I’ve been saying for years that the Williams College Museum of Art, a personal favorite of mine, gets wrongly overlooked because it is next door to the much larger Clark Art Institute and the even bigger MASS MoCA is just a few miles down the road. Now, this imbalance may be even more extreme – that is, the WCMA, after a recent whole-museum re-installation of the collection, is even more deserving of the attention its neighbors easily gain.
To call Reflections on a Museum a revelation is understatement, because it is by design and intention both revealing and enlightening. Augmented by 50 choice pieces on loan through a collection-sharing initiative from the Yale University Art Gallery, this sweeping and thoughtful series of eight exhibitions allows the viewer to get inside the art-making and collecting processes with gentle help from the WCMA’s able curatorial staff (and others), but without intrusive label copy or – worst of all – facile explanations.
Rather, the method is to present a remarkably wide range of objects in challenging (but not needlessly provocative) juxtapositions, and then to offer questions about the objects, their context, their provenance, and their ultimate placement in these two prominent university collections. The result is a virtual tour of human civilization, guided but open-ended, which features curious side trips that focus on how we experience objects and art. The natural questions that we would ask on such a trip are posted for us, and some potential answers are, too, but it never feels that we are being pandered or preached to.