The Herbert F. Johnson Museum reopened to the public Thursday, inviting guests to its collections and exhibitions after over a year of limited admittance, with staff members and visitors alike enjoying the promise of opening day.
Students, Ithaca residents and visitors are once again welcome to peruse the galleries. Ancient coins and a large suit of armor preoccupied Madeleine Wenger ’24, who spent her afternoon in the museum after her Roman archaeology class. She said she appreciated the museum’s cultural offerings to students.
“I’m very grateful,” Wenger said. “This is a treasure trove of things to sketch and learn about and expand my knowledge about the art world.”
Last year, COVID restrictions limited museum admission to class groups and students with scheduled appointments. It did not allow non-Cornell visitors. Now, the Johnson continues to require masks, but admission is available and free for all guests.
Amanda Schaufler, museum visitor services assistant, explained that this fall’s reopening will eventually allow the museum to transition back to pre-COVID operations — returning as a respite for students and the broader community. Despite new galleries and visitors, the basement and second floors remain mostly empty as the museum reopens, and a display case lies bare on the first floor.
Still, museum staff members are also glad to be back in the building. For Odessa Thompson ’24, a community programs intern, the reopening means she can work one day a week in person.
After a year of sparsely populated galleries, visitors are steadily returning to the museum. According to Schaufler, on an average day before COVID, 130 to 170 people visited the museum. On Thursday, 127 people visited.
Among these visitors were Daniel Zhao and Grace Zhou from Vancouver, Canada, who were dropping off their first-year daughter at college and said they enjoyed the museum’s oil paintings.
Other visitors came to see the museum’s temporary exhibits, “Art and Environmental Struggle” and “(Re)collecting Southeast Asian Art.” The first reflects on global climate issues through different mediums, and the second examines artifacts donated by alumni and faculty of the Cornell Southeast Asia Program over five decades. They will both remain open at the museum through Dec. 19.
Kevin Isky, who recently moved to Ithaca, viewed the “Art and Environmental Struggle” exhibit as a diverse and relevant look at worldwide climate issues.
“It seems to be more of a broad expose,” Isky said.
“(Re)collecting Southeast Asian Art,” located on the fifth floor, pairs Thai porcelain and Indonesian shadow puppets with panoramic views of Cayuga Lake through wide windows. With fewer health restrictions, Johnson staff have returned couches for sitting and enjoying the space.
Internal and external construction projects interfered with some permanent galleries over the past year. According to museum director Jessica Levin Martinez, the Johnson will now work to reinstall these collections.
Martinez also promised that more art is on the way. Two new temporary exhibitions will soon refresh the Johnson’s galleries: “Visions of Dante” will open on Sept. 14 and “Women Making Their Mark” will debut on Sept. 18.
Soaking up art on opening day, Wenger said she hopes the entire Cornell community will visit the Johnson, making the most of its offerings.
“People are probably intimidated by an art museum and think it’s only for art students,” Wenger said. “But I feel like it could be a great outing for people.”