Jan. 20, 2004 • Volume 13 Number 9

McMullen Museum Director Nancy Netzer pauses during recent preparations for the museumís new exhibition "Accommodations of Desire: Surrealist Works on Paper Collected by Julien Levy." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

'Little Museum That Could' Enters Its Second Decade

By Rosanne Pellegrini
Staff Writer

The Boston Globe's December selection of the critically-acclaimed Fernand Khnopff exhibition as one of the great solo shows of 2004 is the latest feat in a decade of distinction for the Charles S. and Isabella V. McMullen Museum of Art, which recently completed its 10th anniversary season in Devlin Hall.

The museum officially kicked off its second decade with the opening last week of "Accommodations of Desire: Surrealist Works on Paper Collected by Julien Levy." [See related item.]

Cited in 2002 by The New York Times as reflecting a new role for university museums, and in 1999 dubbed "the little museum that could" by The Wall Street Journal, the museum has flourished in ways unimaginable just 10 years ago, according to its director, Prof. Nancy Netzer (Fine Arts).

"As [benefactor] John McMullen, a man not known for modest ambitions, said to me, 'the museum has accomplished more than anyone ever would have had a right to expect,'" she said, referring to Trustee Associate John McMullen, whose late parents are the namesake of the museum formally dedicated in their honor in 1996.

"None of this would have been conceivable without the inspiring support of Jacquie and John McMullen," said Netzer.

Renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that break new ground, the museum is a dynamic educational resource. It displays a permanent collection and mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance, drawing on faculty expertise representing a variety of disciplines, from all periods and cultures of the history of art. The McMullen has been the venue for more than 40 exhibitions, many accompanied by catalogues and public programs.

"We've brought some of the finest works of art from collections around the world to Boston, and welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors, probably more per inch of floor space than any museum in the country," Netzer said. "We've had hundreds of reviews and features in the most respected newspapers and journals.

"But to my mind," she continued, "our real successes have been in focusing attention on under-examined areas of the history of art and on attracting and engaging historically underrepresented publics. Most importantly, we have enabled students, who are increasingly visually literate, to get a head start on understanding the cultures and history that lie beyond their immediate life experience.

"And we have successfully brought together groups of highly specialized scholars from our faculty to challenge accepted wisdom, and to re-think the role that the world's collected visual culture plays in our understanding of the past and the present."

Reflecting on the many exhibitions hosted by the museum, Netzer - while declining to pick favorites - cited several that were especially meaningful to her:

*"Memory and the Middle Ages" (1995) and "Fragmented Devotion" (2000) "were close to my heart because they are in my field of expertise and broke new intellectual ground."

*"Saints and Sinners: Caravaggio and the Baroque Image" (1999) "brought extraordinary works of art, and one in particular [the artist's lost masterpiece, "The Taking of Christ"], to Boston College and into an intellectual context only a Jesuit institution like ours could provide."

*"Edvard Munch: Psyche, Symbol and Expression" (2001), "Matta: Making the Invisible Visible" and "Fernand Khnopff: Inner Visions and Landscapes" (both 2004) "were astounding assemblages of the best works by first-rate artists."

*"Reflections in Black: Art and Activism" (2003) and "Reclaiming a Lost Generation: German Self-Portraits from the Feldberg Collection" (2002) "brought important works of art before the public that had long been hidden."

*The 2000 retrospective "Francoise Gilot: 1940-1950," showcasing of the artist's early work, "was an astounding revelation."

Netzer offered a look ahead at some upcoming exhibitions, including a retrospective of work by contemporary artist Dorothy Cross, and photographs from theTree Series by James Balog '74, who will receive the 2005 Arts Council alumni award during the BC Arts Festival; both open in April. In August, the McMullen will co-sponsor "Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and their Salons."

In spring 2006, a dozen BC professors will explore the theme "Where Secular Meets Sacred in Medieval and Renaissance Art," which will be followed by an exhibition of Islamic art works organized by Calderwood University Professors in Islamic and Asian Art Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair.

"We have to focus our attention on experimentation and forging new areas of exploration for university museums," Netzer said. "In the decade ahead, we promise to pursue new avenues to inspire intellectual curiosity, creativity and academic excellence; to enrich community life by welcoming a broad spectrum of people, and in the end, to leave the McMullen's stamp on the history of museums."

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