Released June 21, 2003
Salem, MA. The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) reopened in June 2003 to international acclaim after undergoing a dramatic transformation that expanded and reconfigured the 203-year-old institution. The $125 million initiative provided more than 250,000 square feet of new and renovated facilities while creating a striking new wing and adding an important historic house from China to its world-renowned collection of architecture. PEM presents innovative and newly conceived installations from its preeminent collections of over 1.8 million works from China, Japan, Korea, India, the Pacific Islands, and Africa, as well as its outstanding collections of Native American Art, Architecture and Design, American Decorative Art, Maritime Art and History, photography, the nation’s premier collection of objects from New England, and the distinguished manuscript and book collection of the Phillips Library. Many of these collections are considered to be among the finest in the nation, yet several have never been publicly displayed at any time since the Museum’s founding in 1799.
The transformation unified and integrated the Museum’s extensive campus of 24 historic properties and gardens while creating an 111,000-square-foot new wing as well as a new urban park and landscaped outdoor public spaces. The new PEM offers state-of-the-art performance and education centers, a significant expansion of programming, and a late Qing Dynasty Chinese merchant’s house, the only installation of its kind in the country.
“This initiative represents a fundamental remaking of the institution—it is much more than a simple expansion,” says Dan Monroe, PEM Executive Director and CEO. “The strength of Peabody Essex rests on its superlative collections, but astonishingly many of its greatest holdings have never been exhibited. The creation of the new Museum will enable us to showcase these extraordinary works, and fulfill our deepened commitment to scholarship, programs, acquisitions, and exhibitions that reveal how artistic, cultural, and social currents cross boundaries. Museums can present art and objects in ways that create dialogue rather than support a singular worldview. The new paradigm for the Peabody Essex remains planted in curiosity, as it was at its founding, but this time it is a curiosity that seeks freedom from ideological boundaries.
Executive Director Monroe continues, “The new Peabody Essex Museum will enable us to accomplish nothing short of realizing the institution’s potential to become one of the nation’s leaders in advancing new approaches to scholarship and public programming to explore international art and culture. We are perhaps uniquely positioned—as a museum with such vast and diverse collections—to break new ground in drawing upon those collections and creating powerful exhibitions that foster understanding across all boundaries of time, geography, and culture.”
While every installation has been reconceived in its presentation, several significant collections receive gallery space for the first time, including American decorative art, Korean art, Chinese art, Native American art, African art, architecture and design, contemporary and historic art from India, photography, and Asian export art works on paper.
The New Design of the Peabody Essex Museum
The wing designed by the preeminent architect Moshe Safdie creates a dramatic public space at the heart of the PEM campus with a soaring glass roof over the James Duncan Phillips Atrium Way and atrium that will serve as a central gathering place, in the tradition of a New England “village green.” Walkways radiate from this open space, leading into both new and renovated galleries, as well as to the new education and public performance centers. Windows along the walkways reveal city vistas or views into galleries, enabling visitors to easily find their way through the Museum. Carefully selected exterior architectural details tie the new Museum to its collection of historic houses as well as to the surrounding city. From the exterior the new wing reads as five separate buildings, each “building” evoking the scale and different forms of traditional New England architecture.
“In his design, Moshe Safdie creates contemporary structures that blend harmoniously with their urban context as well as with the Museum’s historic buildings, creating a continuum between our past and our future,” says Director Monroe. “Safdie was selected following an international search and competition because of his widely recognized ability to create stunning contemporary buildings that blend into historic contexts. He has done an extraordinary job of fulfilling all of the Museum’s multifold physical needs with a design of seemingly effortless grace. At the same time he conceived of a building that contributes in fundamental ways to the vitality of the urban environment, cultural life, and architectural history of Salem and Greater Boston.” Safdie has won critical and public acclaim for his designs, among them the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Vancouver Public Library, the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, and the Exploration Place Science Center and Children’s Museum in Wichita, Kansas. Last year, he was awarded the prestigious commission to design the new United States Institute of Peace Headquarters, across from the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Visitors will find installations drawn from the Museum’s collections on the first floor of the new wing adjacent to the courtyard. On the second level of the new wing is one of the largest museum spaces in New England for changing exhibitions—15,000 square feet. Gallery interiors are filled with light from skylights that allow natural illumination of both first and second floor galleries. A 7,000-square-foot education center for adults and children uses workshop and studio spaces, as well as interactive technology, to explore connections between art, architecture, and the natural world. The nearby 200-seat Morse auditorium and performance space greatly expands the range of public programming, lectures, films, music, and dance that PEM offers.
Yin Yu Tang House
The late Qing Dynasty Chinese merchant’s house, Yin Yu Tang, is an unusually well preserved and finely crafted example of Anhui-style architecture from the aesthetically and historically rich Huizhou region of China. Built circa 1825, Yin Yu Tang was recently brought to the United States from China and continues PEM’s tradition of groundbreaking acquisitions in its Asian collections.
The house, complete with furniture, decorative objects, and household items, provides a unique window onto two centuries of family life and cultural history in provincial China, offering visitors an unparalleled opportunity to explore Chinese art, architecture, and culture. An accompanying interpretive center presents information on the house, its history, and Chinese architecture, while an adjacent gallery features rotating exhibits on Chinese culture and art, offering visitors the opportunity to explore the house within the larger context of Chinese cultural heritage. Yin Yu Tang was built at approximately the same time as the Federal-style homes in the Museum’s collection. The exhibition of Yin Yu Tang complements and enriches both PEM’s architectural holdings as well as its superb collection of Chinese art.
