In August, the Gibbes Museum temporarily closed for major renovations set to begin in October 2014. To date, the museum has raised more than $9 million toward its $13.4 million goal to restore the museum to its original Beaux-Arts beauty and build its endowment. The project is designed to showcase the museum’s collection, provide visitors with a history of American art from the early colonial era to the present, and engage the public with educational programs, classes, and events.
The museum’s collecting mission is to develop a significant fine and decorative arts collection from the 18th century through the present that provides an in-depth understanding of American art and patronage from a Charleston perspective.
The renovation will transform the first floor of the museum into a creative community center. Studios and classrooms will offer opportunities to observe artists and students at work. The rear reception area and lecture facility will open into the Gibbes garden, which is part of Charleston’s historic Gateway Walk and maintained by the Charleston Parks Conservancy. A beautifully refurbished museum store and a new café will greet visitors as they come through the main entrance.
Grand exhibition halls on the second and third floors will showcase the American collections as well as special exhibitions. State-of-the-art art storage facilities will feature a closely connected research room to provide ample space for scholars to more easily access and study works from the collection. Observation windows will offer visitors a behind-the-scenes view of the work of curators, preparators, and conservators.
The newly expanded and renovated galleries will provide a 30% increase in gallery space to showcase more than 600 works of art from the permanent collection (a 125% increase in works on view). The Grand Gallery will showcase early American art of the 18th and early 19th centuries. In the newly expanded South Galleries, innovative display cases and open storage cabinetry will allow for up-close interaction with more than 300 portrait miniatures by some of America’s most significant miniature painters as well as a number of French émigré and British artists painting American sitters. The newly expanded North Galleries will feature several works that demonstrate the national shift in American art from academic painting to impressionism. The Garden Gallery will feature works by late 20th-century and early 21st-century artists native to the south or working in this region. The central rotunda gallery will serve as a sculpture hall. The original Beaux Arts oak-varnished woodwork and patterned tile floor will be restored. The Tiffany-style art glass dome will be cleaned and stabilized by conservators.
The renovations are part of the city of Charleston’s larger commitment to the arts and historic preservation. It is the latest in a series of renovation efforts that began in 2006 with City Hall, continued with Memminger Auditorium and the Dock Street Theatre and the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium that will open in spring 2015.
During the renovation the museum will continue to engage the community in the arts with a variety of programs, special events, and educational offerings. The Insider Art Series will debut in the fall with a special exhibition of art work by Jonathan Green and Alice Ravenel Hugher Smith. On Nov. 19, the Gibbes will present its annual Distinguished Lecture featuring New York-based and internationally acclaimed architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien whose design of the Barnes Foundation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is critically acclaimed.