Published: August 2, 2016
The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, which has offered renowned, critically acclaimed exhibitions for more than two decades, will debut a world-class space at 2101 Commonwealth Avenue beginning in September. The museum’s director and professor of art history Nancy Netzer said that the new, enlarged campus venue will propel the McMullen into the ranks of America’s finest university museum facilities.
How is the renovation and expansion being funded?
We received a very generous lead gift from John — who died in 2005 — and Jacqueline McMullen and the McMullen Family Foundation. Other major supporters are C. Michael and Janet Daley, who named the large Daley Family Gallery, and Christopher Toomey, who named the Monan Gallery. Boston College also made a large investment in the project.
How will it transform and at the same time preserve the original 1927 Roman Renaissance Revival building?
We wanted to pay homage to the aesthetic and the superb craftsmanship that went into the building designed by Maginnis and Walsh. At the same time, we aimed to build a state-of-the-art exhibition space that would serve the needs of our students and faculty and would be welcoming to the community. The planning process was complicated and the architect’s drawings went through much iteration. We opted for large galleries with maximum flexibility enabling display of a vast range of objects.
How was this accomplished?
We gutted the second floor except for the bearing walls and raised the ceiling to 12 feet where we could. The walls and windows were sealed with a vapor barrier to maintain climate control. The galleries are fitted with a track system for moveable walls. The third floor, gutted as well, has a smaller gallery with moveable walls, a sculpture gallery with natural light, our offices, a seminar room and a dry prep room that can also be used for teaching small groups of students. A new addition on the west end of the building provides a dedicated, light-filled entrance for the museum.
Excavated beneath the new addition is a covered loading dock that will accommodate even large tractor-trailers. The top floor of the addition has a roof terrace so our visitors can enjoy the views of downtown Boston visible about five miles to the east. The first floor of the building retains its original plan of grand reception rooms with marble floors and high windows and will be used as a university conference and reception facility. Its walls are hung with American and Italian Renaissance and baroque paintings from our permanent collection and includes a room dedicated to John La Farge.
How did the “star” of the glass atrium, a 127-year-old stained glass triptych by American stained glass artist John La Farge, come to the McMullen?
The magnificent gift from Boston College alumnus William Vareika and his wife Alison of three monumental stained glass windows by La Farge representing St John the Evangelist, Christ Preaching and St Paul were originally created by La Farge in 1889 for the All Souls Unitarian Church in Roxbury, Mass., and transferred in the 1920s to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst. Bill was smitten by La Farge’s murals and glass while meditating in Trinity Church during his sophomore year at Boston College and went on to pursue an independent study on the artist during his senior year.
What else will be highlighting the inaugural exhibition?
The McMullen is presenting “Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections” as its inaugural exhibition in its Daley Family and Monan galleries. The Boston area is home to one of the most important ensembles of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts in North America. In large measure, however, these treasures, hidden on shelves, have been unknown to the public as well as to scholars. “Beyond Words” is the first exhibition to showcase highlights from 19 local libraries and museums. The exhibition is spread over three venues — in Cambridge at Harvard University’s Houghton Library and in Boston at the McMullen and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
At the McMullen, Part II of the exhibition, “Manuscripts for Piety & Pleasure,” made first and foremost for a lay audience, is the largest venue of the three, featuring more than 180 items, including many richly illuminated Books of Hours. Among the numerous masterpieces on display at the McMullen are books painted by such well-known artists as Lippo Vanni, Jean Poyer, Jean Bourdichon and Simon Bening. Identifiable patrons and owners of the volumes include renowned figures like King Charles V of France and Medici Pope Clement VII.
Any opening celebrations being planned?
Indeed, we are planning five days — September 7 to 11 — of celebrations of various types for our neighbors in the community as well as our students, donors, alumni, faculty, staff and friends.
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