Outdoor Parks and Gardens
An important part of the new PEM is the creation of the beautiful outdoor spaces designed by acclaimed landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh who was recently selected to create a new civic space on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House. The spaces created in concert with the new Museum include the completed Armory Park, a commemorative space with a historic timeline chronicling the birth and development of the citizen soldier in America. Across the street a new garden walkway with trees and plantings imported from China and Japan provides a new complement to the Museum’s Asian Garden. The tree-lined parkway, which leads visitors from downtown Salem to the city’s historic waterfront, also serves as a gathering place and promenade, featuring open spaces for public performances and events.
About the Peabody Essex Museum
The Peabody Essex Museum was founded in 1799, just 16 years after the birth of the nation, when entrepreneurs from Salem came to understand that to thrive in a new global economy, they needed to understand and appreciate other peoples and cultures. In that spirit, they founded the first American museum to collect the art of Asia and the Pacific, acquiring collections it would be impossible to duplicate today.
Over more than two centuries, PEM continued to build extraordinary collections. In 1992, the museum took a critical step towards its new future through the consolidation of two institutions—the Peabody Museum and Essex Institute—to create the Peabody Essex Museum. In 1993, the Museum undertook a campaign to create a museum for the 21st century, building upon the diversity of the vast resources acquired by the institution over the last 200 years.
PEM has been among the fastest growing museums in the nation, increasing its operating budget from $4 million to $12 million in just over seven years. During that same period of time, the Museum’s endowment grew from $23 million to more than $80 million.
Today, the Museum continues a highly active collecting program, consistently ranking among the top museums in the nation for investing in new acquisitions. Recent acquisitions include a major gift of contemporary art of India from the collection of Chester and Davida Herwitz, the important Gretchen Keller collection of 18th and 19th-century American and European glass from Bradford College, and the renowned Copeland Collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelain figures. In American decorative arts, the museum recently acquired the Pope Valuables Cabinet (1679), which set an auction record for 17th century American furniture, and an important square-back sofa with carving by Samuel McIntire given by Mr. and Mrs. John Lastavica. Among the outstanding objects acquired recently in Asian Export Art were the Namban Cabinet and Stand from the late16th?early 17th century, purchased at auction, and a spectacular blue and white large, deep dish marked Jiajing (1522?1566). In the area of Japanese art, the Museum has purchased a pair of exceptional Wisteria at Dusk folding screens made in the early 17th century.
The Peabody Essex Museum’s outstanding permanent collections include:
? One of the world’s finest collections of Japanese late-Edo- and Meiji-period art and cultural objects, containing many works considered rare even in Japan.
? The world’s most comprehensive collection of decorative art made in Asia for export to the West.
? A remarkable photography collection of more than one million rare and vintage images representing nearly every kind of photographic format and process. The collection includes the world’s finest holding of 19th-century Asian photographs, as well as early American portraits, landscapes, and architectural images and the finest museum collection of Edward S. Curtis’s master exhibition prints.
? An internationally recognized collection of Pacific art and cultural objects, with more than 20,000 pieces from Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia.
? An exceptional collection of American fine, folk, and decorative arts spanning 300 years of New England’s history. With more than 65,000 examples, the collection includes period furniture, portraits and landscape paintings, sculpture and folk art, textiles, and a spectacular collection of American costumes, ranking among the best in the nation.
? The first collection of Native American art in the hemisphere, with some 20,000 historic works from the 17th century to the present day, as well as 50,000 archaeological works.
? Founded in the 1880s, the Korean collection, exceptionally rich in Chosun Dynasty art, pioneered American interest in Korean art and culture.
? America’s first collection of historic buildings, with more properties listed on the National Register than any other museum in the nation.
? An important Indian collection, unique for its focus upon the modern era, including the renowned Herwitz Collection of contemporary Indian Art.
? A Chinese collection, unique for its strength in vernacular art that explores the rich cultural tradition of the country. The Chinese collection now includes Yin Yu Tang, the only late Qing Dynasty Chinese house in the United States.
? Early and significant work from coastal East and West Africa, an important body of Zulu art, and one of the finest collections of Ethiopian Christian art.
? The finest maritime art and history collection in America, with 30,000 paintings, drawings, and prints, and 40,000 maritime objects.
? Tens of thousands of original American, European, and Asian drawings, watercolors, and prints.
The Phillips Library
The Museum’s campus includes the Phillips Library, one of the country’s premier research and rare book libraries with extensive manuscripts and vintage photographs documenting more than three centuries of American life. The library’s 400,000 volumes and two million manuscript pages include the nation’s largest collection of ships’ logs and journals, the world’s best collection of works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and substantial collections of state, county, and town histories for all of the New England states.
The New Museum
The transformed Peabody Essex Museum, which opened in June 2003, offers visitors an unusually rich array of experiences featuring outstanding art from around the world and a renowned architecture collection. The 24 historic properties, including the newly arrived late Qing Dynasty Chinese merchant’s house, are complemented by the new Armory Park and beautiful gardens. Public spaces, both indoors and outside, offer places for visitors to gather for contemplation or discussion, as well as areas where public performances can take place. This $125 million initiative results in a lively, interactive museum that presents outstanding works of art and culture in ways that engage the curiosity of visitors—and make PEM’s vision of its role in the 21st century a reality.
Location and Hours
The Peabody Essex Museum, located at East India Square in Salem, MA, is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays until 9 p.m. PEM is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Admission to the Museum Shop is free. Adults $12; seniors $10; students $8; children 16 and under and residents of Salem free. Timed tickets are required to visit Yin Yu Tang. Tickets for 20-minute visits are included with museum admission, and must be obtained and used on day of visit. Call 866-745-1876, or visit our Web site at www.pem.org.