How to Spark Imagination and Inspire Debate

From recently acquired contemporary works to permanent collection objects that haven’t been shown in more than a decade, the reimagined Mead Art Museum offers a fresh perspective on a distinguished collection.

After two months of interior renovations, the Mead Art Museum has unveiled six new exhibitions and installations. Their purpose: to encourage deep contemplation of art across centuries, continents and media.

Liam Gillick’s interactive Discussion Bench Platform Red (2010) “In the spirit of the liberal arts, we want to create a museum that sparks the imagination and inspires debate,” says David E. Little, Mead director and chief curator. “This reinstallation has been a pivotal opportunity to rethink the collection and allow us to engage students, professors and the public in new ways with art across time and the globe.”

The most dramatic renovations are to the Mead’s main gallery, Fairchild Gallery, which has been opened up to reveal a bright, expansive space. The historic Rotherwas Room now features contemporary art. The remaining galleries showcase curatorial reinterpretations of the Mead’s well-regarded holdings of African, American, European and Russian art. All of these exhibitions run through the fall semester.

On Tuesdays this fall, visitors created “living sculptures” by having informal, unscripted conversations with faculty and staff members on Liam Gillick’s interactive Discussion Bench Platform Red (2010). Gillick’s benches are meant to convert traditional gallery spaces into areas for discussion. 

The Rotherwas Room in the Mead reimagined

The 17th-century Rotherwas Room meets contemporary art in a new, biannual series, the Rotherwas Project. Works by Amanda Valdez now bring a fresh palette and iconography to the oak-paneled room.

American art forms the basis of the Mead's collection

In donating hundreds of American artworks, George Dupont Pratt, class of 1893, and Herbert Lee Pratt, class of 1895, established American art as a cornerstone of the Mead’s collection.

Artwork in Fairchild Gallery

The artworks in Fairchild Gallery underscore how museum collections are built in part by chance: objects accumulate over time, largely thanks to the collecting passions and generosity of supporters.

Artwork in Fairchild Gallery

The Mead’s 19,000 objects, given by more than 500 people, span 5,000 years and numerous cultures. Above, David Nash’s Unknown series, gifts of Andrew G. Galef ’54 and Bronya Galef.

European art in the Mead

Nicola Courtright, the William McCall Vickery 1957 Professor of the History of Art, curated the installation of European art. Above, a detail from Frans Snyders’ Larder with a Servant (Hunting Still Life), ca. 1635–40.

European art in the Mead

Two of Professor Courtright's courses inspired the installation effort, and some of her students researched the objects on display. Above, center, Madonna and Child with Angels, ca. 1485, by Guidoccio Cozzarelli.

European art collection


The founding of museums is one theme of the European exhibition, which looks at how European princes, scholars and merchants of the past gathered objects that fascinated them. From these private collections, museums as we know them today emerged. Left, Cherubs: Allegory of Autumn, a 1780 marble sculpture by the French artist Jean-Antoine Houdon.

Tall Clock, ca. 1780

American art on display includes Tall Clock, ca. 1780, from the estate of Isabel J. Turner, and portraits by John Singleton Copley from 1763. Such pieces chart the founding of a nation and a museum. 

The Monet Room in the Mead

Monet’s Morning on the Seine, Giverny, from 1897, is the sole work of art in a small, peaceful room in one corner of Fairchild Gallery.

Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection of Russian Art

Selections from the Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection of Russian Art include (clockwise from top left) Oleg Kudriashov’s 1988 Architectonic Project, Alexander Archipenko’s 1912 Femme Assise, Natal’ia Sergeevna Goncharova’s 1907 Self-Portrait and Ernst Neizvestny’s 1977 Portrait of Dmitrii Shostakovich. Whitney lived for a time in Russia, which “planted the seed of his collection,” says curator Bettina Jungen. 

Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection of Russian Art

Art from the Africa exhibition

Gourds, cloths and wood figures are among the objects in the Art from Africa exhibition, which presents an array of works, including ritual objects used in divination rites in Central and West Africa. 

This early-20th-century Kuba textile, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a gift from collector Evan Maurer ’66.

The majority of works on display are gifts of Evan Maurer (in whose honor Allen Roberts ’67 also gave works) and Barry Maurer ’59.

The Fairchild Gallery renovation and exhibition were made possible through the generosity of Mead Advisory Board members Suzannah Fabing, Kenneth Rosenthal ’60, Bette and Thomas R. Sturges II ’66, and Helen and Charles C. Wilkes ’71.