently stored at several offsite locations during closure.
“We have some [art stored] locally, but we do have a lot of our greatest hits on loan now, lending them to different institutions” Kahl said. “For instance, our Perugino altarpiece [“Virgin and Child with Saints”] is currently at the Yale University Art Gallery. We have eight works at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, including Maria Oakley Dewing’s ‘Iris at Dawn (Iris).’”
With such a grand collection, one might wonder, what happens with the artwork that is not displayed? For the most part, it is in storage in the museum. When art is pulled out for classes in the Bernstein Study-Storage Center, pieces are housed in the building.
“As a curator, you bring these 65,000 artworks to light at different rates,” Kahl said. “Things change all the time. You’re always doing a rehang of the permanent collection or a show. A collections curator, like our curator of American art Bonnie MacAdam, is constantly thinking about how to change her gallery, how to bring up things that have been in storage for a while and how to mix it up.”
However, some artworks remain constant.
“We have one of the best collections of Assyrian reliefs outside of the [Metropolitan Museum of Art] in New York and the British Museum in London,” Kahl said. “We have six of them shown in the [Tina Kim Gallery.] They are signature pieces of the Hood, and they will come back and be shown again at the Kim Gallery [when the Hood reopens]. It is something visitors will remember.”
As we discuss the artworks in the museum, Kahl nostalgically reminisces pieces that are inaccessible at the moment. She longs for those by Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Dewing, Rembrandt and Mark Rothko, among others.
“It’s so hard, because you miss things,” she said. “It will be like being acquainted with old friends again once we reopen — and some new friends too because we’ve been acquiring since we’ve been closed.”
The process of acquisition is straightforward. Curators select work for purchase, which is then approved by the director. When an artwork considered for purchase asks for more than a certain price threshold, it is brought to the acquisition committee, which consists of faculty from the art history, anthropology, studio art and classics departments along with representatives from the library and the advancement division.
Nonetheless, Kahl noted that a great portion of the artworks are donated.
Contrary to popular belief, however, donations are not always from Dartmouth alumni. The late Will Owen and Harvey Wagner gave the museum roughly 600 works of art for Hood’s Aboriginal Australian collection. When the Hood reopens, the museum will feature the Owen and Wagner collection in one of the galleries.
While the Hood acquires artwork, it also sometimes deaccessions. This is a process that is more complicated than purchasing. Works that are deaccessioned tend to no longer support the collection, whether due to quality issues or duplicates. The process involves thorough research, contacting the donor and getting approval from the acquisitions committee. Any money that is made from the sale of those works goes toward the purchase of future artworks.
Throughout the years, the Hood’s collection has gleaned an impressive and diverse array of artworks. Sometimes surprisingly mundane objects constitute the museum’s collection.
“We had one object that I never thought would come out, and it did come out, which was a bag of wood shavings,” Kahl noted. “They were carved during one of the world’s fairs, and, well, they came out for a class on the world’s fairs. You never know.”
During her undergraduate years at Dartmouth, Kahl admits that she did not fully take advantage of the museum’s offerings. It is easy to get wound up in the juggle between schoolwork and social life, but it is important to allot some time for oneself and grow through interaction with art.
“[Art] can be a way to engage, to look for something that speaks to you,” Kahl said. “It can be a great way to talk about difficult issues, because you can talk about those issues couched in the art. We hope [this museum] can serve as a place for cultural literacy and critical thinking.”
A visit to the Hood, however, does not have to be an event blocked out on a calendar.
“Students sometimes feel like it has to be an event that lasts two hours,” Kahl said. “However, you can pop in for only 10 minutes and look at one thing. You can bring a friend, have a conversation and engage with the museum on your own terms. You can also just come by yourself and take a breath and look one piece. Sit down. Escape a little.”
The instructions for engaging with art are quite simple in Kahl’s opinion.
“Just come in, look and be open,” she said. “Find something that you like or find something you hate. Sometimes, hating is good, too. Artists want to provoke reaction, so hatred is better than indifference. It shouldn’t feel like you are going into an art history exam. Trust yourself. Dartmouth students often want that one right answer, and with art, there are lots of right answers.”