When John Stomberg took the job as director of the Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art, expectations were that he’d take it in a more contemporary direction. That was his area of expertise at Williams College, where he was chief curator. He is doing that. As he said in a video posted online, the Mount Holyoke museum has always skewed toward Renaissance and ancient art, and needs to fill out the collection with contemporary works.
But I was surprised by the announcement — to be unveiled officially on Sept. 3 — of the “major–and gorgeous– “ sculpture it has just acquired. It’s by Dale Chihuly. It is very stunning [pictured at left], but it’s far from cutting edge. Clear and Gold Tower “resembles tongues of pale fire, shimmering plant tendrils, or wisps of mist, all spiraling improbably upward as if embodying the aspirations of the Mount Holyoke community,” the description sent to me says. It’s 12 feet tall and will reside in the museum’s courtyard. It was, in fact, commissioned by the college, a gift of the Centennial Class of 1937.
It consists of more than 450 handblown glass elements, with each section highlighted by fragments of 24-carat gold foil, “creating a shining sculpture that seems to move organically. Sophisticated theatrical lighting will vary with the ebb and flow of natural light, ensuring that the sculpture sparkles day and night.” Pretty poetic language.
(BTW, this is another big Chihuly presence in Massachusetts: the MFA, Boston, bought one just about two years ago.)
Stomberg — in the video — took up the theme that many college art museums share: that art is central to the learning experience, no matter what a student’s major is, because it helps spur creativity. “It’s a visual world out there,” he says, adding that the college must “teach our students to be smart visual thinkers.”
‘Tis a desire devoutly to be wished, there and everywhere.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Mount Holyoke College Museum of Art, © Chihuly Studio, 2013