Sculpture in the Age of Donatello

Merit Award 2015

One room, 23 objects. It sounds easy enough, but this show of Renaissance sculptures is one of great complexity and logistics. With renovations closing the Museo del Duomo in Florence, the masterpieces inside traveled for the first time to New York. The exhibit's intent is to abstract the space to an almost heavenly level, which places prominence on the sculptures. Given the small number of pieces, Studio Joseph wanted to create a promenade through the artwork, rather than revealing the whole collection at once. Fabric scrim allowed the team to create mystery and discovery.

The circulation route takes the visitor on a geographic path around the Duomo from one “porta” to the next. As part of an all-white, ethereal environment including the white fabric scrim and white vinyl floor tile, the graphic system uses the church's plan for orientation of the pieces. Centered in the room are Brunelleschi’s original wooden models for the dome, lantern, and side chapels. Distinct sections are set into niches of curving scrim, with section text and individual object labels digitally printed on separate layers of fabric.

Some of the largest pieces weigh upwards of 1,800 pounds. The plinths to support them weigh more than 1,000 pounds and have internal steel structures. Given their size and weight, the plinths were hoisted up the building’s elevator shaft and then placed with a forklift and gantry. The fabric used to divide the space could gently be pulled aside for the machinery during the installation of the plinths and art. Once the art was set, the fabric fell back into place.

Due to the value of the art, the pieces arrived in three shipments, each a week apart. The art was then followed from the port to the museum by armed security and art handlers. The exhibit's fabrication was complete prior to the art's arrival. The idea of the fabric scrim and solid image permeates to the exhibition's graphics.

Jury Comments: 

“We were impressed in part by what was not done here. The designers practiced exceptional restraint in the use graphics and color, allowing the objects to shine. The curved scrim surrounds referencing the original context of the Duomo side chapels were perfectly subtle and conceptually appropriate.”

“The scrims elegantly divide the space and create a translucent visual layering of objects and graphics. The result is an ethereal space with moments of clarity. The design restraint of the text panels allows the transmission of information without competing with the artifacts.”

“The problem of showcasing a very small number of objects in a tight exhibition space has become more common as museums trend toward more intimate collections. It's a tough challenge that Museo del Duomo handles with elegant restraint. Using the church's floorplan to organize the space is a thoughtful touch. The scrims add a beautiful, ethereal quality to the space yet don't compete with the art. Lovely.”

Design Firm: 

Studio Joseph

Client: 

The Museum of Biblical Art

Location City: 

New York

Project Area: 

2,600 sq ft

Open Date: 

February 2015

Project Budget: 

$200,000

Photo Credits: 

Eduard Hueber / Arch Photo

Design Team: 

Wendy Evans Joseph (principal in charge), Jade Jiambutr (project manager), Wonwoo Park (designer)

Consultants: 

Carbone Smolan Agency (graphic design), Technical Artistry (lighting)

Fabricators: 

Random Exhibit Services (primary fabricator), Harlequin Floors (vinyl flooring installation)

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