“Where is the collection of arms and armor?”
“Bring back the armor!”
“What happened to the armor?”
As the person who is responsible for answering all of the visitor comments that the Art Institute receives, I see these questions many times a week. Grandparents, moms, children, and gun enthusiasts—all advocate for the return of the Harding Collection of Arms and Armor.
The collection was removed from Gunsaulus Hall in 2007 as part of the Art Institute’s reinstallation plan, a multi-year plan to put the various collections of the museum in better dialogue with one another. What was formerly our Hall of Arms and Armor is now a light-filled sculpture court, designed by Renzo Piano, for our collection of Southeast Asian, Indian, and Himalayan sculpture. Previously we were able to display only a few works from this collection; the reinstallation program of the museum allows us now to display 300 rarely-seen works.
During the construction and renovation, the Harding Collection—which includes not only armor but also weapons such as guns, jousting poles, and halberds—was moved into storage. But visitor demand for the collection was so great that museum leaders and curators have decided to bring it back—in a very creative way.
Starting today, all security officers in all galleries of the museum will be wearing suits of armor and carrying weapons from the Harding Collection. For visitors, this means that any gallery they visit—photography, ancient Chinese art, American decorative arts, etc.—will also include pieces from the beloved Harding collection come to life. While the security staff admits that the bulky centuries-old armor might hamper their mobility, the long-handled weapons they will now carry will compensate for slower response times in warning visitors to keep a safe distance from works of art and in reminding visitors that there is no flash photography in the galleries.