After Renovation, Reopening of Hood Museum Expands Visitors’ Access to Art 

  • Visitor Services Guide Janet Whyte, right, monitors the Gutman Gallery as John Burke prepares drywall for a final coat of paint and painters Ken Duchesney, left, and Rich Short, second from left, work on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, in the Kaish Gallery at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. The museum is preparing to reopen following a two-and-a-half year, $50 million renovation in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, Jan, 26, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valleys News photographs — James M. Patterson

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    Lead Preparator John Reynolds, left, discusses the placement of a label for artist Bob Haozous's "Apache Pull-Toy" with Hood Director John Stomberg in the museum's Harteveldt Gallery of contemporary Native American art in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. Following the renovation more space is dedicated to Native American and African art. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Dartmouth freshman Zion Jones, sitting, comments on a piece by Haitian painter Roland Dorcely during a session on Haitian art led by Associate Curator of Academic Programing Amelia Kahl, left, as part of a first year writing seminar in the Hood's center for object study in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The educational center has three classrooms and an object staging area, a transitional space for art as it travels between storage and use in classes. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • The Hood Museum of Art's Citrin and Engles galleries overhang the entrance to the building's new atrium in front of the original entrance near the Hopkins Center in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. A grand re-opening will be held to celebrate the $50 million overhaul on Jan. 26 at 11 a.m. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley news Photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Dartmouth freshmen from left, Jackeline Corona, Fatima Begum, and Lidia Balanovich, examine painted gourd bowls by Haitian artist Andre Pierre in a Bernstein Center for Object Study classroom at the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

  • Gabriella Smith, of Manalpan, N.J., speaks about a painting as her first year writing seminar classmates Matthew Degtyar, of Moscow, Russia, left, and Maxwell Jones, of Austin, Texas, listen in one of three new classrooms at the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

  • Jessica Vaillencourt, left, and Matty Cretzmeyer staff the desk in the new atrium of the Hood Museum of Art near the entrance to the Bernstein Center for Object Study, the museum's educational wing, in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2019 8:47:00 PM
Modified: 1/21/2019 10:59:38 AM

Hanover — For now, the way to the newly expanded and renovated Hood Museum of Art runs through a cafe smelling of french fries and crowded with college students. Around the corner from the cafe, where heads are bowed over textbooks and sandwiches, the museum’s new atrium rises skyward in contrast. Where the museum once was separated from the cafe by heavy glass doors, now there is no distinct boundary between the two spaces.

By the time the museum at Dartmouth College opens to the public on Saturday after a $50 million renovation, two suitably grand entrances will provide visitors an easier route to the museum than the one that winds through the Hopkins Center.

But as construction crews and museum staff put the finishing touches on the 30-month project, the cafe entrance — familiar to those who frequented the old Hood — acts as a fitting frame for a museum that’s striving to connect with the everyday world and maintain its place in the academic sphere as it unveils a dramatic expansion.

And no matter how visitors get in, the new museum promises them countless entry points into the Hood’s collection of art from around the globe.

“We want this to be a place of experiences,” said Hood Director John Stomberg. “I’m just hoping people come in and get a little surprise.”

A ‘Canon-Busting’ Collection

Part renovation, part expansion, the Hood overhaul, funded primarily by private donations, increases the museum’s exhibition space by 40 percent and triples its classroom space. Along with architectural changes including a new facade and redesigned entryways, the new museum will present an updated image to the world.

“In our previous museum, you would have no sense of the strength and depth of our collection in different areas,” said Katherine Hart, senior curator of collections and academic programming for the Hood.

Expanded from 10 galleries to 16, the new Hood Museum provides more space to display items from its 65,000-piece collection, while giving curators a chance to ponder the museum’s focus and approach — as well as to exercise some creative freedom.

Along with showing the range of the Hood’s collections, curators wanted to highlight the museum’s strengths, Hart said. They dedicated ample space to contemporary African, African Diaspora and contemporary Native American art — all specialties for which the Hood is known. The museum’s European collection, on the other hand, is relegated to one room.

“We do still have a beautiful European gallery, but it’s no longer at the heart of the museum,” Stomberg said.

Likewise, some of the museum’s most famous pieces, such as Pablo Picasso’s Guitar on a Table and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Taos Mountain, New Mexico, get less prominent display space than some lesser-known but worthy pieces.

“We have lots and lots of things that everybody knows, but where’s the fun in that?” said Stomberg, who came to the Hood Museum in 2016, the same year the renovations began.

