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New York’s Museum of Biblical Art Will Close Permanently in June

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art
The Museum of Biblical Art’s ‘Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral’ advertised on the exterior of its home at the American Bible Society (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Museum of Biblical Art’s (MOBIA) trustees announced today that when its current exhibition of Donatello sculptures closes in June, the museum will shut down. Back in February, the American Bible Society sold its building on the northwest corner of 61st Street and Broadway, where MOBIA has resided since 2005, in preparation for relocating to Philadelphia.

MOBIA Director Richard P. Townsend told the New York Times that despite searching for new partnerships and alternative spaces — and despite its home’s long-anticipated sale — “[i]n the end, it just wasn’t enough time.” The closure comes as the museum is in the midst of its biggest exhibition yet, featuring stunning sculptures by Donatello and his contemporaries, many of which have never been seen outside of Italy. Board of Trustees Co-Chair Elaine Hirschl Ellis stated on the MOBIA site that it “is painfully ironic that we must cease existence at the moment the Museum has achieved such prominence.”

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces From Florence Cathedral at the Museum of Biblical Art
‘Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral’ at the Museum of Biblical Art

MOBIA began as an American Bible Society gallery in 1997, becoming independent in 2004. In recent years it distanced itself from the perceived religious affiliation and showcased smartly curated exhibitions that looked academically and artistically at the biblical influence on art. Last summer at the preview for Back to Eden: Contemporary Artists Wander the Gardenan exhibition including work by Mark Dion, Mat Collishaw, Dana Sherwood, and Alexis Rockman — Townsend said that the show was signaling a move “onto the next level” for MOBIA, and “for people who expect us to behave in one way, we want to be different.”

Aside from the current Donatello show, MOBIA’s exhibitions were free, making them a valuable resource for accessibility to work not often seen in New York, such as last spring’s medieval alabaster from the Victoria and Albert Museum and Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo: The Jansma Master Prints Collection from the Grand Rapids Art Museum in the fall. Sculpture in the Age of Donatello will complete its run on June 14, and museum operations will conclude on June 30. MOBIA was able to host the Renaissance sculptures from the Florence Cathedral during its renovation due to its flexibility as a small museum. Its examinations of religion’s impact on art history and the openness of its programming will be missed.

Mark Dion, "The Snake Before the Fall" (2014) installed in "Back to Eden" at MOBIA (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic unless indicated)
Mark Dion, “The Snake Before the Fall” (2014) installed in “Back to Eden” at MOBIA

Read the closure statement from the Board of Trustees on the MOBIA websiteSculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral continues at MOBIA (1865 Broadway, Upper West Side, Manhattan) through June 14.

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