The W. Ray Wallace Athenaeum
The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History is already a vital part of the intellectual landscape of both UT Dallas and the art history community of North Texas. Our headquarters in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building at UT Dallas and at the Dallas Museum of Art buzz with activity as visiting scholars, faculty, area art historians, museum professionals, graduate students, and members of the art-loving public come together for meals, discussions, formal seminars, lectures, and receptions.
But the ambitions that Mrs. O’Donnell has for her Institute of Art History are greater than those two headquarters can contain, and we are now ready to complete fundraising and begin construction on a much larger home for the O’Donnell Institute, to be called The W. Ray Wallace Athenaeum.
The Wallace Atheneum will be built at the very center of campus and near its east entrance, allowing residents of Dallas’s northern suburbs to come together with University students, staff, and faculty in a new institution that will link what are usually the separate functions of museums, libraries, and academic teaching facilities.
We chose the word Athenaeum because it includes all of those functions under the umbrella of a term with roots in the very origin of western civilization in ancient Greece. The Wallace Athenaeum will be only the second such institution formed at a University; it is perhaps not an accident that the first was founded at the California Institute of Technology (CalTec) in 1929. Other Athenea in the United States are places where books and art create a context for people of all ages and levels of education to meet for discussions, reading groups, art groups, formal and informal courses, research, meals, and receptions. An Athenaeum is less about its collections than about the way people gather to use them to create knowledge.
To anchor the Athenaeum, a small group of world-class libraries will be combined in a new art history research library, among the best in Texas and the entire center of the U.S. It will be named after the largest library to come to UT Dallas, the Wildenstein-Plattner Library. Amassed over the course of the twentieth century by the Wildenstein family, it is the largest and finest private art library ever formed, comprising more than 250,000 volumes as well as rare pamphlets, prints, sales catalogues, exhibition catalogues, and art periodicals from the eighteenth century to the present. That library will be joined by the private library of Dr. Alessandra Comini, Professor Emerita at Southern Methodist University and the collector of over 34,000 volumes related to art and architecture in Europe, including central and northern Europe. The Comini Library will join the Wildenstein-Plattner Library along with portions of the private libraries of Mr. Nash Flores, S. Roger Horchow, Mr. and Mrs. Ivan Phillips, Peter and Perry Rathbone, Gail Sachson, Oliver Watson, John Wilcox, and myself as well as other libraries that will come to us in years ahead. Although a good deal of information about art is available digitally, web-based information is less accurate and comprehensive than the seven generations of art historical scholarship in print represented in these libraries.
The second exciting prospect is that the Nona and Richard Barrett Collection of Swiss Art will also be coming to UT Dallas, first as a loan and finally as a gift. Comprising more than 400 paintings and sculptures by every major artist born in Switzerland between 1600 and 1940 (with some rare earlier material), it is the largest private collection ever formed of Swiss art. Swiss art is not only fascinating and aesthetically diverse, but also among the least studied areas of European art history, giving our faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars the chance to do important original research.
Another development over the past months is the prospect that the Crow Museum of Asian Art will build a North Dallas facility at UT Dallas as part of the Wallace Athenaeum. The Crow will keep its Arts District facility with its intimate galleries for about 200 works of art from the collection. But, with a collection of around 1,000 objects from China, Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan, and Cambodia, the museum needs space for exhibitions and storage as well as for study and research. A collection of Asian and South Asian art is especially fitting at UT Dallas, since a significant portion of our faculty and student body are Asian or Asian-American, and the center for the large Asian population of greater Dallas is the city’s northern suburbs.
Bringing together the Wildenstein-Plattner Library, the Barrett Collection of Swiss Art, the Crow Museum of Asian Art, and the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History, as well as exhibition spaces, seminar rooms, a lecture/performance hall, and facilities for dining and events, current plans for the Athenaeum call for four interconnected buildings that open onto three enclosed gardens. These lush landscapes will have water features, seating, shady paths, and places to sit and meditate or simply to stroll. What better environment to reflect on the visual arts in world history than in a library, a museum, and an institute surrounded by gardens?
Mrs. W. Ray Wallace has made a naming gift of $10,000,000.00 and Mrs. Eugene McDermott has donated $5,000,000.00, so we are launched. With an additional sum of $5,000,000 we will officially begin the architectural and landscape plans. We hope to do this by summer of this year, and aim to break ground toward the end of 2018.
Richard R. Brettell, Ph.D.
Founding Director, The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History and the Margaret McDermott Distinguished Chair