The shift in focus demonstrates the Hood’s role in what Stomberg calls “canon busting”: shining the spotlight on unknown or up-and-coming artists and, in turn, expanding the definition of canonical work. Decades ago, Stomberg explained, the canon was much more rigid than it is today.

“It was kind of like the toys at Christmastime. Everyone wanted the same ones,” he said.

Over time, thanks in part to museums like the Hood, curators have begun to develop a more open-minded approach to collecting, Stomberg said. Case in point: Yayoi Kusama’s Couch acquired by Dartmouth in 1974, is now one of the pieces most requested by other museums, and Kusama is among Japan’s most influential contemporary artists.

Hart, who has been at the museum since 1990 and served twice as interim director, said one of her favorite things about the new gallery space is the interplay between pieces and between collections, some of them overt and some subtle.

For instance, a student-curated photo gallery called “Consent: Complicating Agency in Photography,” makes plain the connection between pieces by tying them to the title theme. In one photo, a woman lies on a couch, gazing into a handheld mirror. The label on the piece explains that the photographer gave her friends agency in posing for the photos, but that they were not pleased with the results because the photos made them look vain and foolish. Another photo is displayed only in thumbnail size and features a woman in bondage. The label explains that the curators chose not to display the full piece after learning that the model felt she had been exploited.

On the second floor of the gallery, curators of the Native American galleries installed the pieces in the collection with an eye toward the flow through the building. “They said, ‘We want people to encounter contemporary Native American art first,’ ” Hart explained. Contemporary art is also sprinkled through the traditional Native American gallery. Whereas people often view Native American art as something stuck in the past, here they’ll see that it’s vibrant and alive, Hart said.

Certainly it would be hard to miss the central piece in the contemporary Native American gallery, a recently acquired sculpture by Jeffrey Gibson, titled What Do You Want? When Do You Want It? With its ceramic head and towering frame adorned in beadwork, fringe and metal spangles, it’s neither human nor beast, both beautiful and eerie, depending on how you view it.

Throughout the exhibitions, which will remain mostly unchanged during the Hood’s first year in its new space, after which time some of the shows will be rotated out, there are multiple ways to view, connect and contrast pieces. In the Postwar gallery, bold colors unite the works on display. In the American art gallery, a pot made by a slave shares a case with high-style objects.

In the Global Cultures: Ancient and Premodern gallery, one of the Hood’s most prized pieces, a set of Assyrian reliefs from the ancient kingdom of Nimrud first draws the eye. Stepping back from the carvings of winged, god-like kings, though, one might notice that Hart, who curated the gallery, juxtaposed the piece across from a sculpture of the goddess Parvati, creating a tension between the male demi-deity and the female deity. Near the enormous reliefs sits a tiny reproduction of the Lamassu statue that was destroyed when ISIS troops looted the Mosul Museum. Created on a 3D printer by Iranian artist Morehshin Allahyari, it serves as a reminder of the origins of much of the world’s most prized art.

“Everything was looted,” Stomberg said. “How do we have the right to own any of these things?”

Museum as Classroom

Getting people to think deeply about art and its place in the world is a key goal of the Hood Museum. The renovation is meant to advance the Hood’s role as a pre-eminent teaching museum by offering ample classroom space designed with the needs of faculty and students in mind.

“We have a long history of using the museum’s collection in our teaching,” said Mary Coffey, an associate professor of art history at Dartmouth. “We believe really firmly that we should get students engaging with actual works of art.”

About 3,000 Dartmouth students in a variety of classes ranging from art history to English composition meet in the museum every year. Another 4,000 students from area schools come to the museum annually. In the past, regular and visiting classes had to share one small classroom. Professors had to scramble to get objects out of storage and set up the room for their students, and on weekdays, the entryway was piled with backpacks.

Now, in the newly designed Bernstein Center for Object Study, classes and school groups can gather in one of three large classrooms with doors tall enough to accommodate any piece of art in the museum’s collections. In designing the classroom spaces, faculty members and museum staff worked with architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien to anticipate the range of projects and groups that would use the space. A locker room inside the main entrance allows visitors to store their belongings safely and out of sight. Each classroom has slatted walls for hanging art, as well as large screens for projecting images. The rooms have tables of different sizes and heights to offer students different vantage points for viewing pieces. And a large staging room allows professors to prep for their classes at their leisure.

“Basically, they can accommodate almost anything that we’re interested in doing,” said Coffey, who specializes in Mexican art and teaches both general and field-specific courses in the museum. In the past, she’s assembled objects to use as writing prompts, conducted virtual exhibits and directed small-scale curatorial projects with her students.

