Welcome 2020—and a World of New Experience
As 2020 dawns, and I look ahead to the exhibitions, collections installations, and acquisitions that will bring an abundance of the new to our galleries and lecture rooms over the coming year, I am energized by the promise of new beginnings.
Even as we develop the designs for the Museum’s new facility with Sir David Adjaye and his team, the year ahead promises to be an extraordinary one. Guided by our mission to unite scholarship with wide accessibility, the next year is punctuated with projects of enormous visual appeal that also invite us to look afresh. For example, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography, opening on February 22, makes use of unprecedented access to that magazine’s archives to shed new light on how the work of the amazing photographers commissioned by Life was shaped and manipulated by the magazine’s staff to inform not only how Americans understood the role of photography but also their own modern history. Cézanne: The Rock and Quarry Paintings opens on March 7 and marks John Elderfield’s final exhibition at Princeton―and the first to examine the artist’s passion for geology and the earth itself as both painter and amateur scientist across his career. The exhibition will bring to Princeton outstanding examples of Cézanne’s paintings from museums and private collections around the world, and it promises to be a visual delight. Summer will bring two exhibitions in which I’m taking a strong curatorial part myself, including a dramatic look at the role of large-format color photography in challenging the idea and limits of the real. And then in the fall, Basquiat in the Studio takes a revelatory look beyond Jean-Michel Basquiat’s art-world persona to understand his actual studio practice.
These exhibitions, together with the regular opportunity to discover new acquisitions in our collections galleries, or to rediscover old friends in new company, build upon the Art Museum’s achievements in 2019, which were once again marked by growth in research, teaching, and engagement. In the year that ended on June 30, 2019, we welcomed 206,622 visitors; supported teaching from works of art in our study rooms by faculty from 50 Princeton departments and programs, including the sciences, arts, languages, and humanities; welcomed students from 147 courses to our study rooms to examine nearly 8,878 works pulled from storage for their visits; and engaged 6,414 university student visits and some 10,000 K–12 visitors. Public programming throughout the year afforded opportunities to learn about subjects as disparate as Mexican votives, race in nineteenth-century French painting, and the photography of Sally Mann, and to hear from creative talents ranging from master printmaker Kenneth Tyler to multimedia artist Taiye Idahor to renowned designer Maya Lin.
It was also a year in which we tried a few new things to invite new audiences into contact with great works of art and to bring new talent into our field. Our exhibition Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States was the Museum’s first to provide fully bilingual interpretive materials―in English and Spanish―and to offer exhibition tours in both languages. Last summer, we partnered with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Alliance of Museums and Art Galleries to present an immersive weeklong program in the Museum, inviting students of color from these institutions to consider career opportunities in the public humanities. It was also the year in which “the new” meant not one but two new outposts on Nassau Street—first, Art@Bainbridge, which opened in September as a venue for the work of emerging contemporary artists, and second, in November, a new Museum Store on Palmer Square South. Both invite more visitors to our town into participation in the world of art and artisans.
I certainly cannot promise that we will continue this pace of new introductions in the coming months. But alongside the exhibitions and other projects planned for the year ahead, these examples remind me both of what we can do best and of our responsibilities. As one of the oldest collecting institutions in North America, and as holders of some of the most diverse collections under one roof on any college campus, we have opportunities rare in higher education to bring old and new into contact and to forge global connections—for the benefit of Princeton students, the communities around us, and visitors from around the world. And thanks to the generosity of so many, past and present, we can do so without charging gallery admission to anyone.
These responsibilities and possibilities, along with the programs and partnerships I briefly name here, very much inform our thinking about a new facility that will better allow the Museum to fulfill its mission. We look forward to sharing more information about that project in the months ahead. But today I want to keep all of us focused on the experiences to be on offer throughout 2020. In a world that often feels fractured and chaotic, I continue to believe that art can offer opportunities to be comforted and to heal, even as it can challenge us to think beyond the familiar and forge new empathies. I hope you will see in the work of the Princeton University Art Museum opportunities that invite and challenge you, and that are even, perhaps, worthy of your support.
Poet William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878) reminds us that, as the old year “whose hopes were high and strong, / Has now no hopes to wake,” we must “stay, oh stay / One tender hour,” seizing every moment of both old year and new, in the faith that the new year will bring bright calm and cheer. I close in wishing you and yours good cheer, good health, and high hopes for the year to come. May you have an art-filled 2020!
James Christen Steward
Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director