Note: As the former director of external affairs at The Hyde Collection, William Belcher was the chief fundraiser, campaign architect, and institutional messenger for The Hyde and all things Feibes and Schmitt. As a contributing writer for The Alt, he offers a personal reflection of sorts on the project.
On the evening of June 9, with food, music, and fanfare, The Hyde Collection celebrated the opening of the Feibes & Schmitt Gallery, a beautiful, new 1,500 square-foot exhibition space for Modern and Contemporary art.
After several months of fundraising and several more of renovating, the venerable institution in downtown Glens Falls starts a new chapter – one that involves Post-war nonobjective art alongside the museum’s core collection of American and European art. The Feibes & Schmitt Gallery is no longer just an idea or a fundraising pitch. The polished concrete floors, the walls, the columns, the lighting – they’re all real. The joy (and relief) that this brings is palpable throughout the museum, but one question remains – if you build it, will they come?
The short answer is yes, but… Let’s back up.
In August 2016, The Hyde announced it had received a game-changing gift of art from Werner Feibes and his late partner Jim Schmitt. Over several decades, the couple amassed a remarkable collection of abstract art by some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. The 160 works in the Feibes & Schmitt Collection includes paintings, drawings, sculpture, and mixed media. Together, the collection is valued at $10 million. More importantly, Feibes, who could’ve donated the art to major institutions in New York, Chicago, or elsewhere, determined that The Hyde was the right fit. This decision will have a lasting impact on the museum and the region.
As Coe announced last summer, the extraordinary gift of art was accompanied by a cash donation of $1 million, which was designed to spark a capital campaign that would fund the creation of a new gallery. The museum staff and leadership set out to tackle a capital campaign that leveraged Feibes’ gift. In addition to renovating the general storage space that would become the Feibes & Schmitt Gallery, The Hyde would also expand its art storage capacity to accommodate the donated work. That was the plan. In the end, The Hyde raised more than $1.5 million (including Feibes’ cash gift) in less than half a year, and they did so while rocketing ahead with many new programs and initiatives on the operating side. Truly, that’s no small feat, but Feibes’ gift and his confidence in Erin Coe was persuasive, and the vision for the gallery was compelling. What was that vision? Simply put, the new gallery (and collection) would raise the museum’s profile, boost its economic impact, and provide new and exciting opportunities for education and programming.
“Werner Feibes’ generous gift positions The Hyde as the regional hub for Modern art,” says Coe, director of The Hyde. “The Feibes & Schmitt Collection adds an entirely new dimension to the Museum’s holdings. We can now provide visitors with a survey of art that covers more than four centuries.”
Feibes’ generosity allowed The Hyde to take a bold step forward, but The Hyde had been preparing for this “transformation,” as they called it, for a couple years. In the spring of 2016, the museum renovated the museum lobby, streamlined the check-in process, shifted the guard station, and converted its oversized gift shop to gallery space, which was the space’s original purpose. These relatively modest changes improved the visitor experience and laid the groundwork for the new gallery. Since then, The Hyde brought back its summer luncheon, hosted a wildly successful gala, and improved its marketing and communications. Last week, The Hyde revealed a redesigned website, new gallery signage, and new street banners. The point is that the museum is not content to stand still. It has actively moved toward a new model that puts the visitor first. Yes, of course, the preservation of the collection will always be a priority, but the fact that The Hyde is looking ahead is a great sign. It’s also part of The Hyde’s DNA.
“Charlotte Hyde established a collection that strongly represented late Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque, but don’t forget that she also collected works by artists who were her contemporaries,” Coe explains. “As much as she sought out the artists she knew would establish a notable collection, such as Rembrandt and Rubens, she also realized the importance of the art of her time. The Feibes & Schmitt Collection, in many ways, picks up where she left off.”
A Broader Context
Across the country, museums are trying to keep their balance on the ever-shifting landscape. Visitor expectations are changing, and it seems as if Modern and Contemporary art have all the energy. Museums must adapt to survive. The Hyde is well aware of museum trends.
“For the past several years, there has been an increased public interest in Post-war Modern and Contemporary art, not only at the auction houses with record-breaking sales, but also driving museum attendance and engagement,” says Coe “A collection of Modern and Contemporary art is a natural and needed step for The Hyde.”
The Washington Post, The Economist, The New York Times, and dozens of other magazines and journals (some in the field, some not) have written countless articles on the influence of technology, the influence of the art market, the influence of donors, the need for capital campaigns or new acquisitions or interactive apps. It’s all swirling. In an article in The Washington Post in August 2016, Robert Ekelund explored the Met’s budget woes while comparing it to the Whitney or MoMA. “While the Met’s contemporary collection has grown somewhat in recent years, it has been unable to quickly adjust to the changing tastes of museum-goers, who increasingly favor modern and contemporary art. This has put it at a competitive disadvantage,” he writes.
