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The museum in an academic environment

Twentieth-anniversary commission reveals new insights into the Hood's historic collections

Among the many meetings I had during three separate interview visits from Canberra, Australia, to Hanover it was one with a group of interns at the Hood Museum of Art that convinced me that I wanted to be its next director. The students were smart and courteous, constantly probing the only question of importance to them (and me) at the time: Why did I want to come to the Hood?

Brian Kennedy
Brian Kennedy, formerly Director of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, started his position as Director of the Hood Museum of Art in July 2005. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

The answer soon became clear. After years in large public museums with hundreds of thousands of visitors, I wanted to experience something different. What would the relative potency be of a museum in an academic environment serving several thousand students, faculty members, and the regional community where they live, when compared to a much more widely attended city or national museum? Museums, after all, are intended to offer the direct experience of works of art. And that experience appeared to be all the more direct at the Hood. The student interns confirmed this and made clear the importance that art had come to hold in their lives. I thought, how wonderful! These talented young people are going to be influential in many walks of life, and yet the Hood had touched them all so profoundly.

They are not alone. In the twenty years since the Hood opened, and all the way back to 1772, when the Dartmouth College Museum was first established, many people in the region have shown how much they care about art. The Hood's educational programs, school visits, seminars, art-making classes, exhibitions, acquisitions and other offerings have become an integral part of life in the Upper Valley. On campus, students and their professors are making ever-increasing use of the Hood's collection.

And now they will have the unprecedented opportunity to see the Hood under the critical eye of the distinguished American artist, Fred Wilson. (See related story.) To complete an already exciting twentieth-anniversary year at the Hood, Wilson has been commissioned to install a work of art comprised of objects from the museum's collections. He has completed over twenty such "mining the museum" projects since 1992. He represented the United States at the 2003 Venice Biennale with an acclaimed display that brought attention to the presence of Africans and Moors in Venetian art and history.

Among his many projects, however, Wilson had never worked in the Northeast in such an old and diverse collection as that of the Hood. "Each museum, not to mention region of the country and the world, has a very specific 'personality' and viewpoint," he explained. "This always affects what art and artifacts I choose to use in an installation and what I do with them. The collection at the Hood represents uniquely an American history that reflects events at Dartmouth, and also in the Northeast in general. In addition, the Hood's collections mirror our national identity, both past and present. It gives me a sense of what was important to the founding fathers before our country was born. The collecting habits of the museum over the last centuries also create an image of what the museum-and by extension the society-believes should be important today."

Wilson's exhibition, "SO MUCH TROUBLE IN THE WORLD-Believe It or Not!," has as its subject the Hood's collections and the motivations behind them. The resulting display is a revelatory, provocative and inspiring work of art. Traversing Daniel Webster, phrenology, chirographology, Goya, Callot and Ripley's Odditorium, the exhibition focuses profoundly on the ongoing struggle between humanity and inhumanity.

As the culminating experience of the Hood's twentieth anniversary, "SO MUCH TROUBLE IN THE WORLD-Believe It or Not!," reinforces the museum's central role in the educational experience at Dartmouth and the extent to which that experience has been shaped by the environment and the community. Everyone in the Dartmouth and Upper Valley communities should see this powerful show sometime, or many times, before Dec. 11. It is as much a look at the world now as it is a look back. In moments of crisis and uncertainty, art has a tremendous power to heal, for it requires imagination and creativity to rise from desolation, whether in Baghdad or New Orleans, Bali or New York. Fred Wilson's salutary exhibition, dark but not without hope, provocative but educational, reminds us that life must be embraced. So to everyone this fall, the Hood celebrates life after 20 with a resounding carpe diem-seize the day!

By BRIAN KENNEDY

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Last Updated: 12/17/08