While our contemporary galleries are being re-imagined and reinstalled, the first of new relational art pairings are now featured in the Reid Gallery.
Contemporary works are placed in the midst of galleries of historical art to encourage questions and ignite conversation among our visitors about the relationships between periods. The juxtapositions deviate from the chronological layout of the museum galleries. The pairings propose relationships among works that do not refer to one another directly, yet may have cultural trends, creative ideas, and formal expressions that resonate in the present.
Richard Hunt's Firebird  (1975) is a sculpture formed from welded steel that has been placed in the middle of the gallery. The abstract bird is made from Corten steel and symbolizes the link between nature and urban, industrial society. It has not been on view at the museum for many years. Firebird is placed adjacent to a sculpture by Massimiliano Soldani, Apollo and Daphne , dated around 1700.
Made 250 years apart, both sculptures elaborate on the imagery of flight and express the notion of metamorphosis, in which continuous mutation is the motor of life. Soldani’s vigorous rotation and thrust is echoed by Hunt’s simplified volumes and a composition that defies balance, inviting viewers to move around the sculpture.
“Relational art ,” a term coined by curator Nicholas Bourriaud , stands for the social experience art offers when conversations occur among viewers when stimulated by these kinds of pairings. Does this contemporary work look the same to us when compared directly to the work of earlier artists? What kind of transformation or test does each object undergo? What can we learn about evaluating works of art and placing them in a museum?
Visitors are invited the see the works in these new ways.
“Art in museums has a social aspect,” Paola Morsiani, curator of contemporary art, said. “It's not just about the art. We're inviting people to be in conversation with the work and be in conversation about the work. It's a different way of connecting the diversity and richness of the collection following a different system that is not chronological. The system is more based on the proper language of art, forms and ideas."
Visitors will find another pairing toward the back of the galleries.
The relocation of Mark Tansey’s Soft Borders , dated 1997, invites a specific comparison with Giovanni Panini’s Interior of the Pantheon, Rome,  dated 1747. Both paintings articulate how the present relates to the past. The contemporary life shown by Panini may seem long gone, but the questions he raised about the role of history resurface in Tansey’s recent picture.
These juxtapositions were suggested by Christian Black, a 2011 curatorial intern from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Black brought a different perspective because he is a philosophy major. Jon Seydl, The Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos, Jr. Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture (1500-1800), believes that both pairings make striking statements in the gallery.
“These relational hangings are not only about the curators generating ideas about what these relationships mean,” Jon Seydl said. “We really want our visitors to generate the ideas themselves.”
-- Kesha Williams