As the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery prepare for their joint reopening, we talked with one of our neighbors, Carol Huh. Carol was the first curator of contemporary art at the galleries, which are devoted to Asian art. In the last 10 years, she has been involved with many exhibitions at the Sackler and now is part of a team that is readying for the reopening, which will take place on Oct. 14-15.
What can visitors now expect from the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery?
The Freer has been closed for renovation since January 2016 in order to return the museum’s interior to its original 1923 design and also upgrade the climate control and security systems and install new technologies that enhance the visitor experience. The closure has given our curatorial team the unique opportunity to reinterpret our collections and re-imagine the galleries so we can continue to engage the public through relevant, thematically arranged displays.
Charles Freer believed that beauty transcended any specific time or place, so even though the collection ranges from American art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to art from ancient China, the objects on display all reflect his belief in the transcendent, universal language of beauty.
Similarly, the Sackler features four exhibitions that span across Asia and across centuries, so we’re really excited to have such a wide-ranging display of beautiful, timeless objects and stories in both galleries.
What is it like to be a curator at the Sackler? What have been some of the challenges for you as curator in the renovation process?
As with any renovation, available work space shrinks. During the Freer closure, staff had to be moved into the Sackler and spaces for public programs were reduced. All of this made us cozy office mates in the Sackler! Nevertheless, everyone has worked very hard and been very supportive of each other.
As a curator, I am surrounded by experts in their fields and nourished daily in an environment that fosters intellectual growth. One of the joys is also spending time with extraordinary objects, and the rich history of peoples, ideas, and places they embody. One of the challenges has been access to our collections.
As a preeminent research institution with a world-renowned collection, we also often get requests from scholars, artists, and other members of the public to view objects. Access has been extremely limited since the Freer has been closed and staff busy preparing over a dozen exhibitions for the grand reopening.
What are some of the things for visitors to look out for that you think are most special in the Sackler Gallery reopening ?
We are opening four exhibitions at once—with objects from Egypt, China, Korea, Southeast Asia, Tibet, and India, among others, and dating from 2008 B.C.E. to 2010 C.E. There will be much to see and think about! The exhibitions will have immersive elements—an entire Tibetan shrine, a video installation of a day in the life of a Sri Lankan stupa, and a walk through a gleaming landscape by a contemporary Indian artist.
What are some of the public events planned at the opening weekend?
We will have a wide array of events. Special highlights are:
From 6 p.m. to midnight on Oct. 14: “Disruption: Video Art from Asia,” a screening of provocative works by Shahzia Sikander, Ahmad Ghossein, Sun Xun, Moon Kyungwon, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen in the Freer’s Meyer auditorium.
Also planned is a return of the groundbreaking “Culturunners RV,” which has been touring the U.S. with artists from Saudi Arabia. There will also be a major projection mapping event on the façade of the Freer (Mall side).
On Oct. 15 at 3 p.m. I will be in conversation with internationally acclaimed artist Subodh Gupta, whose installation “Terminal” will be on view in the next installment of the Sackler contemporary series. South and Southeast Asian Art Curator Debra Diamond will also be in conversation with filmmaker Stanley Staniski, who produced a film in the “Encountering a Buddha” exhibition that explores the cycles and practices of contemporary Sri Lankan Buddhists. Finally, Tommy Wide will be in conversation with members of the Silk Road Ensemble.
On both Saturday and Sunday, in addition to all the Sackler has to offer, visitors will be able to visit the incredible, thought-provoking thematic galleries in the Freer, and curators will host casual gallery talks that will take place throughout the weekend.
By: Sheila Wickouski