Building the Museum—Structuring Understanding

Building the Museum: Collecting and Displaying Art from the Renaissance to the Present

Bart Thurber, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center & Art Department and Am Chunnananda, Class of 2023

I worked with Professor Bart Thurber this summer to prepare for his spring seminar. The seminar will explore how museums have come to be as they are conceptually and materially—how renovation, reinvention, and, in some cases, demolition, have played a role in their evolutions.

Our first and primary task was to get to know the eleven museums that would be used as case studies throughout the course. Ranging in geography, history, architecture, and design strategies, our list included the State Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, est. 1764), the Guggenheim (New York City, est. 1937), and the Louvre Abu Dhabi (est. 2017). I located as many digital resources as possible for each institution and immersed myself in them; I navigated museum websites, examined original floor plans, viewed 360 photographs, and read widely to get a detailed sense of each space in context.

This immersion segued into the second objective of our project: to develop materials for the course and flesh out its structure. From my digital explorations, I wrote introductions and curated “resource libraries” for each museum. The latter included webpages, journal articles, photographs, virtual tours, maps, archival documentation, and journalistic accounts. Some of these references will serve as core readings while others will be tools for independent study.

While producing these materials, Professor Thurber and I worked towards distilling a list of shared features of museum institutions, to be used as a framework for comparison throughout the class sessions. We also compiled general issues concerning museums and brainstormed ways in which the Loeb could find its place in the course as a “laboratory” for thinking.

I was glad to have spent time gathering resources, refining ideas, and architecting a learning journey. In many ways, those are the very processes out of which museums come to be.

First draft of a museum profile, one of the course materials Prof. Thurber and I worked on, which combines the introduction and ‘resource library’ of a particular institution. Images used belong to sources cited in the file.