Published: September 10, 2007
Expansions, additions, annexations, reconfigurations and other forms of enlargements have proliferated all over the American art museum world in recent years. This year such augmentations range from acclaimed additions to the Akron Art Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City to expanded, renovated galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art to a heralded expansion of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine.
The much-anticipated public opening of the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building on September 15 marked the first expansion of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s (PMA) footprint since 1928. Newly renovated and expanded by Glickman Mayner Architects, the Perelman Building is just across the street from the museum’s celebrated hilltop structure. The 1927 Art Deco landmark building with a red terra cotta roof adds space and amenities to one of America’s great art museums.
The building is named in honor of Raymond G. Perelman, a Philadelphia native, philanthropist and longtime trustee of the PMA, and his wife, Ruth, who has been active in numerous charitable groups. Avid art collectors with a special interest in modern sculpture, the Perelmans’ unrestricted gift of $15 million in 2000 provided crucial support for the museum’s expansion.
“The museum’s collections began to outgrow available space in our great neoclassical building more than a quarter of a century ago,” observes Anne d’Harnoncourt, director of the PMA, “and the Perelman Building represents the first giant step forward in our plan to expand the opportunities we offer to the public for encounters with works of art.”
The Perelman Building showcases some of the PMA’s most comprehensive, colorful and advanced collections in elegant, contemporary galleries. It offers such public amenities as a dramatic Skylit Galleria and other spaces for showing visual arts, study centers, a new library with a wealth of resources and public displays, a new museum shop, a 70-seat café and a landscaped terrace.
According to the PMA’s director of media relations, Norman Keyes Jr, few works will be permanently on view in the Perelman Building. “The idea,” he says, “is to have frequent rotation of&ight-sensitive collections,” plus a large multiuse gallery, with “beautiful arcaded windows on both sides, [providing] natural light” that “shows sculpture to great advantage. It will also house temporary loan shows as well as permanent collection shows down the line.”
Featuring twin cathedral-like entrances, gleaming rows of windows and a bright interior, the Perelman Building was called the gateway to Fairmount Park when it opened 80 years ago as headquarters of the Fidelity Life Insurance Company. In its recast role, it constitutes the initial phase of a master plan to dramatically expand and update the PMA, serving in effect as a gateway to the future of the museum.
Occupying a two-acre site facing the PMA building across Kelly Drive, the original structure has been augmented by a 59,000-square-foot addition, which the architects contend respects the building’s scale and landmark character while offering a fully contemporary facility. “The result,” says Richard Gluckman, principal of Gluckman Mayner Architects, “is a contextual intervention that transforms the existing building, addresses the museum’s programmatic needs and responds to the adjacent neighborhood.”
As director d’Harnoncourt points out, the exterior of the Perelman structure is “spectacular, with its crown of gilded ceramic figures of owls and squirrels and other ornamental detail by the great&⁁rt Deco sculptor, Lee Lawrie.” She adds that, “As you move inside, it [has] an airy, contemporary feel. The renewed building&⁛is] a celebration of space and light, and springing from that will be many new opportunities to delight and inspire our visitors.”
Visitors passing under the elaborate arch facing Fairmount Avenue will encounter a variety of choices branching off the entrance lobby. Straight ahead is the new addition that contains the café and the 35-foot-high, 200-foot-long Skylit Galleria. There follows a suite of galleries, including the Joan Spain Gallery of costumes and textiles, the Julien Levy Gallery for photographs and the Collab Gallery for modern and contemporary design. Each has special exhibitions celebrating the opening and running to the spring of 2008.
Philadelphia-born fashion icons of international stature, James Galanos, Ralph Rucci and Gustave (Gus) Tassell hold center stage in the 2,000-square-foot Spain Gallery. The exhibition of some 50 works, “A Passion for Perfection,” illustrates how each designer sought to create uniquely American styles by applying Parisian haute couture techniques to ready-to-wear apparel.
Born in 1925, Galanos, known as the “Dean of American Fashion,” made his career in Los Angeles, beginning with Galanos Originals in 1951. His elegant, refined, expertly tailored †and expensive †clothing attracted Hollywood stars and celebrities, including Nancy Reagan, who wore Galanos’ gowns to the 1981 and 1985 presidential inaugurals. The recipient of numerous prestigious awards, Galanos has donated examples of his best work to the PMA, including a black, jewel embroidered lace evening dress dating to 1963.
After studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Tassell worked for Hattie Carnegie in New York. Inspired by the designs of Norman Norell and encouraged by Galanos, he started his own business in California in 1956. His well-proportioned clothes, with simplified lines and refined detail, were worn by the likes of Princess Grace of Monaco and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. A 1967 black-and-cerise-crepe dress, on view, suggests the appeal of Tassell’s youthful, elegant and unfussy designs.
