Years in the making, greatly expanded Colby Art Museum readies for public viewing

Posted July 07, 2013, at 9:14 a.m.
A rendering by Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects of the new Alfond-Lunder Pavilion, a massive addition to the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, set to open July 14.
Colby College
A rendering by Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects of the new Alfond-Lunder Pavilion, a massive addition to the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, set to open July 14.
The interior of the new Lunder Pavilion at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville.
Colby College
The interior of the new Lunder Pavilion at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville.

Museums are typically quiet places, full of hushed contemplation and murmured observations. Over the past few months, however, the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville has echoed with the screech of screwdrivers, the dull hum of floor cleaners and the squeak of moving display cases, as final preparations for its grand reopening have been underway.

On July 14, nearly 20 months after the groundbreaking, the brand-new Alfond-Lunder Pavilion will open its doors to the public, with its inaugural exhibition featuring more than half of the 500 items included in the world-class Lunder Collection, which was gifted to the museum last year.

“It’s been a wild few weeks,” said Sharon Corwin, chief curator and director of the museum. “It’s hard to believe it’s finally done, after all this time.”

The Alfond-Lunder Pavilion adds 26,000 additional square feet overall, of which 10,000 square feet is exhibition space; the rest is offices and classrooms. Where the original 32,000 square feet of the museum is in Colby’s signature Georgian-style brick architecture, the addition is a highly modern, glassed-in creation, designed by the Los Angeles-based Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects to reflect the museum’s central place in the culture of Colby. The addition brings the total square footage of the museum to 54,000, and now gives it the largest exhibition space by size in the state.

“It’s a gorgeously designed building,” said Corwin. “I think [museum-goers] will experience a place for the exhibition of art that we haven’t yet seen in Maine. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s quite exciting.”

From the outside, passersby can see through the glass the outlines of museum staff and students working in their offices and going up and down the stairs. A monumental three-story installation by artist Sol LeWitt dominates the entire eastern side of the building; waves of yellow, red and blue can be seen as you drive towards the museum.

Inside, a sleek new lobby offers two ways to enter the museum — through the original or through the contemporary wing of the new space. The new exhibition spaces are bright and roomy, with high ceilings and endless possibilities for new and exciting displays. It already houses some wonderfully engaging pieces, ranging from some romantic paintings of the American West to prints from Ansel Adams and Norman Rockwell, and several fantastic sculptures and installations, like Claes Oldeburg’s “Typewriter Eraser” and Duane Hanson’s disconcerting, hyper-realistic “Old Man Playing Solitaire.”

“It’s modern, it’s new, and I think the art looks beautiful in it,” said Corwin. “And I think between the architecture and the art, people will really experience the spaces in new ways and really have new engagements with [the art].”

The other star of the show is, naturally, the Lunder Collection itself. The collection has been assessed by art historians as one of the most important holdings of American art ever assembled by private collectors. Promised in 2007 and officially donated to Colby by the Lunder family in September 2012, it is valued at $100 million, and contains paintings by James McNeill Whistler, Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Nevelson, Edward Hopper and countless others, as well as a number of examples of 13th century Chinese ceramics.

A little more than half of the modern and contemporary works in the collection will be displayed in the inaugural exhibition, “The Lunder Collection: A Gift of Art to Colby College,” as well as in a joint exhibition of both the Colby museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, “Spaces & Places: Chinese Art from the Lunder-Colville Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.” Also on display are exhibitions featuring works from Alex Katz and John Marin, and a collection of American weathervanes.

The museum will reopen to the public with a grand unveiling and free community day celebration, set for noon on Sunday, July 14, with food, music and guided tours. Regular museum hours, beginning Tuesday, July 16, are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and 12-5 p.m. Sundays. It is open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays during the academic year. Admission is free.

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