Also in August of last year, Inside Philanthropy wrote, “there’s been a discernible uptick in museums acquiring contemporary art—and museums struggling due to their lack of contemporary art.” The author explores the tough position some museums find themselves in – they need to acquire contemporary art, but they don’t have a space to exhibit the art. The article, which zeroed in on The Hyde’s announcement of the Feibes gift, goes on to note that “the folks at The Hyde killed two birds with one stone!” Feibes two-pronged gift is what many museums need, but few are lucky enough to receive.
With the addition of the Feibes & Schmitt Gallery, The Hyde now offers an art-viewing experience that Capital Region residents cannot get without travelling some distance. “There is nowhere else in this region that you can have a comparable experience,” Coe adds. “You cannot see works by the Old Masters — Rembrandt and Rubens — down the hall from the masters of twentieth century abstraction and non-objective art without taking the train to New York City or making the trek north to Montreal.”
“The Feibes & Schmitt Gallery’s impact on the museum, and on the region, cannot be overstated. The Hyde has long been a major year-round downtown destination, drawing tens of thousands to the city each year,” Coe notes.
The addition of the Feibes & Schmitt Gallery will boost attendance, increase the length of stay of the typical visitor, and raise the profile of the museum in the greater New England, Mid-Atlantic regions. The Hyde already welcomes more than a quarter of its visitors from beyond a three-hour radius. Modern and Contemporary art audiences will travel, and the museum expects that the total percentage from beyond the three-hour radius will grow steadily over the next couple years, perhaps reaching as high at 40 percent. Converting more overnighters will help boost the museum’s economic impact, as will length of stay, which will keep more daytrippers in the area for lunch or dinner.
“The Feibes & Schmitt Gallery and Collection provides The Hyde the opportunity to impact the community even more than it already does. With a broader and more diverse collection, we can offer a greater range of programming. We anticipate an additional 5,000 to 8,000 visitors a year — forty percent of whom will travel from outside a three-hour driving radius — which means more out-of-towners spending money at local restaurants, stores, and hotels,” Coe says.
In many ways, Feibes gift was an investment in Glens Falls.
“Mr. Feibes and his late partner, Mr. Schmitt, loved The Hyde Collection and recognized how lucky we are to have such a treasure right here in Glens Falls,” say Karl Seitz, chair of the museum’s board of trustees. “The Feibes & Schmitt Gallery will benefit The Hyde, of course, but it is a gift to the entire region.”
Inaugural Exhibition: To Distribute and Multiply
The first exhibition in the new gallery space is To Distribute and Multiply: The Feibes and Schmitt Gift. The title takes its name from a Josef Albers quote: “To distribute material possessions is to divide them. To distribute spiritual possession is to multiply them.” It is a gorgeous show comprised of 40 objects from the Feibes and Schmitt gift, including works by Albers, Jean Arp, Ellsworth Kelly, George Rickey, Bridget Riley, and Andy Warhol. The Hyde notes that the exhibition “highlights art that best reflects Messrs. Feibes and Schmitt as art lovers and collectors.” Coe remarks that the new gallery makes The Hyde a “must-see for Modern Art.” Perhaps so, but what is undeniable right now is that this exhibition, which is beautifully installed in the new space, is a must-see and must-see-again-and-again show. Spend some time with this exhibition. It’s as if the gallery was designed for it, which of course, in many ways, it was. You won’t be disappointed.
The Hyde has never looked better than it does right now at this moment, and there’s never been more to see. “The opportunities are limitless,” notes Coe. “This summer, our Education team is centering its programs for children and families around concepts in Modern art. Later this month, we are opening complementary Ellsworth Kelly exhibitions in the Charles R. Wood and Whitney-Renz Galleries, and those pair well with To Distribute and Multiply, the inaugural exhibition in the Feibes & Schmitt Gallery. Kelly’s works are prominently featured in this exhibition and the artist was close friends to Werner Feibes and Jim Schmitt.”
In other words, there’s something for everyone at The Hyde this summer, but the summer shows and the new exhibitions are can’t miss.
To get back to my earlier question, if you build it, will they come? Yes, they will, but, in my opinion, I believe it’ll take a sustained marketing effort by the museum, a sense of collective purpose, and a recognition of the role The Hyde plays in the cultural and economic life of the city, county, and region to reach its full potential.
“The Hyde Collection has long been a hidden gem, a hometown treasure,” says Coe. “But we are the premier arts institution in the region and it’s time to stop hiding and to shine bright.” The Hyde has done its part. Now, can we do ours?
Image: Bridget Riley, British, b. 1931, White Discs 1, 1963, Acrylic emulsion on Masonite, 52 x 52 in., ©Bridget Riley, 2017, All rights reserved. Courtesy Karsten Schubert, London.