By Brian Goslow
Worcester, MA – This weekend, the Worcester Art Museum unveils “Knights!,” the first step of the museum integrating the collection of the cross-town Higgins Armory Museum, which closed its doors on December 31, into its own — and judging by our sneak preview, audiences will be surprised to see how well the arms and armor plays in a new setting. With precious time ticking before the show opens, artscope managing editor Brian Goslow spoke with Adam Rozan, WAM’s Director of Audience Engagement, about the hectic three months between the closing of the Higgins and the opening of their new exhibition at WAM on Friday.
WHAT HAVE THE PAST THREE MONTHS BEEN LIKE FOR YOU AND THE MUSEUM TO BE ABLE TO OPEN THIS EXHIBITION IN LESS THAN THREE MONTHS FROM THE CLOSING OF THE HIGGINS?
Very exciting. It’s a very exciting time at the Worcester Art Museum. We’re not just building an exhibition; we’re changing the institution and moving forward. The “Knights!” exhibition, first and foremost, is a great paring together of the arms and armor of the Higgins Armory collection with that of the Worcester Art Museum’s collection. You can see that in all the various spaces and that’s so exciting.
It’s also this chance of being able to move the museum forward and be the institution that we really want to be, which is about making new connections. I feel there’s something happening at the museum right now; it’s catching on and it’s really coming to fruition. We’re making the museum welcoming and making the museum accessible and that is so rewarding.
YOU’VE GOT THE ORIGINAL COSTUME MICHAEL KEATON WORE IN THE 1989 BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT MOVIE IN WHICH THE CHARACTER BECAME MORE GOTHIC IN NATURE AND ENCOURAGED AUDIENCES TO EXPLORE GOTHIC TIMES, OUTFITS AND ARCHITECTURE …
It helps us present a contemporary lens toward thinking about historical stories. We know the story of Batman. We know it because there are movies out. We understand the struggle that Batman faces, but it’s rooted in history. These stories are ancient and being able to share them is so exciting.
I WAS HERE THREE WEEKS AGO AND NOTICED A LOT OF CHANGES IN SOME OF THE REGULAR EXHIBITION AREAS, ESPECIALLY THE 18TH CENTURY WORK. BUT WHAT REALLY MADE IT ENJOYABLE FOR ME WAS THAT YOUR DOCENT CAME OVER AND TALKED TO ME ABOUT ONE OF THE WORKS THAT HAVE REALLY GRABBED MY ATTENTION AND GAVE ME SOME BACKGROUND AND DIRECTED ME TOWARD SIMILAR WORK.
I’m really happy to hear that. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy working with our museum security staff, with university students who are here helping out, to be a more friendly museum. It’s about being a museum where people feel comfortable and being a part of their daily activities. There’s no right or wrong way to visit. We don’t see this as a special place you go once a year; we see this as a place that you come and you come often and are made to feel welcomed.
YOU’RE IN A SITUATION WHERE YOU’RE ALMOST BRANDING TWO MUSEUMS AND COLLECTIONS AT ONCE. HOW CHALLENGING AND EXCITING IS THAT?
I think it’s only exciting. The glass is half-full. This is about a truly important collection we felt responsible for keeping here in the Massachusetts region; we were able to do that — and now it’s about doing the thing that we do so well at the Worcester Art Museum, which is making connections and helping introduce one part of the collection to another part of the collection. You don’t have to look farther than this space — Salisbury Hall — to see this amazing suit of armor on this horse, right across from the contemporary art gallery, right in the middle of all of these things happening; it’s really alive. We have a responsibility to care for the Higgins collection and to safeguard it
HOW DOES THE WAM COLLECTION ENHANCE THE HIGGINS COLLECTION — AND VICE VERSA?
It deepens our collection. It deepens our ability to tell stories. You see elements of arms and armor in every part of the collection from contemporary all the way down to antiquities. Armor, suits and clothing helps us better understand things — we have already learned so much from this (putting this show together) and we’ve already been able to make these natural connections. Think of Greek or Roman antiquities and the stories associated with Greek mythology — we can now show that arms and armor and make these comparisons with other parts of the country. We deepen what we’re doing here and able to move forward faster.
I’M PICKING UP A BUZZ THAT PEOPLE ARE REALLY EXCITED TO COME HERE THIS WEEKEND AND SEE WHAT THE COLLECTION LOOKS LIKE IN A NEW HOME …
People should be excited to see the collection and people should be excited to come to the Worcester Art Museum, not just for the “Knights!” exhibition, but also for all the collections that we have here. We’re an encyclopedic museum; we tell the story of the world from all these regions and histories and it’s amazing thing to be able to show these various connections together.
To have arms and armor here helps us with these stories. I think people are going to be thrilled to see it; the collection looks amazing here. We’re taken great care to conserve it properly and display it properly. To see the arms and armor next to paintings and sculpture is really quite interesting. We’re also tried to add many different elements of education and interpretation.
The opening is a three-day opening — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — we welcome all visitors of all ages to them. They’ll be lots of activities and lots of music and entertainment and we hope people will come and have a great time.
(“Knights!” opens with an opening party on Friday, March 28 and Renaissance Fair Weekend on Saturday and Sunday March 29 and 30 at the Worcester Art Museum, 55 Salisbury Street, Worcester, Mass. For more information, call (508) 799-4406 or visit http://www.worcesterart.org.)