In April, the Neuberger Museum of Art at SUNY Purchase announced the selection of Paola Morsiani as its new director.
By Walt Mardis
In April, the Neuberger Museum of Art at SUNY Purchase announced the selection of Paola Morsiani as its new director. Having been on the job for a few months, Morsiani was ready to sit down with The Rye Record and share her thoughts on her new position and what she hopes to accomplish at the museum.
Her office on the Purchase College campus is still a work-in-progress, with books and folders piled around the room. Morsiani is open and talkative about her plans for the Neuberger and seems very comfortable in her new position.
She also knows there are plenty of hurdles to overcome. The first is one of simple logistics. The Neuberger is replacing its entire heating and air conditioning system and is closed until spring 2013. Maintaining visibility for the museum and making sure the public does not lose interest over this extended time period is a challenge. Second, and for the long term, Morsiani will have to deal with a problem facing many museums and other cultural institutions: how to remain relevant in an era of declining attendance and reduced public funding.
Morsiani, a highly energized individual, is confident of her ability to handle those challenges and more.
Rye Record: What about the Neuberger and the local arts environment made you want to make the move from the Cleveland Museum of Art, where you were the curator of contemporary art?
Morsiani: A whole host of things. First and foremost, the Neuberger is an important and influential museum with a world-class collection of modern, contemporary, and African art. I am really excited to be able to work with the collection and with the outstanding staff. Second, we are part of a vibrant college, which means that we can take advantage of the dynamic campus environment but also support the students through a host of programs. On top of that, I am looking forward to working with the expanding artistic community in Westchester. There are many artists and lots going on. Being close to the art world of Manhattan is also a plus.
Rye Record: How does working in a smaller institution like the Neuberger compare to being part of a major operation like the Cleveland Museum?
Morsiani: The Neuberger is a much more manageable size and allows for more experimentation and innovation. I’ve worked in smaller museums before and I find them very stimulating. Most importantly, a single individual can really make a difference in a place like this and I am looking forward to going to work!
Rye Record: Is your audience in suburban Westchester likely to be different from what you are used to in Cleveland and how do you plan to address any unique needs of people in this community?
Morsiani: I don’t really think the challenges here will be all that different from what we faced in Cleveland. We need to stay current so we can engage with younger people and respond to the changing expectations and experiences of what we hope will be a new generation of museumgoers. At the same time, we have to continue serving our longtime supporters. Whether in Cleveland or Westchester, museums have to be innovative and remain relevant to people’s lives and interests.
Rye Record: Any particular plans or initiatives to make this happen?
Morsiani: I really intend to emphasize the education mission of the Neuberger. We want to: maximize the learning opportunities for the students on campus; provide opportunities for everyone in the community, from kindergartners to the elderly, to learn about and enjoy artistic experiences; and bring the emerging community of artists in Westchester together with the community as a whole, so we can all learn from one another.
Rye Record: How do you improve the visibility of and the interest in the Neuberger – a lot of people seem very unfamiliar with the museum?
Morsiani: We have to have a very good “product,” and I think we certainly do. The Neuberger’s collection is one of the best in the nation. We plan to expand access to it by rotating works of art more frequently. We will also continue our renowned program of special exhibitions showcasing national and international artists, which are always accompanied by interpretative tools such as encounters with contemporary artists, lectures, catalogues, and school and family activities. Something exciting is always happening at the Neuberger, and our calendar will become even more dynamic. However, we will have to do a better job of marketing ourselves. I plan to spend time making sure our audiences know about us so they can take advantage of this great institution.
Rye Record: But, given that everyone has access to the Internet today and can see images of all of the great art of the world by clicking a key, why should anyone make the effort to come to a museum?
Morsiani: Looking at a pixilated version of a painting is informative, but no more a substitute for seeing the real thing in person than is watching a motion picture on your iPhone. Sure they look somewhat the same, but the total experience is worlds apart. Art must be seen in context to be appreciated. A walk through a museum gallery always provokes unexpected discoveries, not only about the artworks but most of all about ourselves. Only by engaging up-close and personally, you can see the multiple facets that make a painting or sculpture. It is infinitely easier to understand any work of art when we see it in its sheer three-dimensional presence. There is a special intimacy in a museum. An Internet version will never be able to duplicate this experience.
Rye Record: It will be several months until construction is completed at the Neuberger, so what will you be doing in the meantime?
Morsiani: We actually have a very full schedule in the months ahead. In fact, we designed a special program, “Neu Motion: Visit Series”, which will be offered while our galleries are temporarily closed. It features a number of on- and off-campus events; curator-led visits to museums and exhibitions in the area; children’s programs at local artists’ studios; and an outdoor movie night. A printout will be available in a few days. And, we’re focusing on planning upcoming exhibitions and collection displays, for our reopening in April and for the years ahead.
We can look forward to continued excellence at the Neuberger, and I hope your readers will take advantage of the unique events and exhibitions developed by the stellar Neuberger staff.