All museums challenge themselves to find creative ways to display the works of art in their permanent collection to greatest advantage. This past October saw the completion of the final phase of ongoing gallery renovations: the reinstallation of the Johnson Museum’s first-floor galleries. Four large galleries now display some of our greatest and best-loved works from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Paintings and sculpture including Daubigny’s Fields in the Month of June, Milton Avery’s The White Wave, and Robert Rauschenberg’s Migration are now shown very differently, in newly renovated galleries and in entirely distinct contexts.

Although a museum-wide project like this one is a deeply collaborative venture engaging all staff, the reinstallation was led by the two curators in charge of these collection areas, Nancy Green, the Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of European and American Art, Prints & Drawings, 1800–1945, and Andrea Inselmann, curator of modern and contemporary art & photography. Some of the most important conversations revolved around how to best achieve a careful balance of aesthetics and legibility throughout the floor while maximizing the number of works on view. Could an overall historical and chronological approach be successfully combined with a focus on specific themes or subjects? Most importantly, how could we work imaginatively with the artworks themselves to maximize the strength and impact of the collection for all audiences?

We think the result offers not only an entirely new look but significantly encourages public and scholarly audiences to discover art that relates to their own interests or areas of study. Walking through the galleries today, visitors can quickly and easily absorb an overall impression of the diversity of art made from 1800 onward. Gallery adjacencies are carefully planned to make chronological, cultural, and historic connections, although visitors are invited to navigate the galleries at their own pace and study the art on view from their own personal vantage point. 

Creating a new context for some of our most famous works, including Giacometti’s Walking Man II and Otto Dix’s Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin, provided opportunities to explore one of the most potent and enduring subjects in art: the human figure. Along with paintings and sculpture, the addition of works on paper in a specially designed cabinet expanded the Museum’s ability to show how artists communicate meaning, ideas, or feelings through pose, shape, or form. The art in this gallery also considers issues of gender and conceptions of portraiture, beauty, and abstraction.

All of our new galleries aim to take our visitors on rewarding journeys that are visually pleasing and full of variety. Since the Johnson Museum opened in 1973, our permanent collection has been enriched by many generous gifts of art, along with funds provided to allow for important curatorial purchases to build the strength and significance of Museum collections. Thanks to major grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and to the generosity of Museum Members and donors, these beautifully renovated galleries provide a fresh overview of the collection, one that we hope will provoke your curiosity and encourage you to visit, whether for the first time or as an old friend!

We remain grateful to the generous donors who have named these four galleries: the Genevieve Martinson Tucker and Richard Frank Tucker Gallery of nineteenth-century European and American art, the Ann S. Bowers Gallery of modern art, the Elizabeth Heekin Harris and Alan B. Harris Gallery for portraiture and figurative art, and the Richard F. Tucker ’50 and Genevieve M. Tucker Gallery of contemporary art.