Just two days away from opening its spring exhibition, Binghamton University’s Art Museum’s opening was put on hold in March as the coronavirus pandemic struck universities across America. The museum’s artwork remained unseen for over five months. This Thursday, Sept. 10, the BU Art Museum will reopen its doors.
Diane Butler, director of the BU Art Museum, described the preparations and the exhibition visitors will be seeing. On the lower floor, attendees can view exhibitions organized by student curators such as: “American Purgatory: Labor and the Promise of Paradise,” “Send in the Clowns,” “Studio Chromatography: The Science of Color as Explained by the Artist” and “The New World of Sciences.” Other exhibitions can be seen in the main gallery exhibition titled “Holy Hoaxes: A Curator Collects” and the mezzanine gallery exhibit, “Alumni Collect and Reflect.”
“Fortunately, the alumni who have lent us objects both for the main gallery and the mezzanine were comfortable with our just keeping the objects over the last several months and the exhibitions that you would have seen in the spring you’ll now see in the fall,” Butler said. “Unchanged and as intended to be seen.”
The museum will be taking the same safety precautions that are put in place throughout campus including social distancing and wearing masks, while also limiting the number of people within the museum. Though classes and large groups of people are no longer permitted, those who are inside the museum may stay for as long as they please.
“We will have signage up at the threshold of each gallery so that people will be aware of how many people will be allowed at each part of the museum,” Butler said. “We won’t limit the amount of time people are in as long as the numbers are low. You can sit and gaze at that painting for a half hour if you wish. That won’t be a problem.”
Butler expressed her excitement for the museum’s reopening and gratitude for the opportunity to reopen as museums across the country stay closed. The BU Art Museum will be presenting new artwork in its lower galleries this fall.
“Our lower galleries, which are four small galleries, those are typically small exhibitions that are curated by students,” Butler said. “Those change every semester … there is a new slate of four exhibitions opening on Thursday as well.”
With the new safety measures in place, this year’s reopening will differ from past Thursday opening receptions which had welcomed over a hundred attendees. The BU Art Museum events that are normally held throughout the year will no longer be offered this fall.
“We will have our doors open and it’s really nice that small numbers of people will be able to view our exhibitions but we won’t have any of the events that we typically like to have like openings, artist talks, special tours, you know, none of that will be able to happen,” Butler said.
Butler maintained a positive outlook on the experience within the museum. She believes the museum may offer students the opportunity to step away from their computers and experience a moment of normalcy.
“Once you are in the museum, I think a lot of people will forget that we are in this [COVID-19] moment,” Butler said. “You have your mask on and you get distracted by this terrific work of art — that’s what we want. We want to be a distraction.”
This Thursday, those who visit the BU Art Museum can expect to see unique artwork collected by alumni as well as exhibits curated by students. The main gallery exhibition, “Holy Hoaxes: A Curator Collects” features faux medieval artwork collected by William Voelkle, ‘61, the senior research curator at The Morgan Library & Museum.
“Our main gallery exhibition is intended to fool you … When you walk in you will think that the whole main gallery is filled with medieval art and it is not,” Butler said. “Objects that were brought to an auction thinking they were a fifteenth-century manuscript, for example, and then 20th-century paint was found throughout the manuscript and so its value plummets … then [Voelkle] buys it … there are about 50-40 objects on view, and none of them are authentic.”
Butler also gives us a glimpse at the mezzanine artwork as well as the lower floor exhibitions. She described the mezzanine collections originating from the homes of BU Alumni. People will see diverse artwork with complex themes on the lower floor exhibits, “American Purgatory: Labor and the Promise of Paradise,” “Send in the Clowns,” “Studio Chromatography: The Science of Color as Explained by the Artist” and “The New World of Sciences.”
“These are all alumni collectors who collect different sorts of things and they each have a statement about what they collect and why,” Butler said. “Downstairs are four exhibitions curated by students all drawing from objects in our permanent collection and one even has some objects that we borrowed from the rare book collections in the library.”
Butler vocalizes how the museum creates a unique experience for others. The BU Art Museum will be open to students, faculty and staff Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“When you come to the museum you are looking at something a person created at some point in history, it is there in three dimensions … you and this object are occupying space at the same time,” Butler said. “It’s not always filtered through your computer screen. So, you have this authentic experience with someone else’s creativity and it’s firsthand, it’s unfiltered.”