Viewing the Permanent Collection Through a New Lens

Curatorial Fellow Danny Volk spoke with Chief Curator Jeremiah William McCarthy about the reinstallation of the Museum’s modern and contemporary galleries.

Danny Volk (DV): What can we expect from these galleries in 2023?

Jeremiah William McCarthy (JWM): On the surface, visitors will find four constellations of people, places, things, and ideas. Sometimes these groups overlap, and sometimes they remain distinct. As the year goes on, we’ll change objects within each category. We’ve also included select loans from artists and other institutions that complement The Westmoreland’s works, and we will continue to do this.

DV: Why these four?

JWM: When I was in grammar school, these were the categories for “nouns.” Now the definition has changed to represent more classifications, but I like the thought that these galleries, like nouns, could represent the building blocks of everything.

DV: So, how does The Westmoreland’s permanent collection illustrate this?

JWM: If you think about it, the twentieth century encompasses some of the most profound events represented in American visual art—whether it’s the mass movement of people from rural areas to cities, the World Wars, the Civil Rights movement and feminism, the rise of the art world, etc. Over the coming year, we can use these four categories to reflect and explore these historical moments.

DV: This is the first time that these galleries have been holistically reinstalled since the re-opening in 2015. It marks almost exactly eight years. How will the visitor experience be different this time?

JWM: I hope visitors see these galleries as a place for the start of thinking and not a repository of final thoughts. In museums, we have a tendency to treat our permanent collection galleries almost as if they are preserved in amber. We put them up, and then they stay that way for a long time, while we lavish attention on the special exhibitions, and my hope is we start to view our permanent collection in a much more exciting way . . .

DV: . . . like a laboratory.

JWM: Exactly, just like a lab. We might put artworks up, and it fails to connect completely, and that’s okay. We’ll do things differently in a few months. Or, we might take an artwork down, and only then realize it’s a fan favorite, so we’ll put it back with the next rotation, but maybe in a completely new way. We will move at the speed of learning.

Support for the reinstallation of the permanent collection galleries is made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art.