UMMA refreshes Noel Gallery with today’s audiences in mind

By Matisen Douglas

The gallery’s refresh – involving the addition of new works of art, and new interpretations – aims to connect today’s viewers with the past in a way that is accessible and interesting, says Lehti Mairike Keelmann, UMMA’s Assistant Curator of Western Art.

“This is an opportune moment in time to reinvigorate interest in medieval and early modern art, and to showcase just how in step historical works of art can be with contemporary issues,” Keelmann added. “This really is part of a larger, exciting process of rethinking how we can engage with historical art. These historical works are not only relevant, but are also rich and engaging.”

Chronologically, the Noel Gallery displays some of the earliest works of art in UMMA’s Western art collection.

“The gallery showcases some of our most splendid works of art, both visually speaking and in terms of historical context,” says Keelmann.

Because of the rich artistic and contextual details of the works on display, Keelmann is keen on revisiting the Noel Gallery to ensure the best possible experience for visitors.

“We are experimenting with ways to promote deeper engagement with the objects, and to create a more compelling visitor experience that places the works of art within the gallery into a lively dialogue.”

The dialog between objects will give visitors a more immersive sense of how the works functioned and were handled in their original time of creation and usage. Keelmann hopes visitors will be transported back in time by the stories of worship and court culture told through objects’ arrangements.

“The medieval Christian devotional experience was one of concealment and revelation. In many ways, it was very dramatic and sensory,” Keelmann says. “With the devotional objects in the gallery, we are seeking to highlight just how integral these material items were to an immaterial experience, or to spiritual transcendence.”

Keelmann also wishes to express the continuity between the stories told in the Noel Gallery and modern-day culture.

“This was a formative moment in European history when there was a lot of self-fashioning taking place by important people in Europe, both religious leaders as well as political rulers,” Keelmann says, comparing this to the status symbols, self-promotion, and branding that still very much take place today. “Part of cultivating an image was the acquisition of different kinds of objects to showcase that they were learned, cultivated, and powerful.”

The refresh has already begun and will continue during the beginning of the new year.



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