The experiences always are memorable, said Coffey, who has taught at Dartmouth for 14 years. “The students really love the object-based learning,” she said. “It introduces information that you really just cannot get in a textbook. ... The students always report that one of their favorite things about these classes is that they get to go to the museum.”

The new classrooms reflect the symbiotic relationship between academics and art at Dartmouth, Coffey said.

“This is the only institution I’ve worked at that had the staff to do this kind of work with students and faculty and curriculum,” said Coffey, who previously taught at Pomona College and was a faculty fellow at New York University. “(The Hood) is genuinely invested in being part of the academic mission of the college.”

The classrooms continuously breathe new life into the collections as well.

“Within our classes we can apply different lenses,” Hart said. “Each time there’s a new group of objects in here, the space is transformed. It’s like a small exhibition.”

The connection between the museum and the college can be felt in the gallery space too, Hart said. The galleries can play host to student and faculty interests rather than being dictated by mass appeal. On the second floor of the new museum, for example, along with generous samplings of Native American and African art, visitors can view a full gallery of indigenous art from Papua New Guinea.

“There’d be few public museums where you’d go in and see something like that,” Hart said.

The galleries also reflect social issues of the day and include thematic labels to guide students and other visitors who may want to examine art for more than art’s sake.

Museum staff hope the new museum will engage more students, not just through formal classes but through self-directed visits to the galleries. The new atrium, furnished with cafe tables and plenty of comfortable seating and open from 6 a.m. to midnight, is part of that strategy. By retaining the old Hopkins Center entrance and adding an inviting space at its edge, designers intend to create a tangible connection between student life and museum activities. On a recent weekday morning, about a dozen students were settled at tables in the atrium, chatting, eating and studying.

“We’re hoping students really take ownership of this space,” Stomberg said.

A More Welcoming Museum

During the museum renovation, the Hood maintained a presence in a small exhibition space on Main Street. Tucked in among popular eateries and visible to the public, the Hood Downtown, as it was called, drew in a steady stream of visitors.

With the new design, museum staff hope the Hood, which always has offered free admission and hosted events for the wider community, will maintain and build upon the public presence it enjoyed downtown. One of the major components of its makeover is a much more visitor-friendly profile, Stomberg said. Along with the original Lebanon Street entrance, which became more visible to the public with the addition of the Black Family Visual Arts Center in 2012, a large glass-fronted entrance faces the Dartmouth Green.

When the original Hood was completed in 1985, museums envisioned their relationship to the public differently, Stomberg said. The old image of a gated institution set on a hill was very much in vogue. The problem, of course, was one of basic social psychology. Even a minor obstacle such as an incline or a gate — or confusion over how to get in — can inhibit visitors from entering a space, Stomberg said.

Of course, creating a more welcoming facade required redesigning key components of the architecture — a move that was not without controversy. Devotees of postmodern architect Charles Moore, who designed the original building, criticized architects Tsien and Williams for what they said amounted to bulldozing Moore’s vision.

The debate over the new design, which has played out in publications across the art world, “pitted purists against realists in some ways,” Stomberg said.

Stomberg calls himself a fan of Moore but aligns himself with the realist camp. “Some of the ideas that Charles Moore enacted were whimsical and fun but impractical and counterproductive,” he said.

He also insists that Tsien, who had Moore as a thesis adviser at the University of California, Los Angeles, has remained true to Moore’s essence even while making somewhat dramatic changes, such as removing his signature entrance gateway.

“One of the things that she wanted to do was preserve his vision as much as possible,” Stomberg said. “These galleries are more Charles Moore than they ever were.”

The renovation, for example, revitalized a stairwell with large windows that had been screened off because they let too much light into the building. The windows have been replaced with opaque light boxes, and Moore’s Beauty and the Beast-inspired lanterns have been restored. Even the stairs, shallow rises punctuated with wide landings, retain Moore’s imprint, Stomberg said. “The pacing of the stairs is very cinematic,” he said.

Blond wood floors now flow through the galleries as well, replacing carpet that Moore hadn’t wanted in the first place.

“We’re giving Charles his wood floors,” Stomberg said.

And while he acknowledges that some sacrifices had to be made, Stomberg believes the new design is consistent with the museum’s mission of serving students, faculty and the public and hosting some of the world’s most important art.

“Ultimately this is a better place for art,” he said. “We were always called a hidden treasure. We’re ready for our debut.”

Sarah Earle can be reached at and 603-727-3268.

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