This isn’t your father’s Everson. While the I.M. Pei-designed bricks-and-mortar has remained the same, the museum’s other attraction, the artwork, is being moved, brought out of storage, returned to storage and otherwise highlighted in a new, semipermanent exhibit. Modern and Contemporary American Art from the Permanent Collection is on view throughout the museum.
“As we mark the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Everson’s current building,” says director Steven Kern, “it is high time to reconsider I.M. Pei’s accomplishment and to celebrate Syracuse’s true vision.” Kern began the process last fall by removing the tired sculptures that occupied the Rosamond Gifford Sculpture Court seemingly forever, instead putting new and, by virtue of their novelty, exciting works in their place. Also missing are the large paintings that once hung 20 feet up, which, by Kern’s reckoning, was not what Pei had intended.
“My goal has been to take the Sculpture Court to its logical conclusion,” Kern says of the main entry to the Everson Museum of Art, 401 Harrison St. “Removing the paintings has allowed the architecture to do what the architect intended. It is a fantastic space that has come back to life.”
With four galleries and nearly 12,000 pieces of art to work with, variations are nearly infinite. But Kern is in no hurry to mix things up; you’ll have several months to peruse the art as it appears today, with the exception of special exhibitions that will occupy the Coyne Gallery. “I will vary the turnover,” Kern says, “but I have no set schedule other than accommodating the Turner to Cezanne exhibit that is coming here in October.”
Keep in mind that the Nancy Jurs sculpture exhibit, 50/50, has taken over most of the museum’s gallery space, forcing out the classic American paintings Kern had designated for the Williams Gallery. Further, after May 3, the entire second floor will be shutting down for renovations to prepare the spaces for the Cezanne show. Not to fear, however, Kern respects the classics and what they mean to Syracuse, so they will return, which is plenty of reason for you to return, and return, and return.
Three of a kind: Nancy Jurs’ sculpture, “Triad,” presents an imposing introduction to an exhibit of her work at the Everson. David Revette Photo
Back to the present, as you walk from gallery to gallery, you’ll notice something different in the connecting bridges: nothing. “The bridges we are keeping deliberately empty,” Kern says, “as Pei intended. That way it’s easier for you to appreciate the building as a work of art.”
Also on permanent display will be a rotating selection of video from the Everson’s closet. “This was the first American museum to collect video, in the 1970s,” Kern notes. “Depending on their original format, they were no longer viewable. So we have had to convert the videos to a digital format.” Video will also be continually looped in the first-floor nook by the elevator, Kern explains.
“I try to find different themes to display items in a logical way,” Kern adds. “That’s because the museum isn’t large enough to show a comprehensive history of art. But some aspect of the permanent collection will always be on view. It’s a whole new ball game here, and when you come in, it strikes you right away.”
At the same time artwork was getting shuffled around, maintenance work was being done to the museum. “When we moved the art around, we painted ceilings,” notes Jack Rudnick, president of the board of trustees.
Adds Kern, “The building itself is a work of art, and it’s important that it be updated and maintained. With the attention the building has been getting, the much talked about expansion becomes logical and necessary.” Meanwhile, this summer, expect the floors and walls of the museum to get much-needed attention.
Technology upgrades haven’t escaped Kern’s attention, either. A few months ago, the museum introduced an audio cell phone tour. Instead of patrons carrying around bulky recordings and headsets, now they only need to call the number posted alongside certain works of art, punch in a special code, and information about that piece of work will flow. Or if you’d rather access the system from home, you only need to take the phone numbers with you and listen at your leisure.
Artworks featured in the audio cell tour are Louis Comfort Tiffany’s “New Jerusalem” stained-glass window, Barbara Krueger’s “Who Speaks, Who is Silent,” and Dave MacDonald’s “Plate.”
“Appreciate the building as a work of art:” Steven Kern and
Debora Ryan, senior curator, discuss ongoing changes at the Everson (below).MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTOS
“This is great because you can take the numbers home with you and continue your research there,” says Kern. “A brochure is in the works as well. Almost everyone has a cell phone now, so this makes perfect sense.”
Other recent changes have included moving the Stickley furniture out of the nook it had occupied off the Sculpture Court and into a larger space in the Members’ Council Gallery. While a cafe no longer sits opposite that area, Kern says it’s still undetermined what shape, if any, a spot for tea and cookies will take. In addition, nothing has been done to the downstairs ceramics display either. “I am taking a systematic approach to this,” Kern says. “But everything I’ve heard about the improvements have been enthusiastic.”
Lest you get too comfortable, the museum will mix things up again in April when the entire back end of the first floor gets ready for PostSecret, an exhibition of 450 postcards by community artist Frank Warren. Warren had given people blank, postage-paid postcards and asked them to write a secret on them anonymously and mail them back. That exhibit will run May 16 through mid-July.
Some aspect of the
permanent collection will
always be on view. It’s
a whole new ball game here,
and when you come in,
it strikes you right away.
While the constant change may unnerve conservative-leaning Syracuse art lovers, remember that, like any good work of art, the Everson Museum is meant to shock and awe, in an accessible way. “We are trying to be more open and available to the community, to a variety of interests,” says Rudnick. “The best way is to keep the doors open and make ourselves as accessible as possible and make our art entertaining. You don’t have to like it, but we have to be true to ourselves. We’ve got the right stuff; we’ve just got to get it out there.”