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A Great Past Is Coming…

In February 2011, the Art Institute announced a pledged gift of $10 million from the Jaharis Family Foundation to enhance the museum’s presentation of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art. And the first endeavor—as you may have noticed if you’ve visited the museum in the last few months—is the renovation and reinstallation of the former Ancient Art Galleries, soon to be known as The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art.

When these galleries open on November 11, the square footage will be more than four times larger than the original space. It’s quite an undertaking, and meeting the opening date is a constant race against time. There are a lot of questions to answer, and every decision requires meticulous attention to detail. How should the space be organized? How do we decide the location of each piece and allow enough time for renovations? How do we choose cases? Lighting? And what’s the color of the aforementioned cases and lighting, not to mention walls, ceilings, floors, and labels?

These are just a few of the many issues the team of curators and administrators will address over the next few months, and we’ll be along to document it.

One of the first questions on deck is how to organize the artworks in the galleries. How should works be grouped and displayed? And at what height should pieces be shown? A marble portrait bust, for instance, is often displayed at or above eye level, while a kylix (ancient Greek drinking cup) is often displayed lower so you can see the interior decoration. The art can be grouped by time period, theme or function, type of piece, and quality, or a combination of any of these attributes—the goal is to display the artworks in a way that best suits each piece.

At this early stage of planning, it is helpful to have mock-ups or maquettes—scale models of artworks—to help visualize the actual pieces in the space yet eliminate the risk of constantly moving the actual artwork. In some cases, we even use simple printouts of the image as some pieces may not yet be available or may be in storage. With a mock-up of the piece, it gives the visual suggestion of what pieces work well together, and just as important, how much physical space will be necessary for a case or display area.

Below you can see an assortment of maquettes and portraits, curators and art handlers working together, and a grouping of herculean-themed works. But don’t hold us to anything here—we’ve still got a lot of work to do before the opening!

—Chris A., Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art