The way you experience a work of art has a lot to do with what you know about it. Without any background on the style, period or artist, you’re left to appreciate only the aesthetic. To enrich your experience to the fullest, many art museums and galleries today have made education a fundamental part of their mission.
Because they reside in the oldest part of the country, the art galleries and museums in the Northeast have a long history and correspondingly deep collections; they are the perfect place for groups to dive into art education.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Unlike many museums that spring from the collection of a single individual, the Philadelphia Museum of Art was born from the 1876 World Exposition in Fairmont Park when countries from all over the world brought their art to the fair and left it behind.
Today, the 227,000-piece collection spans three buildings and six historic houses. It covers 2,000 years of human history and geography through global pieces such as a complete Japanese teahouse, the only one indoors at any museum; an Indian temple; and the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside France.
“The highlights tour gives a walk through time, which is one of the most unique aspects of our museum,” said Shari Stoltz Feldman, group sales manager. “But we can also do an impressionist focus. We have the largest collection of [Marcel] Duchamp in the world.”
Groups can reserve a private dining space or seats in the restaurant for a prix fixe lunch, or use vouchers to dine in the cafeteria.
Montclair Art Museum
Montclair, New Jersey
Just 12 miles west of New York City, the Montclair Art Museum has made a name for itself by focusing on American and Native American art, turning an initial donation of 36 American paintings into a 12,000-piece collection.
Though it includes paintings from luminary American artists, including Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent and Georgia O’Keeffe, it has many works from lesser or unknown artists to demonstrate the breadth of American art. Likewise, the Native American collection covers tribes from throughout the country, split into seven major regions.
“Adult tour groups usually book a one-hour regular guided tour and, occasionally, the gallery studio tour, or an hour for individual sketching in the galleries,” said education coordinator Benedetta Balsimelli. “We usually split groups up so there are 15 people per docent.” After lunch, groups of up to 50 can take their lunch into the auditorium.
Beginning January 15, the museum will host special hands-on education programs, lectures and community events to commemorate its 100th anniversary.
Baltimore Museum of Art
This year, the Baltimore Museum of Art celebrates 100 years of growth, from one painting to 90,000 pieces and from borrowed space to a dedicated home with three additions. Although its collection ranges back to Renaissance prints and Asian decorative objects, the museum is best known for its modern art.
“For groups that would really just like an introduction, we have a quite popular highlights tour, but we do get requests specifically for the Cone wing because the Matisse collection is really a draw,” said Elizabeth Benskin, director of school and teacher programs. The Cone Collection encompasses 3,000 pieces, including 500 by Henri Matisse.
Before its centennial celebration in November, the museum will be completing major renovations and accepting only groups of 30 or fewer, with two to three docents per group. Once the space opens, groups of 60 to 90 will be accommodated.
For lunch, an independent on-site restaurant seats groups in the main dining room or the private outdoor patio.
Yale University Art Gallery
New Haven, Connecticut
The Yale University Art Gallery reopened in December after a 14-year renovation that gave a stylish facelift to Louis Kahn’s original renowned building. The institution is the oldest university art museum in the Western Hemisphere, home to a 200,000-object collection dating back to 1832.
Now clocking in at just under 70,000 square feet, the sleek, high-design exhibition spaces are themselves contemporary architectural masterpieces.
The ancient-art wing, where sculptures are displayed against stone in natural lighting as you would find them in an archaeological site, is one of the highlights.
Since Yale’s primary function is to be a teaching institution, its main art collection is globally rich, with pieces representing most world cultures, and chronologically diverse, ranging from ancient art in Asia, Europe and the Americas to modern photography and design.
The teaching staff leads group tours, which typically last one hour, to provide the most didactic experience. As the staff is acclimatizing to the newly expanded museum, new tour requests cannot be accommodated until March.