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The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum is opening the newly renovated sixth floor of its Eliza G. Radeke building to the public this Friday. The unveiling encompasses transformed galleries housing its ancient Egyptian art and Asian art collections as well as new spaces devoted to costumes and textiles. These refurbishments signal the end of a seven-year, $8.4 million restoration project aiming to better engage viewers with the museum’s collection.
The museum will now be able to showcase objects previously in storage: pieces from the museum’s rarely seen trove of costumes and textiles — consisting of 26,000 objects dating as far back as 1500 BCE — will be on display in the new Angelo Donghia Costume and Textiles Gallery and Study Center, which will present semi-annual themed installations. The inaugural exhibition, Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass, explores the motif of flowers in designs ranging from a 19th-century Persian jacket to a contemporary dress by Junya Watanabe.
The museum’s redesigned Asian galleries will reopen with displays of woodblock prints and hundreds of textiles from Indonesia, India, East Asia, and Egypt; also on view is one of the only Japanese bridal palanquins in the United States, dating to the Edo period, as well as a permanent exhibition of devotional sculpture.
The updated spaces also aim to provide visitors with greater access to and familiarity with the works on view through more organized curation and presentation. Installations have themed headers, such as “Cast in Bronze,” that promote more informed and concise understanding of an object itself as well as its fabrication. Rather than providing general summations of a theme or culture, the museum encourages specific study of an artifact.
“One thing that is key to us is being able to look closely at these objects,” Director of Education Sarah Ganz Blythe told Hyperallergic. “The galleries are intimate, and the object selection is really rigorous, so it’s a situation where you’re not walking by 15 mummies — there’s one mummy … where there are really key examples of really strong collections, and in each gallery there’s a key object that’s your point of departure.”
In addition to updating object labels, the museum is also launching an audio program that features artists and cultural historians discussing the artworks to encourage greater dialogue.
“We’re hoping to ask questions like, ‘Why are these things made, and who made them?’” Blythe said. “Or, ‘How was an Egyptian sculpture carved out of stone?’ … which is not really something addressed at other museums.”