Inauguration of the AIC

11 Nov 2012

The Art Institute of Chicago: New frontiers of museum display technology contribute to the re-imagination of the museum’s collections of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine art in the new Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries.

The Art Institute of Chicago, designed by Daniel Burnham for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, incorporated neoclassical building motifs that, combined with Beaux Arts urban design principles, guided the creation of the fair’s “White City” and represented the fundamental elements of the Burnham-inspired "City Beautiful" Movement. Codified in his Plan of Chicago 1909, this vision served to transform the birthplace of the skyscraper into a distinctly American version of a cosmopolitan urban center – a “Paris on the Prairie,” comprised of stately neoclassical public buildings, infrastructure, and generous open spaces that occupy Chicago’s uniquely spectacular lakefront setting. Incorporating this civic vision into his design, Renzo Piano’s Modern Wing actively engages the vitality of Millennium Park, promoting public accessibility while reinforcing the museum’s civic character.
It is against this backdrop of ongoing growth and renewal generously supported by the philanthropic community that the museum opened the new Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine art, on November 11. According to Director Douglas Druick, “these new galleries represent the last phase of the complete reinstallation of the museum, begun in 2008 and occasioned by the construction of the Modern Wing.”

Designed by the museum’s Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art, led by chair and curator of Ancient Art, Karen Manchester and Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architecture of Los Angeles and New York, the newly renovated, sunlit galleries enclosing McKinlock Court have been fully re-imagined to present some of the museum’s oldest and most significant objects in fresh and compelling ways. According to Ms. Manchester, the galleries have been constructed at the intersection of many of the museum’s outstanding collections, showing the lineage of art from the ancient Mediterranean world in the abstractions in the Modern Wing, the neoclassical sculpture of the American collection and the sculptures from the kingdom of Gandhara in the galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art.

Exhibition showcases for the Jaharis Galleries were engineered and manufactured by Goppion, marking another North American institution that has entrusted the Milan and Boston-based company with creating elegant and protective environments for the display of its priceless collections. The Goppion Museum Workshop showcases for the Art Institute incorporate the latest technological advancements of Goppion’s System Q, while their design reflects their essential and functional nature – providing a "neutral," subtly elegant aesthetic that enhances the visibility of the collection and the quality of the exhibits while appearing fully integrated with the architectural environment.

The ability of Goppion to adapt and improve its engineering to meet the challenges of each individual project is a hallmark of the company. For the Art Institute, Goppion designed and constructed two custom machines, one to safely lift the glass bonnets from the smaller display vitrines and the other to operate the pantograph units in the larger ones. With these innovations, Goppion was able to significantly limit complexity on the majority of the cases, substantially reducing cost without compromising the elegance of the design. By applying mechatronic engineering to the design of pantographs for the galleries’ table cases, Goppion’s engineers were able to reduce the size of the cases’ metal legs to achieve a more graceful silhouette.

The project also provided an opportunity for Goppion to advance a lighting solution for illuminating coins in table cases. Laboratory studies, based on a system initially developed for the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, suggested the use of high power LED lights. By directing the light beam towards a strip of reflective material, the diffused, raking light grazes the coins’ surfaces and highlights their sculptural relief qualities. This presents the viewer with an opportunity to see the coins at their best. Goppion also designed and fabricated the 16 interactive iPad stations that provide a wealth of information on selected objects on display. The units are flexibly engineered to allow them to be interchangeably mounted to case bases, platforms, walls, or benches as needed over time.