Exhibit Brings Contemporary Art Into A Historic Setting

The contents of the Hill-Stead Museum were frozen in time, when the Colonial Revival style mansion was transformed from a private home into a museum in 1947.

Works of art remained on the walls, books stayed on their shelves, and furniture was kept in place. That was the stipulation of its architect and last resident, Theodate Pope Riddle.

Now, a new art exhibit featuring contemporary art -created with all parts of books - has been added to the museum's libraries to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the museum's Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. The addition of this kind of art to the museum is a first for the Hill-Stead.

"This is an idea that pushes Hill-Stead into the 21st century all the way and get beyond the idea that the museum never changes," said Melanie Bourbeau, the museum's curator. "There are always reasons to come again."

The exhibit, called "Boundless: Altered Books in Contemporary Art," was guest curated by Carole P. Kunstadt. She is one of the three featured artists in the exhibit, along with Chris Perry and Erin Walrath.

"We focused on artists who alter books," Kunstadt said, about the art style featured in the exhibit. "They are taking materials, altering it, and creating art work in an innovative, unique manner."

The striking modernity of the altered book art is thrown right into the mix with the museum's collection of historical literature that sits on the shelves of their two libraries. Even further, while some of the art sits on pedestals you would find in any art museum, others have been placed on the museum's historic furniture.

"It's very obvious when you walk into the libraries," Bourbeau said. "It's very juxtaposed with the historic library. While we do have a beautiful exhibit wall and a couple of pedestals, several of the pieces are positioned on the 18th and 19th century tables that are part of this house's furniture and have always been here."

That contrast is something new for the Hill-Stead, which has faithfully remained a representation of how the house was lived in. Some of the art even contains historic books that have been altered into something much more modern.

"With the backdrop of this work in the historic library, there is a very interesting contrast," said Susan Ballek, the executive director and CEO of the Hill-Stead. "It's really a neat space. The lightning is intimate. It's a bit darker than a contemporary gallery. It allows the viewer to focus in on the artwork in a different way. It encourages you to study it."

Kunstadt said curating an exhibit for the Hill-Stead was completely unique because of the space she was able to use.

"I've installed a lot of exhibitions of my own work and curated other shows, the fascinating thing about working with this space is that the space becomes part of the exhibit in a way that the blank wall does not," Kunstadt said. "There's an integration between these walls of volumes of rare books playing with the contemporary piece in front of it. There's another dialogue and dynamic that energizes both."

Kate Ebner, the museum's director of educational programs, said the goal of this new exhibit is to connect the past with the contemporary art.

"It's a historic exhibit for the Hill-Stead Museum," Ebner said. "We're all very excited and are embracing it. Our goal for our visitors is that they, like the exhibit itself, interweave the past and the present."

Special tours are being offered for the exhibit itself. They will be offered on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and also by special appointment. Those who take the museum's normal tour will also be able to return with their ticket to tour the new exhibit for free. An artist talk will be held on Aug. 6. The exhibit runs through Sept. 4.

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