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Art Across the River

The expansive and illuminating collections of the Harvard Art Museums.


By Danielle Miller

Photo by Pinterest


Across the lush grass and cobbled paths of the Harvard Lawn stands the inviting threshold of the university’s art museum. Populated by Friday afternoon tourists, the cool air of the lobby provides an exquisite respite from the uncharacteristic spring heat. Composed of three separate museums with unique missions and areas of focus, the Harvard Art Museums display a wide range of art forms across time and distance.


On the first floor, the Fogg Museum features works of modern and contemporary art that serve as a vibrant introduction to the rest of the collection. Opened in 1895 for the purpose of furthering students’ art education by encouraging hands-on connection to studied works, the Fogg Museum was a novelty a the time. This emphasis on the relationship between creativity and scholastic endeavors continued to be a common mission as more collections were added to Harvard's repertoire.


Following the success of Fogg's contributions to Harvard's campus, a new museum was founded in 1903 with a specific focus on Germanic art. Now, the Busch-Reisinger Museum has expanded its parameters to the works of Western Europe between the 17th and 19th centuries. Visitors can find works of Manet, Monet, Rembrandt, and more in this section of the museum. The Busch-Reisinger galleries populate the majority of the building’s second floor.

This area also features the beginnings of the Sackler Museum's collection that extends throughout the third and final floors of the gallery. Started in 1985, the Sackler galleries are dedicated to art from Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Particular exhibitions include “A World Within Reach,” featuring works of Ancient Greece and Rome from the Loeb collection. This section of the museum seems to attract the most interested viewers due to the allure of antiquity that characterizes much of its displays.


To me, the most enjoyable and note-worthy art piece was a compilation of figurative medals created by sculptor David Smith, housed in the modern art section. As detailed by the exhibit's accompanying description, the medals are a manipulation of "the notion of the military medal." Created in the late 1930s at the start of the Second World War, Smith "proposed here a sardonic examination of the causes and effects of war that was informed by his recent travels in Europe and the Soviet Union." The sculptures are unlike anything I have seen in an art museum before, and I found the message to be particularly poignant given recent world events. In an establishment so dedicated to the connection between art and life, the Harvard Art Museums achieve success through pieces like Smith's medals.


Free to all students with a valid student ID, the Harvard Art Museums is an affordable destination for culture-seeking young adults. Tours led by a Harvard student are scheduled throughout the week to provide visitors with a unique perspective on the works. The collections are open from 10 am-5 pm, Tuesday through Sunday.


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