In 2010, the Spencer Museum of Art envisioned a bold reinstallation of its permanent collection. Called Project Redefine, the transformation represents a dramatic shift from our previous, traditionally conceived galleries organized by time period and continent to an innovative new organizational principle based on themes, drawing works from disparate regions and eras into the same physical space and, by extension, into conversation with one another.
The first six Project Redefine exhibitions address fundamental concepts related to art and the human experience: awareness of body and place, and adoption of things and ideas. In Nature/Natural and Roots and Journeys, we consider how humans dwell in nature, physically and philosophically. Corpus explores the trajectory of the human life, and is succeeded by Empire of Things: an investigation of the relationships between objects, the people who make them, and the people who collect and display them. The final thematic Project Redefine exhibition shifts course from these material worlds to navigate intangible, nebulous realms of ideas and concepts. Conceived as an exploration of the duality between the sacred and secular, the spiritual and the earthly, the exhibition is made up of two components: Forms of Thought, and This Land.
Taken as a whole, Project Redefine demonstrates the breadth and diversity of the Spencer’s permanent collection. Read more about our Project Redefine exhibitions and their founding curatorial methods below.
Building on the momentum of the 20/21 reinstallation, the remaining permanent collection galleries will be reinstalled according to a staggered schedule. This allows Museum visitors to continue to enjoy our collections while we work on reinstalling the galleries. It will also give us a chance to evaluate the ongoing success of the project and adapt it as necessary.
Nature/Natural and Roots and Journeys focus on two important collections at the Spencer Museum: Asian art, and the indigenous arts of the Americas, Africa and Oceania. On the north balcony, Roots and Journeys became the first dedicated exhibition space for the display of the Spencer’s diverse collections of American Indian, Latin American, African and Oceanic art—a collection first founded in 1890, and transferred to the care of the Spencer in 2007. The south balcony features the arts of Asia in Nature/Natural, and highlights many never-before-displayed artworks collected by Sallie Casey Thayer, whose generous gift of 7,500 objects created the first art museum at KU in 1918.
Both installations are inspired by the theme of habitation: whether through human interaction with the environment, or the cultural construction of place.
Sharing the process and methodology behind Project Redefine is very important to us. The following documents trace our early stages of development in bringing Project Redefine to fruition.
In 2008, the Spencer proposed a reorganization of its gallery spaces that would centralize the permanent collection galleries on the 4th floor, dedicating the 3rd floor for temporary exhibitions.
We complemented this proposal by convening focus groups, helping us to determine how the museum should use its galleries to best serve public and academic audiences.
The decision to formulate a series of thematic, interrelated long-term exhibitions of the Spencer’s collections came after several months of internal curatorial workshops.
We shared our vision of the new Spencer Museum of Art in a series of public forums.
From 2010 through 2013, the Spencer’s Curatorial and Exhibition Design staff worked to transform the fourth floor galleries into their new configurations. The safe-keeping and accessibility of the museum’s collections were foremost concerns to the staff as they created new display cases, constructed new interior walls, and eventually filled the galleries with artworks.