Improving the Walters Renovation: An ambitious plan to bring art museum's new wing up to the viewing standards of the old.


THE CLOSURE of parts of the Walters Art Gallery from this summer until March 2001 will inconvenience the museum-going public while giving it something to anticipate.

The opulent 1980s renovation of the 1904 building made the installations of the 1974 addition look cramped and poorly lighted. Now, with a mix of private and public money, this treasure owned by the people of Baltimore will be brought up to its own high standard.

The renovation will make the museum more open and inviting, with the wonderful arms and armor exhibit an immediate attraction for young viewers. It will provide a larger museum store. It will allow the Walters to display its Greek, Russian and Ethiopian religious art together. It will open up and unclutter spaces.

None of this will crimp visits to the 1904 building, which until 1974 was the entire museum, or to Hackerman House, which was attached to hold the Walters' Asian collection in 1991. Some familiar objects will be moved to remain on view and an ambitious set of temporary exhibitions is scheduled.

It is a reasonable conjecture that had the 1974 addition been built in some other decade, it would not have that brutalist, raw concrete look and feel. In previous decades, it probably would have been steel and glass, international modern. In the past decade, it might well have extended the Italian Renaissance style of the 1904 building, unthinkable in earlier years.

But the interior presents a set of practical problems for viewing the art and caring for it, which are being addressed. Glassing in the austere Centre Street entrance with a grand atrium is reminiscent of the inviting glass entrance on the harbor promenade that the Maryland Science Center built years after its opening.

The result is likely to be a museum that more people will think of visiting, feel welcome inside and want to return to explore further.

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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