No two cultural institutions are ever the same, but there are often many similarities waiting to be found just beneath the surface. In this short essay, one of our student ambassadors has crafted a case study which compares and contrasts The McMullen Museum to The Lobkowicz Palace in Prague.
By Ileana Lobkowicz
My family returned to Prague in the early 1990s to reclaim and restore a vast, centuries-old collection of objects that had been confiscated twice in the 20th century. In 2007, after many years of careful planning and research, my family opened The Lobkowicz Palace, home to the Lobkowicz Collections and Museum. An audio guide narrated by family members leads visitors through the museum’s 22 galleries and offers a unique and personal perspective into European history. Featured in the galleries are paintings by masters such as Canaletto, Peter Breughel the Elder, and Velázquez, as well as other Medieval and Renaissance works of art. Also on display are arms and armor, ceramics, as well as musical instruments and original scores and manuscripts by Mozart and Beethoven.
The McMullen Museum of Art is the premier museum of Boston College, founded in 1993. The Museum recently moved to its newest location, which opened in September of 2016, dwelling in what was the former residence of Boston’s Cardinal Archbishop. Since its founding, it has housed over 50 innovative exhibitions compiled by research teams of scholars and faculty worldwide.
The McMullen and The Lobkowicz Palace are most comparable in their educational and event hosting initiatives. The McMullen has hosted a number of unique student programs pertaining to the exhibit, such as watercolor painting or the themed Art After Dark programs—a specially designed student event series filled with dance performers, live music, and games that allow visitors to personally engage with the artwork. Likewise, at the Lobkowicz Palace, one of our most successful student programs in recent years, for example, is the Curator For A Day program: a two month-long investigative project where students become curators, tasked with discovering the purpose and history behind unknown objects from the family depository. Furthermore, both museums share their public use of gallery space to host various events and engagements. The McMullen’s stunning galleries and adjoining conference center as well as The Lobkowicz Palace’s numerous venues and full service event planning management are widely used for alumni reunions, corporate meetings, galas, and lecturer/speaker events. This highlights the multi-functional use of both museums.
Among these similarities, however, are some intrinsic differences that set the two institutions apart. One notable variance between the two museums is the frequency of their exhibitions. The McMullen changes its exhibits on a semester basis, where temporary exhibitions define its curatorial programming. In addition to the years of planning, sourcing, and forecasting in advance of these exhibitions, the installation and de-installation process signifies a necessary and immediate transformation. Themes change, new catalogues are designed, lighting is altered, and walls are repainted, such as the deep purple color to fit the theme for the current abstract Cuban art on display.
The Lobkowicz Palace, on the other hand, houses a permanent exhibition. Since many aspects of the museum remain unchanged—the exhibit, the catalogue, the wall color—one of the overarching missions of the museum is finding innovative ways to make the history and culture continuously relevant. Focus is placed on developing new student programs, creating opportunities for scholars to have unfettered access to the collections, planning creative events for museum members and patrons, or hosting lectures on different aspects of the museum, such as the restoration process of a painting.
It is not to say that the dynamism and progressiveness of a museum housing temporary exhibitions is non-existent within the permanent exhibition at the Lobkowicz Palace; on the contrary, my family’s efforts to preserve the interest in and importance of our Collections energizes us to achieve the mutually sought-after goal of maintaining public interest and excitement. While The McMullen accomplishes this through the immediacy of its rotating, temporary exhibitions, the progressive “change” of the Lobkowicz Palace occurs and evolves with a more long-term vision to accommodate the permanent nature of the exhibition. In addition to constantly looking for ways to further improve an already existing Collection and yearly-run programs for students, members, and scholars, the Lobkowicz Palace offers other opportunities aside from touring the museum. For example, tourists can experience an audio-guided panoramic tour of Prague overlooking the city on the museum’s premier terrace. Visitors can attend a daily classical music concert in the 17th century concert hall, have lunch at the Lobkowicz Palace Café, and enjoy the Museum Gift Shop.
Despite some fundamental differences in the way the two museums exist, they share a similar ideology. The way each museum approaches this is distinguished by the different resources each is working with – one a rotating exhibition always planning and innovating with new materials and the other a permanent exhibition continually searching for ways to remain current and interesting. Regardless of this difference, their ultimate goal remains the same: the continual strive to create a place of stimulating activity, inspirational engagement, and perpetual curiosity for the wider public. History, art, and culture are not dead, but deserve to be celebrated and shared with all audiences—a creed clearly latent in the mission of both museums.
My involvement at both the McMullen and the Lobkowicz Palace has provided equally rewarding and distinctly unique experiences. The active, fast-paced nature of transitioning to a new exhibit at the McMullen is an exciting process, constantly encouraging me to think of new ways to capture the altering themes of the collections. At the same time, I carry my personal connection to the Lobkowicz Collections, which reminds me of our ancestral stewardship of the past and empowers me to be a part of its future development. Together, they have enriched my appreciation for the ingenuity, fervor, and supportive community that seem to form the core of a successful museum.