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MeTube: Morgan Library’s Glorious Restoration, Before and After—Part II

New cases in the former librarian’s office of the Morgan Library and Museum

[Part I is here.]

It has taken me far too long to complete my two-part post, expanding upon my Wall Street Journal piece, Morgan in a New Light, which assessed the restoration and reinstallation of the Morgan Library and Museum’s original McKim building. My travels and several breaking news stories (most notably the “Hide/Seek” controversy) intervened.

At long last, let’s now join Jennifer Tonkovich, the Morgan’s curator of drawings and prints, and William Griswold, its energetic director, as they give me an advance look at J.P. Morgan‘s study, his private vault and his librarian’s office. This preview tour occurred back in August, when the project was still (as you will see) very much a work-in-progress. We’ll conclude with some photos of the beautifully realized restoration, and we’ll focus on a few of the objects that I mentioned in my WSJ article. We’ll end up, as do many museum visitors, in the gift shop, and append a few thoughts about how the 2006 Renzo Piano addition is working out (or not).

Here are my gracious guides, Jennifer and Bill:

Now let’s see those spaces transformed. Here’s the finished study, as seen on opening day:


And here are two objects now installed in the sumptuous study, which I mentioned in my article—the late-16th-century bronze of St. John the Baptist, after Michelozzo di Bartolomeo


…and one of the earliest dated globes, 1530, gilded copper, by French sculptor Robertus de Bailly:


This is what the barren vault, which we entered in the above video, now looks like, as seen from Morgan’s study. The vault’s heavy metal doors can be seen on either side of the entrance:


And here’s a view from the McKim building’s atrium into the former office of Morgan’s librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, now repurposed as a gallery space. Visitors can traverse this room for the first time:


Turning to the left as you enter the former office, you can see examples of Morgan’s important collection of Ancient Near Eastern cylinder seals. The seals themselves, carved in semi-precious stones, are in the upper lefthand corner of each three-part display, with an impression of the seal, rolled on clay, to the right of each seal and a high-resolution enlarged image of that impression below. At the bottom of each of these cases, one seal is highlighted. This absorbing, visually arresting installation was conceived by Morgan curator Sidney Babcock:


Here’s a close-up of a carnelian seal, ca. 2334-2154 B.C., depicting a crowned hero grasping a bull and a nude bearded hero holding human-headed bulls:


Also in the librarian’s office (subsequently used as an office by all four of Griswold’s predecessors) is a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet bearing the earliest extant description (c. 1646-1626 B.C.) of the biblical flood:


Bill was particularly delighted with the retrieval, restoration and rehanging of the two original gilt-brass chandeliers from the librarian’s office. They were black and unsightly when unearthed from storage:


One of the most popular attractions in the reinstalled McKim building is this life mask of George Washington by Houdon, installed in the atrium, close by the Declaration of Independence:

If you really enjoy going face-to-face with the first President, you can head over to the gift shop and take George home with you. (I’m not saying that I recommend this.):


Still a work-in-progress is Griswold’s attempt to convert the monumental, light-filled atrium of Renzo Piano‘s 2006 addition, previously an art-free zone, into an art-friendly zone.

Some monumental Mark di Suvero sculptures were temporarily installed there last summer, at architect Piano’s suggestion. They held the space, but had little to do with the rest of the Morgan’s holdings:


The entrance to the McKim building is up those stairs (or up a small wheelchair lift) at the rear corner of Piano’s atrium…which is what I meant when I complained in my WSJ article that the new addition had “reduced the financier’s almost windowless sanctuary to a minor offshoot of the main architectural event.” This imbalanced partly redressed by the McKim building’s restoration and reinstallation with object-packed changing dis
plays from the permanent collection.

Now installed in the atrium are some small, precious Medieval and Renaissance objects, which seem dwarfed and incongruous in these sleek modern surroundings. Here are three of them, installed in front of the atrium’s soaring glass wall:


And this, from late 15th-century Italy, resides in a little niche near a bank of computers. I would have passed right by, if Bill hadn’t directed my attention to it:


I’m sure the atrium works quite well, though, for one of its intended functions—a venue for parties:


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