A Gem of Space

Sue Schieman Assistant Director, Public Affairs

“It’s absolutely jewel-like,” says Ellen Stirn Mavec, president of the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation and a CMA board vice president. Many exquisite objects currently on view in Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique could elicit that response, but Mavec’s observation concerns the new Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall itself, which was unveiled with the new exhibition. “I saw the hall last spring just after the floors had been laid,” she says, “and I was overwhelmed by the sheer size and spectacular proportions of the space. When I walked into Artistic Luxury for the first time, seeing the hall’s transformation was incredible. In stark contrast to my earlier visit, a true sense of intimacy had been established, creating an immediate connection with the small anddelicate pieces on display.”

While planning Artistic Luxury, curator Stephen Harrison found the hall, with its unique contour, to be one of the most pleasing exhibition spaces he has encountered. “The Smith Exhibition Hall’s staggered footprint of consecutive rectangles guides the curator and designer in developing an orderly, but dynamic, flow through an exhibition and suggests more interesting layouts, ultimately benefiting the presentation,” he notes. “Its design leads the visitor from one space to another, visually as well as architecturally, suggesting a wonderful progression of the works.” An additional benefit is the incorporation of two entrances, which not only allows for improved circulation patterns, but also lets the museum present two simultaneous exhibitions that might either complement or contrast with each other. This feature will first be put to use when Friedlander and Art and Power in the Central African Savanna open in March.

The new hall is just the first step toward the museum’s goal to take a more active role in scholarly collaboration with other institutions. In 2012, a smaller exhibition gallery will open directly across KeyBank Lobby from the Smith Exhibition Hall. The possibilities this presents for CMA curators excites director of exhibitions Heidi Strean. “We are a museum’s museum; we have always collected at an extremely high level,” she says. “But in the past, we haven’t been as successful at partnering with other institutions to develop exhibitions because of the square-footage limitations of our previous special exhibition hall in the Breuer building.” With the advent of blockbuster shows, the museum’s old layout often required that permanent works in adjoining galleries be removed to accommodate the increased size of contemporary exhibitions. The holistic design and layout of the two new spaces will allow visitors to continue to enjoy the permanent collection while propelling the museum forward as a national presenter of exhibitions.

“As much as I love the permanent collection,” Mavec says, “I am pleased that the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall provides such a vibrant environment for the hosting of touring exhibitions. My grandparents would be delighted to know that the hall that bears their foundation’s name will enable the museum to introduce new audiences to diverse art and cultures. They established their foundation in part to support arts, culture, and education initiatives, all of which come together in the new hall.”   

 


Cleveland Art, January 2009