Officials hope the art museum that replaces the current building, pictured, will be “a new town square” for the campus.
Architect hired to design expansion; structure may close for three years

The Princeton University Art Museum will be closed — probably for three years — to create a “newly imagined” museum with more space for exhibitions and teaching. Art museum director James Steward said the museum may close for construction by the end of 2020.

The new museum building will offer “dramatically enlarged space for the exhibition and study of the museum’s encyclopedic collections, special exhibitions, and art conservation,” as well as classrooms and office space for the 100-person museum staff, a University statement said.

The design architect for the project will be David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates, which has offices in London and New York. Adjaye — who designed the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture — was a visiting professor at Princeton from 2008 to 2010.

Steward said he expects that the museum’s structure will retain its “Venetian Gothic Revival portion” and Marquand Library, but said final decisions will be made during the design phase. He also said the project will likely result in a change to the building’s footprint, and that it was uncertain how the Department of Art and Archaeology (which is adjacent to the museum in McCormick Hall) would be affected.

During construction, the museum’s collections are expected to be removed from the building for their protection, Steward said. He said he hopes the museum will maintain a presence during that time in different spaces on campus and at Bainbridge House on Nassau Street, the former location of the Historical Society of Princeton. 

Steward said the selection of an architect was made possible by fundraising and by support from the University, but there is “still work to be done.” The project will move forward once fundraising goals are met, he said.

Expansion of the art museum was endorsed in 2016 by a working group tasked with planning for the “Future of the Humanities” at Princeton. “The museum’s leadership and curatorial personnel have strongly articulated their desire to position the Museum as a ‘visual and humanistic hub — a new town square, if you will — for the Princeton campus, in which students and faculty from the widest range of disciplines and experiences ... can come together,’” the working group’s report said.

The report said the museum “is in dire need of more space,” it has been “cobbled together over the years,” and its galleries are “awkwardly configured.”

The working group noted that Harvard and Yale had both recently reopened their art museums after years-long building campaigns.

This story appears in the Oct. 3, 2018, issue of PAW.