A nun with beautifully large, almond-shaped eyes and sultry crimson lips greets me as I walk through the door of the Art Museum’s Collections Study Space. Granted, she is no ordinary sister but rather a stunning, large-scale image of legendary actress Ingrid Bergman rendered by none other than Andy Warhol. The work is one of more than 3,000 pieces of modern and contemporary art that comprise the University at Albany Fine Art Collections, which has found a new home in the recently opened study space.
“The Collections Study Space is a game changer for our campus,” says Art Museum Director and Chief Curator Corinna Ripps Schaming. With the help of a $75,000 grant from The Henry Luce Foundation, the more than 1,700-square-foot multipurpose space, opened in 2018, was intentionally designed to increase access to the impressive array of artwork while simultaneously immersing students in all aspects of collections management, exhibition planning and curatorial research.
“What I love about the collection is that within it are alumni [artists] themselves,” says Jahniah Kum ’23, as she pulled out one of 32 giant sliding racks laden with a dazzling diversity of art: large-scale paper panels by the late Dawn Clements ’87 MA, ’89 MFA (recently named in a listing of Top 10 U.S. art shows), etchings by Jacob Lawrence, photos by Manuel Álvarez Bravo, a lithograph from Xu Bing, and a highly sought-after drawing by Richard Diebenkorn titled “Seated Woman #44.”
Visitors can browse a growing library of books about artists within the collections or peruse past exhibition catalogs. With a scheduled appointment, one can request to see other photographs, drawings, and unframed works stored in the flat files archives.
The study space offers free and virtually unfettered access to this creative repository and provides one-of-a-kind learning opportunities for students.
“Classes are welcome to come and use objects in the collections for study,” says Darcie Abbatiello, the Art Museum’s registrar and collections manager. “Not just art classes,” she adds. “We’re really open to all disciplines.”
However, the museum can’t share what it can’t preserve and protect. Over decades, many pieces of art (for example, immense woven tapestries by famed sculptor Alexander Calder) were dispersed throughout the University’s campuses – often in suboptimal conditions, putting them at substantial risk. Jeffrey Wright-Sedam, the museum’s preparator and facilities manager, cites light, dust, heat, humidity as ever-present threats to the art: “Over time those works have to be returned for their own longevity.”
In keeping with art preservation best practices, the Collections Study Space not only safely protects those works, but also helps make the art more accessible for study, scholarship, and appreciation for all.
Witnessing the positive impact the space has on students brings Ripps-Schaming a sense of satisfaction in knowing that the museum is meeting its mission to enrich the life of the University and the community: “There’s nothing like seeing a student’s eyes light up over a first-hand encounter with a work of art,” she says while noting that the space also provides benefits to the museum. “Not only are we preparing students to become the next generation of artists, art historians, curators, and museum professionals, they are opening our eyes too – making fresh connections among artworks, sharing their digital expertise, and helping us to create new platforms that will expand our audience well beyond the walls of the museum.”