n a winter day in 1851, three wooden crates arrived on a Williams College doorstep. They weighed several hundred pounds together, and when a bemused group of faculty opened them — they saw three 9th-century BC Assyrian stone reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nineveh.
A figure stands on each one, tall and broad-shouldered, one with a curling beard falling onto his bare chest. They are guardian spirits from a city that was once one of the largest in the world. And they are still here, standing near the apex of the Williams College Museum of Art.
Over the years they have shared these galleries with artists from around the world — Medieval stained glass, paintings by Edward Hopper or Diego Rivera, and contemporary photographs like Lalla Essaydi’s Converging Territories — a woman sits with dark hair rippling on her shoulders, and Arabic calligraphic script flows over the wall, the cloth she wears and her outstretched hand.
In the courtyard outside the museum, Louise Bourgeois’ eyes glom together like giant snails. They form benches at the back, slanted so that two people sitting together will slide into each other and one will slide off — and the pulips gleam in the dark.
Outdoor sculpture appears around campus in rock towers, colossal ironwork and ‘Ironic Columns’ holding up nothing at all. Bronze works in the college collection are also on show up the road at Field Farm.
At WCMA, shows talk and think about what museums do and how they work — who chooses what we see together, and how a show tells a story. Who writes the story, whose perspectives do we see, and whose have we often not seen?
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