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ts sphere of influence expands each year, as the Tang welcomes some 40,000 visitors, including 5,000 school - children and more than 1,000 Skidmore students in classes across the cur- riculum. Its exhibitions tend to garner a lot of at- tention in the art world, academia, and the media. For a small museum with a staff of 14, the Tang embraces a large agenda: presenting the works of living artists and bringing them to campus, collabo- rating with Skidmore faculty on interdisciplinary shows, wel- coming students to study objects and serve as interns, publish- ing teacher’s guides for schools, planning Family Saturdays for kids, hosting high-powered symposia and seminars, videotaping artist interviews for the Web site, publishing catalogs that are masterpieces of text and design. “It’s a tight operation,” says reg- istrar Elizabeth Karp, who is responsible for Skidmore’s own col- lection and the safe borrowing of other works. “We run very smoothly.”

Crossroads The Tang has broken ground from its very conception. The

building “really does come out of the earth,” says English profes- sor Tom Lewis, who co-curated a major show about the Hudson River. Speaking in a Tang video, he says the Tang is “very much connected to the geological fault lines that made Saratoga what it is.” As part of a college that values interdisciplinarity, “this is a place where in a sense the fault lines converge, and out of that comes something that’s exciting.” It is President Emeritus David Porter’s crossroads theme made visible. Now teaching classics as the Tisch Family Distinguished Professor, Porter recalls how in creating the museum “we thought about what made Skidmore distinctive—disciplines crossing, people crossing.” Joan Layng Dayton ’63, longtime museum supporter, was board chair when architect Antoine Predock was selected. She recalls that he was energized by “the uniqueness of the pro- gram” and “grasped the concept and ran with it.” Like the muse- um’s modus operandi, Predock’s design process was idea-driven. He explored the history and culture of Skidmore and Saratoga, and the building plan emerged from what he learned. “Antoine thought of it as reaching out in all sorts of directions,” says Por - ter, “and he insisted that it be on that central campus crossing.” If the concept for the museum was audacious, funding was even more of a leap. Former trustee Oscar Tang recalls being skeptical at first, but he was persuaded by Porter’s vision for “cre- ating a teaching museum at the heart of interdisciplinary learn- ing,” and he signed on as lead donor (resulting in the naming of the facility for his late wife Frances Young Tang ’61). “The tradi- tional view of academic museums is one built on collections,” Tang observes. “Skidmore’s teaching museum comes from a

whole different perspec- tive, centered on using visual imagery to pull together many disci- plines. It was an exciting new concept.”

Thus when the Tang opened in 2000 as an in- terdisciplinary teaching museum, many won- dered exactly what that meant. Skidmore anthro- pologist Sue Bender felt

like a pioneer when she joined Tang curator Ian Berry, biologist Bernie Possidente, and University at Albany anthropologist Dick Wilkinson to co-curate The World According to the Newest and Most Exact Observations: Mapping Art and Science. Bender explains, “Bernie did genetic mapping, I did geographical mapping, Dick did mapping of the human body, and Ian brought in some con- ceptual art—all around the notion that maps make visible for us, and therefore construct for us, phenomena we can’t see with the naked eye. We wanted to explore the interplay between con- struction and observation.”

She adds, “When you’re doing something innovative, there is a rush of excitement, and a frisson of anxiety as well.” The Tang was so new that the curators had to work hard to convince other institutions to lend them objects. Their work was rewarded, she says, when colleagues discovered in the exhibition the meaning and potential of the Tang: “Now I get it.” Even Dayton Director John Weber, before he came to Skid- more in 2004, says he wondered, when he first saw the “teach- ing museum” moniker, “How do they mean it? Is it museum studies?” He says “the terminology is popping up all over now,” but back then it was new. Weber liked that the Tang started without constraints, had no static galleries, and used the collec- tion for teaching. “The museum is much more central to the College’s mission than those at peer institutions,” he says.

Exhibitions that matter

Suppose you took a model of the molecular structure of aspirin, blew it up to massive proportions, and hung it in a gallery. Wouldn’t it look like a work of abstract art? Such was chemistry professor Ray Giguere’s idea for an exhibition. Long active in the Liberal Studies program, he was committed to the kind of interdisciplinary cross-pollination that nurtures interesting ideas. And he was always alert to opportunities to interest stu- dents and the public at large in organic chemistry. So he grabbed his aspirin model and went over to the Tang offices. “I knew the Tang was designed as a place to interrogate ideas,” Giguere says. His idea was that certain molecules have profoundly altered our world during the 20th century. Over sev- eral years, that idea matured into the acclaimed 2007 show Mol- ecules That Matter, which is still talked about at Skidmore and well beyond.

It was a case of “hard science meets hard art,” says Giguere, WINTER 2011 SCOPE 13

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