Review: Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

One of the oldest collegiate galleries in the world leads through an expansive collection

Venue: Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Massachusetts, USA
Date: June 2013

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Have you ever been at an American college over the summer and had a desire to suddenly see some art? No? Well a free Sunday afternoon at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts led me to wander round the college’s art museum. During the semester the museum is used in object-based learning for subjects as different as art history to neurobiology. As well as a permanent collection there are new exhibitions throughout the year.

One of Mount Holyoke’s oldest buildings, it is an encyclopedic museum – there are exhibits from different periods and places displayed. The museum’s first acquisition, Albert Bierdtadt’s Hetch Hetchy Canyon is a striking sunlit image of nearby Mount Holyoke in autumn. One of my favourite paintings was Hendrick Andriezson’s Vanitas, depicting bubbles and flowers alongside a crown and an ominous skull.

Ancient Egyptian and Roman sculptures and coins sidle against Edo period screens from Japan and an eleventh century stone Indian deity. More recent pieces include John Ahearn’s Thomas, a 1980s painted cast of a young boy from the Bronx. Another modern piece is Kiki Smith’s Shield, a white plaster cast of the artist’s pregnant stomach. This was intriguing as it suggested not just the maternal action of protecting the unborn from the outside world but also the reverse – protecting the universe from the child.

Perhaps the museum’s broad span is the only flaw – due to the wide variety of pieces, there is no in-depth focus on a particular time, area or artist. Also, the individual histories of pieces seem diminished even though presented chronologically. Overall however the pieces work well together. On the flipside, the museum’s wide variety means that there is something appealing for everyone.

If you happen to be in South Hadley over the summer, pay a visit.

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