A Legacy for Learning: The Jane and Raphael Bernstein Collection

John Stomberg, Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director
Hood Quarterly, Spring–Summer 2021

A Legacy for Learning: The Jane and Raphael Bernstein Collection represents a series of exhibitions that individually and collectively celebrate the Bernstein family's gifts of art to the Hood Museum of Art over decades. The shows include European, Japanese, and North American photography, paintings, prints, drawings, and sculpture.

Public art collections can reveal big-picture narratives about shifts in political power, empire building, and revelations about global dynamics. And then there are more personal tales in collections, reminders of the passions pursued by the individuals who created them. This group of exhibitions focuses on the latter. While it is primarily focused on the art makers and their times, revelations and insights emerge along the way about the individuals who gathered these objects together. The Bernsteins brought this art into their home, enjoyed it firsthand, and are now sharing it with the Hood Museum's audiences, significantly enhancing the depth of the museum's collection and contributing to the experience of students and visitors.

Art collectors are a breed unto themselves. They develop a highly honed skill set. Part of the drive for expertise certainly derives from the massive investment of time, energy, and resources that goes into building a collection. There are many types of value earned by art and material culture over time, and this has been the Bernsteins' specialty: following their research, and hearts, to purchase works imbued with aesthetics of the highest order according to the culture from which they derive. For the Hood Museum, once objects enter its collection, they are treasured for the worlds they open, for the visual delights they offer, for the emotions they elicit, and for the ideas they inspire.

These goals dominate the practice of elite collectors, especially those who live with their art. Jane and Raph Bernstein are elite art collectors. They have dedicated much of their lives to searching and researching, conserving and sharing, and acquiring and giving away spectacular examples of the many art worlds they find interesting. Theirs is a collection of collections—hence the multiple-platform approach of A Legacy for Learning. Each subsection features an individual strand of art history on which they have focused.

The idea of sharing original works of art with faculty and students has long guided the Bernsteins' philanthropic decisions. Early in the story of the Hood Museum of Art, opened in 1985, they became involved in creating a space for the direct study of art. The Bernstein Study-Storage Center operated for over 30 years directly in the museum's storage areas. There, classes from all disciplines experienced the nuanced world of visual art directly and intimately, with the guidance of a specially trained staff. What started as an experiment in this magic classroom tucked away in the back of the Hood Museum has turned into best practice in academic art museums today. The field has discovered the astounding efficacy of studying myriad topics with objects from around the world—and through time.

As this story unfolded, and as the initial trials turned into a well-defined discipline (teaching with art), the Bernsteins refined their collection, adding significantly in many areas simultaneously. The unifying theme of their collecting? Teach with the best. The staff at the Hood Museum has long discovered that only the greatest objects offer the intellectual and visual complexity required to move the classroom experience from mundane to monumental. Students engage longer—forever, in some cases—with great works of art. Through the process of wrestling with the myriad meanings, allusions, significances, and references bound within an object, they (like all those who are drawn to the study of art) learn deeply about other people, about the makers and their times, but also about themselves and these times.

With each new engagement with great art, fresh thoughts and insights will emerge. Faculty who teach regularly with a collection develop profound relationships with the works they use for their classes. Year after year, the professor looks, reacts, rethinks, and shares their excitement and discovery with a new generation of students. The Bernsteins know personally of the enrichment that comes from a long relationship with art, and this knowledge has inspired their long-standing commitment to the Hood Museum and its mission.

We look forward to sharing the bounty of the Bernsteins' generosity and regaling our visitors with the specific splendor of their eye for art. A Legacy for Learning: The Jane and Raphael Bernstein Collection was organized by the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth, and generously supported by the Evelyn A. J. Hall Fund, the Marie-Louise and Samuel R. Rosenthal Fund, and the Ray Winfield 1918 Memorial Fund. It is on view through February 6, 2022.

Written May 25, 2021