Saturday, July 22, 2017  

World Class Art in Your Hometown Museum


If you have not been to an art museum lately, Christina Carroll has a suggestion for you: consider a visit to the Muscarelle Museum of Art right here in Williamsburg. As senior associate director at the Muscarelle, part of Christina’s job is to promote the museum and its exhibitions as an extension of William & Mary’s campus, encouraging attendance by W&M students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community.
“I cannot think of any other museum our size that has hosted major exhibitions on Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Caravaggio,” Christina says. “After each of these exhibitions people always ask how we will out-do ourselves. I am excited to say that once again, we have.”
On February 11, the museum will launch Botticelli and the Search for the Divine: Florentine Painting between the Medici and the Bonfires of the Vanities, a major international exhibition organized by the Muscarelle in partnership with Italy’s Associazione Culturale Metamorfosi. The exhibition is composed of sixteen of Sandro Botticelli’s paintings, most of which feature life-size figures. Those exhibitions are arriving at the Muscarelle on loan from major museums and churches in six Italian cities, including Florence, Milan and Venice.
Botticelli was arguably one of the most original and creative painters of the Italian Renaissance period. Today, his name and images have gained popularity similar to that of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, both of whom Botticelli counted as his friends. He is perhaps best known for replicating the central figure of his own iconic Birth of Venus from the Uffizi gallery in Florence through paintings featuring dark backgrounds stripped bare of place and time to display the solitary, beautiful nude. The Botticelli show continues an established Muscarelle tradition of offering internationally prominent exhibitions, following the display of works by Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci in recent years.
Featured prominently within the exhibition is one of only two known paintings of Botticelli’s Venus. “This painting will be on view for the first time in the United States and is absolutely stunning,” Christina says. That painting will be present at the Muscarelle through April 6, 2017. “Along with the Botticelli paintings are nine works by Botticelli’s master Filippo Lippi. The Lippi paintings will be the dark horse — visitors will come to the Museum to see the Botticelli paintings and will be astonished by the Lippis.”
If you have the opportunity to visit the Muscarelle Museum, realize that there’s a side of the museum that you won’t see — the academics and hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Since arriving at the museum eight years ago as a legal intern, Christina says that she is struck by how fully the Muscarelle has been integrated into the daily life of the university. “We have interns from multiple majors and academic departments, faculty using the collection to teach, and outreach events each semester that bring anywhere from 500 to 1500 students to the museum in one night. The students are why we are here — we want to be a center of engaged learning.”
Christina’s own path to the Muscarelle Museum started as a student at the university she is proud to call her alma mater. The double alumna (government and law) originally had plans to return to her native Northern Virginia and find a job in a large law firm. “[But] I was fortunate to have a mentor — actually she is my best friend’s mother — who suggested I seek out a career to combine my love of art with my love of the law,” she says. “I had no idea you could do that.”
During the summer months while in law school, Christina worked as a legal intern at the Muscarelle. From her first day, she felt at home and very much enjoyed working with the administration and staff at the museum. Upon graduating from law school in 2010, a full-time opportunity emerged at the Muscarelle. “At first my role involved primarily annual giving, public relations, and marketing,” she says. “But that has expanded over time as the museum has continued to grow.” Working closely with the museum’s board on various initiatives, Christina’s daily tasks put her in charge of programs, marketing and outreach, social media, and logistics regarding all manner of museum activities. One of her favorite annual events is the museum’s annual fundraiser, the Wine & Run for the Roses wine auction.
Christina’s passion for art stretches into the Williamsburg community, where she sits on the board for local groups like An Occasion for the Arts and the Chamber & Tourism Alliance. “One of the reasons I got involved with An Occasion is because it is a key component of the arts in Williamsburg,” she says. “The mission is very simple — to promote the arts. The primary weekend features art and artists from all media, ages, and experience, and is free to anyone who wants to immerse themselves in art.”
These roles in the college and local communities have illuminated opportunities for Christina to connect local, national, and international art institutions and artists with each other, further promoting the arts. “There has not been a better time in the history of the Muscarelle,” she says. “Aaron [De Groft], our director, and John Spike, our chief curator, have built the international brand of the museum while still fully integrating it into the college and community.”
When Aaron de Groft took over as director, he set out to rebrand the then-struggling museum, and turn it into the best university art museum in the country. “Pound for pound, collection piece for collection piece, we are there,” Christina says. “He has made the Muscarelle not just a great university museum, but a great museum.”
Even so, how do exhibitions like Botticelli wind up in Williamsburg? “Credit has to go to Aaron and John Spike. It started with the first Michelangelo exhibition in 2011. John and Aaron partnered with Pina Ragionieri, the director of the Casa Buonarroti in Florence. Aaron and John curated a beautiful exhibition, produced new scholarly research on the Michelangelo drawings, and showed her Williamsburg hospitality. She fell in love with the museum, with William & Mary, and from there she wanted us to do a second Michelangelo exhibition.”
The team worked with Italy’s Associazione Culturale Metamorfosi again, building an international partnership that has allowed beautiful works to be shown in Williamsburg, and, from there, in other museums. Not surprisingly, museum and university leadership are planning a new expanded Center for the Visual Arts at William & Mary. The center will also be home to the Muscarelle Museum of Art and the new Kaplan wing. In October, the university announced a large gift from Jim and Jane Kaplan, both William & Mary alumni. The couple dedicated a significant portion of their gift to fund the Muscarelle Museum of Art expansion project, a priority in the university’s For the Bold campaign. A new wing of the museum will be named in their honor.
“William & Mary was the first college in America to include fine arts in 1779,” Christina says. “Today, almost every student takes an art class in some capacity. We would love for the museum to be a crossroads for students figuratively and literally.”
The Muscarelle is a culturally rich art institution, serving as a dynamic resource for our community, a working laboratory for William & Mary’s students, staff, and faculty, and a platform for national and international visiting exhibitions and the Museum’s own permanent collection. “Whatever happens at the Muscarelle will be remarkable and world class,” Christina says. “I love being a part of that.”
Plan your own visit to the Muscarelle Museum very soon!