Expanding an Art Icon
SHOWCASE – July 2013
Edited by Rebecca Falzano | Photo: Gary Green
With the opening of the 26,000-square-foot Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion, Colby College Museum of Art will become the largest art museum in Maine. A true accomplishment, not only from an art perspective but from an architectural one as well.
Designed by Los Angeles firm Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects in partnership with Portland architect Brian Duffy, the new Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion at the Colby College Museum of Art is a light-filled gateway to the museum that provides an additional 10,000 square feet of exhibition space. With its addition, the museum will now comprise five wings, more than 8,000 works of art, and over 38,000 square feet of exhibition space.
Refined and minimalist in design, the glass pavilion completes a circuit with the four existing wings of the museum and unifies them. The pavilion now serves as the main entrance to the museum, providing a spacious lobby that includes a sculpture gallery and terrace as well as new exhibition galleries, classrooms, a conference room, staff offices, and collection storage. The pavilion’s upper floor is dedicated to the college’s art department, providing new studios for photography and fine art foundation classes, faculty offices, and a student lounge.
The design goals were many: to accommodate the Lunder Collection; expand public reception and event space; improve the overall circulation through the museum; improve access from Mayflower Hill Drive; increase areas for education, administration, art storage; and create an iconic presence for the museum on campus.
After an intense planning study that explored numerous approaches to these challenges, Fisher and his team developed a counterintuitive scheme of removing a portion of the existing Bixler arts complex and reconstituting the space that was demolished in a new wing, consolidated with new program space. “The new wing resolved circulation issues while creating a strong new presence,” says Fisher. “The singular pavilion is more efficient and economical than a more ‘bits and pieces’ strategy to accomplish the museum’s growth.”
A glass prism, the pavilion is a dramatic contrast to the neo-Georgian-style brick buildings of the campus. The building’s image changes dramatically throughout the day and the seasons, literally reflecting its own context—both the other architecture and its natural surroundings—with stairwells at either end conceived as canvases for art. The initial art installations include a three-story wall drawing by Sol LeWitt on one end and a Luis Camnitzer text piece on the façade of the Paul J. Schupf Sculpture Court entrance.
Fisher and his team faced a few design challenges. For one, knitting together a new building with the existing Bixler arts complex, which was built in a number of phases over decades, while improving the functional and aesthetic “wholeness” of the museum was a complex challenge. As was making a glass building perform in Maine’s climate. “The glass symbolizes intellectual and artistic transparency and, after dark, shows the inner glow, or lantern, of knowledge,” says Fisher. “We describe the building as being ‘about seeing.’”
Seven inaugural exhibitions will open in conjunction with the opening of the pavilion, including The Lunder Collection: A Gift of Art to Colby College, one of the most important private collections of American art ever assembled, which was recently donated to the museum. The collection comprises more than 500 objects, 464 of them by American masters including John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, George Inness, William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Edward Hopper, Alexander Calder, and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as contemporary American works by Alex Katz, Louise Nevelson, Romare Bearden, Donald Judd, John Chamberlain, George Rickey, and Jenny Holzer, among others.
“Until now,” says Colby President William D. Adams, “our museum may have been something of an underappreciated gem—though not to our students, faculty, and alumni, and the citizens of Maine, who have embraced it as one of their finest resources. But now, as we celebrate the bicentennial of the college, we can look forward as never before to welcoming visitors from around the country and the world who are going to discover that our museum has risen toward the top in its field.”