During a quarter-century in the fashion industry, Rucci has created finely crafted, luxurious, subtle clothes that reflect his broad-ranging intellectual and aesthetic interests. He has emerged as a major player in the fashion design world in recent years with designs such as his 2001 evening dress, “The Stingray Swan.”
The Spain Gallery, which nearly triples the exhibition space dedicated to costume and textiles, will enable the PMA to better showcase one of the largest, most comprehensive collections in the world, numbering some 30,000 objects. There are plans for several in-depth special exhibitions per year in the future.
“Alfred Stieglitz at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” comprising more than 50 works by the photographic pioneer and avant-garde art impresario, will inaugurate the Levy Gallery. A substantial repository of Stieglitz’s photographs, the PMA’s holdings include donations from his widow Georgia O’Keeffe, his acolyte Dorothy Norman, avant-garde patrons Louise and Walter Arenberg and art historian William I. Homer.
The exhibition encompasses the full range of Stieglitz’s oeuvre, underscoring his role in championing photography as an art form. Images on view run the gamut from his student days in Europe in the 1880s to poetic meditations on clouds and trees in the 1930s. Of particular interest are a self-portrait, serial likenesses of O’Keeffe, a portrait of Norman and images of such artists as Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley. Also notable are views of the Stieglitz family property at New York’s Lake George and from the Hotel Shelton in New York City.
The display is rounded out with Stieglitz memorabilia, ranging from youthful photographs to an issue of his famous periodical, Camera Notes . As Katherine Ware, the museum’s curator of photographs observes, the exhibition shows the master “at his finest” and gives visitors “an opportunity to reexamine afresh his contributions as a photographer.”
A chronological survey of the PMA’s celebrated collections of appliances, ceramics, furniture, glass and lighting is offered in “Designing Modern: 1920 to the Present.” Among the examples on view in the 2,000-square-foot Collab Gallery are selections from the museum’s 2,500 objects, highlighting significant examples from major movements over the last century: Art Deco and the Bauhaus; American and Scandinavian Modern, new Italian domestic landscape and Postmodernism.
Standouts include sleek furniture designed by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; Finnish and German tableware; a bright red “Valentine” typewriter and “Casablanca” sideboard, both designed by Ettore Sottsass Jr; a spectacularly painted “Proust” armchair and Ingo Maurer’s “Kokoro” lamp of 1998.
Loans of works from other museum departments, such as examples of Bauhaus typography and Art Deco fabrics, help put the design display in context.
Highlights from the PMA’s sculpture collections, which comprise more than 3,000 works ranging from ancient Chinese objects to pieces by Dan Flavin, are on view in the Perelman Building’s beautifully lighted special exhibition gallery. Floor-to-ceiling arched windows on opposite sides of this space make it an ideal place to display three-dimensional works, whether they be Chinese tomb objects, African or pre-Columbian pieces, bronze figures by Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso, or large contemporary works by Louise Nevelson and Martin Puryear.
Among the standouts in the inaugural exhibition, “A Conversation in Three Dimensions: Sculpture from the Collections,” are a “Fang Head” from Gabon; a Mexican “Serpent”; bronze heads and figures by Rodin, Picasso and Constantin Brancusi; and a colorful, painted metal work by John Chamberlain. Public spaces in the building display additional sculptures, such as 1914 Paul Manship bronze reliefs, in the new library.
“From the Renaissance to the Surreal: Gifts to Library and Archives” offers glimpses of the thousands of books and manuscripts given to the museum over the years. The opening exhibition in the new Library Reading Room showcases an array of donations from the years 1876 to 1935. These rare volumes, covering everything from witchcraft to morality tales for children to Centennial-related materials, feature beautiful illustrations and fine bindings that museum officials say “will surprise museum visitors.”
Highlights of the “Generations of Generosity: Gifts to the Library and Archives” exhibition include a 1602 Italian work on mnemonics; “The History of Little Goody Two Shoes,” dating to 1775, and an illustration of the Women’s Executive Committee for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876.
In 2008, exhibitions featuring more modern books and manuscripts, donated 1936‱959 and since 1960, respectively, will underscore the library and archive’s rich and diverse holdings.
Those familiar with the Philadelphia Museum’s displays of its grand collections and special exhibitions in its original building will relish the augmented opportunities to view the museum’s holdings in the grand, renovated spaces of the Perelman Building. As a result, substantial space has been freed up in the old building to showcase the PMA’s glorious collection of paintings.
The Perelman Building faces the Philadelphia Museum of Art Building across Kelly Drive, on a site bordered by Pennsylvania Avenue, 25th Street, Fairmount Avenue and 26th Street. For information, 215-763-8100 or www.philamuseum.org .
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