Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas
detail: Sketch of South Balcony Deck 1

Project Redefine

Transforming the Spencer Museum of Art


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.




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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. We shared our vision of the new Spencer Museum of Art in a series of public forums.

  5. 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.