Gallery of Crossed Destinies, Photo by John Carasone

Reflections on a Museum

April 7, 2011 - June 9, 2013

In five exhibitions, the Williams College Museum of Art presents new combinations of works of art from the collection joined by major loans from the Yale University Art Gallery. Each exhibition considers the museum as its subject, raising questions about the function and meaning of art across time and cultures and the role of museums in shaping understandings of art.

Art Re: Art features 30 works that take art itself as the subject. An array of artists—from Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol to Cindy Sherman and Wang Qingsong—are featured. Art Re: Art offers viewers an opportunity to re-consider the difference between re-interpretation and re-production in art.

The Object of Art focuses on what makes an object a work of art and what is the role of the museum in dictating this transformation. This exhibition features coins, doors, paintings, sculptures, wine goblets, as well as sacred objects and many other beautiful “things,” to consider where in their life they shifted from utilitarian or sacrosanct objects to art objects. The Object of Art asks the viewer to ponder objects in art, objects as art, and the wide-ranging objectives of the artists.

Don’t Fence U.S. In: Crossing Boundaries in American Art focuses on the many ways that art expresses the power of boundaries: making, breaking, crossing, drawing, and erasing. Using the United States as a model, the works gathered here reflect on the cultural, sociological, and geographical boundaries that are drawn and redrawn through the various historical phases of that political state. In a more abstract sense, the art also represents the permeability of the borders between individuals and between beliefs as the country undergoes ceaseless transformation. Cole Porter’s 1934 song, “Don’t Fence Me In,” resonates with Grant Wood’s 1935 painting, Death on the Ridge Road, both of which serve as a starting point for the exploration of these ideas. Cole Porter bought the painting when it was first exhibited (in 1935) and gave it to the College in 1947.

A Collection of Histories uses WCMA’s two Assyrian reliefs as case studies for how works of art accumulate collections of histories over time. By unpacking the layered meaning of these reliefs, one can examine the significance of context, interpretation, and confront an essential question: Who owns the past? The Assyrian reliefs have been in the museum’s collection since 1851.

Room for Reflection offers the opportunity for visitors to experience a single object with nothing else to lend it context. The works in this gallery will change once per month, featuring one special work from the collection presented without any didactics or other works of art surrounding it.

Yale University Art Gallery Collection-Sharing Initiative

Funded by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Yale University Art Gallery Collection-Sharing Initiative comprises a program of major loans from Yale’s encyclopedic collection to six “partner museums” for use in strategically developed exhibitions and related coursework. The Initiative is intended to promote intra- and inter-institutional collaboration, foster object-based teaching, and strengthen the larger community of college art museums. 

The Collection-Sharing Initiative derives from the belief that, while digital technologies have increased access to museum collections, there is no substitute for original works of art, which contain not only a particular magnetism, but also a wealth of information about history, human culture, and much more. As such, they can serve as a vital part of educational experiences in a variety of disciplines.


Photo by John Carasone