Art tells stories. These stories cross time and space to help us understand a distant culture or a historical event—and they can also help us make sense of our world today.
This summer at the Johnson Museum, we thought long and carefully about how to set a new stage upon which our visitors can experience afresh our fantastic permanent collection on the first floor. Perhaps the most eye-catching change is the nineteenth-century salon-style installation that fills the center wall of the Tucker Gallery overlooking the Appel Lobby. Dozens of European and American paintings from the nineteenth century and early twentieth century are hung not just alongside one another, but above and below as well.
The center of this complex visual feast are views of waterfalls, including paintings by American artists DeWitt Clinton Boutelle, a John Frederick Kensett view said to be of Triphammer Falls, and Homer Dodge Martin’s landscape with waterfall, pool, and boulders. These cascades articulate one of the defining principles of the Johnson’s approach to our collection: the importance of place to all we do. We can never forget our site on the Cornell campus, surrounded by Ithaca and the stunning topography of the region’s hills, gorges, waterfalls, and Cayuga Lake. We are well aware that the spectacular views available at every turn from the windows of our I. M. Pei building compete for our visitors’ attention with the worlds depicted by the artists in our galleries.
At times, it can even be difficult to distinguish between the two. After just a quick glance at this image at left, for example, one could be forgiven for thinking that it shows mist rising through the trees of an Ithaca landscape. In fact, this painting on linen, Mountain by Lao River, Hualien (2012), depicts a Taiwanese scene, by a Taiwanese artist, on view as part of Jie (Boundaries): Contemporary Art from Taiwan, our ambitious partnership with the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.
The Johnson Museum plays an important role in this firsthand experience of place, which is a critical part of a true Cornell education. Our donors understand this, and I’m personally very grateful for their impressive assistance to our efforts. Three contributions in particular deserve special mention here. Seymour R. Askin, Jr., ’47, a longtime and enthusiastic member of the Museum Advisory Council, recently endowed the Curatorship of Earlier European and American Art. Evan Stewart ’74, JD ’77, in a surprise birthday gift to his wife, Trisha, made possible the Patricia M. Stewart Gallery for Ancient Art. Installations of video and new media work got a major boost through the opening of the Picket Family Video Gallery. Such forthright support of our educational mission is vital, and we appreciate it greatly.
The Richard J. Schwartz Director