When the Harvard Art Museums reopened in 2014 after an extensive renovation, its new design enabled curators to display art in novel ways, creating dynamic connections between the approximately 250,000 works in the collection.
That connective impulse informs a new pairing on a second-floor wall overlooking the museums’ courtyard, where the work of contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall was recently installed alongside that of 17th-century Flemish painter Nicolas Régnier.
Marshall’s untitled work from 2008 and Régnier’s “Self-Portrait with an Easel,” completed circa 1620, both depict an artist, palette in hand, gazing out at the viewer. But the differences in scale, tone, style, time period, and use of color render each painting a striking counterpoint to the other. “This combination really sets up a whole series of questions for visitors,” said Mary Schneider Enriquez, Houghton Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, who was part of the museum team responsible for selecting the works.
“The context is so different,” she said. “The role of that artist, how well we know him and what his painting was about, I think, begins to become a little more enigmatic than when it is hung by paintings from a similar period. Setting up that kind of dialogue opens up a discussion about so many things.”