The Wellin Musuem at Hamilton College
The Wellin Museum opened in October, 2012 on the occasion of the two hundredth anniversary of Hamilton College in upstate New York. The architects who designed the new building that sits at the crest of a hill on the picture-perfect campus were Rodolfo Machado and Jorge Silvetti of Boston whose design of the Getty Villa campus in Pacific Palisades has been described as “a near miracle.” The museum is constructed of custom-made undulating stone blocks in white (the gallery space) and plum.
The new museum chose as its inaugural exhibition Affinity Atlas which juxtaposed artworks new and old with scientific and ethnographic objects from the collections. It was inspired by the Mnemosyne Atlas (1925-1929) of art historian Aby Warburg whose visual catalog reimagined art history as a constellation rather than a single linear narrative. In all, forty-five artists from Albrecht Durer and George Catlin to Anni Albers and Jasper Johns were represented in the exhibition.
Among the most striking examples in the Affinity Atlas was a group of works by Isaac Hollister Hall, Jasper Johns, Sarah Vanderbeek, and Demetrius Oliver. Hall (1837-1896) was an early graduate of Hamilton College who distinguished himself through his archeological work in Syria, that culminated in his appointment as Egyptologist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1895. His astronomical plates of phases of solar flares looks at home with Sarah Vanderbeek’s collage of digital photorgraps made in 2009. Another work based on cosmology is Orrery by Demetrius Oliver (2010). An orrery is a model of the solar system, named for an 18th century English nobleman. Oliver’s abstract but understandable version is built around a overlapping circles of umbrella spokes.
Another striking ensemble brings together two sculptures – both human torsos - a Seravezza marble Female Torso by the short-lived but extremely influential French sculptor Henri-Gaudier Brzeska (1891 -1915), and a foamcore and acrylic resin Figure From Parts Past And Present by a young American, Ruby Sky Stiler. Although Gaudier-Brzeska was part of the Vorticist group that formed around Ezra Pound in London, his technique drew on cubist drawing for its touchingly human gestures. Stiler’s torso wears its Cubist influences proudly, bringing together multiple views on all sides, making the viewer feel as if they had walked around the torso without ever having moved. Stiler has said in an interview that she became interested in classical sculpture after visiting Naples and the ruins of Pompeii.
The entrance to the museum both front and back is through the glass enclosed 27- feet high Archive Hall. It will be a permanent reminder of Warburg’s vision, a modern cabinet of curiosities where art and artifacts are arrayed in visible storage. Look one way and see Greco-Roman antiquities, and then look across at their contemporaries in works by Indians of the northwest coast, pre-Columbian art of Mesoamerica, and Chinese bronzes.
For more information please visit: The Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College