The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
By Maris Bish, Wolfsonian–FIU
This winter, The Wolfsonian–FIU received a $5 million grant from Knight Foundation to provide greater public access to its collection of modern art and design. The support is a major component of an ambitious five year plan to make The Wolfsonian accessible to anyone around the globe, inspiring creation, content generation, sharing, and the dissemination of our singular collection. The ultimate goal is to provide a user-centered and interactive online environment driven by the art and objects in the collection, and to improve physical access to the museum through enhanced facilities and programming. The Knight Foundation grant will take The Wolfsonian into the future by making these goals tangible and achievable.
At the core of The Wolfsonian’s plans for the future lies a collection of more than 120,000 decorative arts objects, including sculptures, paintings, prints, drawings, posters, periodicals and ephemeral items from the late 19th century to the end of World War II. Internationally renowned as one of the most remarkable collections of its kind, The Wolfsonian attracts students, scholars, historians, and artists from all over the world to study its art and objects and draw their own conclusions and assumptions about what the works say about the world, history, and the people who created them.
One such artist is Esther Shalev-Gerz, who first conceived of The Wolfsonian’s current exhibition Describing Labor (on view through April 7) while studying the collection and its connection to labor during her fellowship last spring. Shalev-Gerz came back and invited 24 knowledgeable people in the arts – curators, conservators, artists, writers, collectors and art students – to select a work from the collection related to labor, describe it on film, and place it in the art storage facility. She then took photographs of the works in their new settings which are on view with the originals as well as the video montage. Elsewhere in the exhibition she commissioned original works — glass hammers to symbolize the workers’ fleeting presence. This innovative take on the collection is just one of the ways in which people from around the globe can interact with the museum and inspire their own creations.
Another exhibition currently on display is Postcards of the Wiener Werkstätte: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection. Exploring artists’ postcards from 1907 to 1919 by the Vienna Workshop, the Wiener Werkstätte eliminated the distinction between high and low art. Complemented with porcelain, glass, textiles, and ceramics from The Wolfsonian’s collection, the exhibition explores themes of humor, social classes, and urbanity in Vienna society—themes which viewers can still relate to decades later. Mr. Lauder’s postcards help our own collection from the Wiener Werkstätte come to life in this fascinating exhibition organized by the Neue Gallerie New York.
Esther Shalev-Gerz. Describing Labor – Work for America!, 2012
These two exhibitions exemplify how The Wolfsonian is giving its collection new life and meaning as we begin a new year. The Knight Foundation grant and the museum’s innovative plans for the future will make the holdings more relevant and accessible to our dynamic audiences - locally and globally - as we look ahead into 2013 and beyond.