Twelve months ago, we launched The Huntington’s Centennial Celebration, the culmination of months of planning and coordination, with a dual commitment: to spend a year focused on the founding of the institution, while at the same time stepping boldly into our second hundred years with a strong desire to broaden our outreach with exciting new programming, exhibitions, and emphases.
And then, of course, the pandemic came roaring into California in March, barely six months into our celebratory year. We paused everything, regrouped, and quickly began focusing on the challenge at hand: what it would take to safely reopen in the face of COVID to our wonderful staff and volunteers, members, and the public. Celebrating the Centennial took a necessary back seat. But as we’ve safely reopened the gardens and are awaiting permission to reopen interior spaces, we’ve been able to assemble a plan for rounding out the Centennial year with three milestone moments.
First, we’ve reinstalled Gainsborough’s Blue Boy following a painstaking two-year conservation project, revealing the painting’s luminous, brilliant colors and details as we’ve never seen them before. Just as soon as we receive permission, we’ll reopen the gallery so that visitors might see for themselves. This feels like a first important step toward normalcy for The Huntington, despite the fact that we haven’t really turned the corner on this pandemic. But to have the iconic portrait back where he belongs is a true joy and a marker of hope.
Earlier this month, we opened the Chinese Garden expansion, adding 11.5 new acres of landscape, pavilions, and other features to a garden already quite beloved. This is the crowning achievement of a project begun 20 years ago, all made possible by a community of some 2,500 supporters. The expansive new acreage includes a penjing court to showcase bonsai-like plants that are meticulously pruned and carefully positioned in front of white walls to provide a view not only of the plants themselves but also, importantly, of the shadows they cast. Also new: a pavilion representing a scholar’s studio for painting and calligraphy, a space for exhibiting art, and eventually, a new, larger restaurant.
Among the gems of this phase of garden construction is a new pavilion at arguably the highest point on the grounds. It is a lavish, gorgeous structure, facing north in conversation with the Mount Wilson Observatory. It is aptly named the Stargazing Tower, in homage to two renowned astronomers: George Ellery Hale, who was the observatory’s founder and among the first of The Huntington’s trustees, and renowned astronomer Edwin Hubble, a staff scientist at the observatory for decades. (The Huntington holds Hubble’s papers in our library.) We were delighted to receive extremely enthusiastic media coverage, including these two pieces in the Los Angeles Times: an overall feature and a focused article on Che Zhao Sheng, the talented penjing artist and caretaker of this important botanical collection.
Once we can safely reopen our galleries, we will present our major fall exhibition in partnership with the Hammer Museum: “Made in L.A. 2020: a version.” The Huntington has partnered creatively with other institutions, past and present, but by partnering with the Hammer in their signature biennial exhibition, we have an opportunity to do something we have not often done before: propel a powerful dialogue between LA’s Westside and Eastside institutions and audiences. This ambitious exhibition allows us to collaborate with a diverse group of emerging LA artists who spark powerful responses as they challenge tradition.
In presenting this contemporary work in our Boone and Scott Galleries, several of the 30 artists involved in Made in L.A. are drawing on The Huntington’s historic collections—reconsidering and reinterpreting them in new and surprising ways. We expect a few raised eyebrows and some questions, because substantial engagement with contemporary art may not seem aligned with what we do. But like the scholars, students, and visitors who come to study and explore at The Huntington, these artists will make new meaning of our collections and our legacy. Fundamental to what we do as a premier research institution is to provide sources for making new knowledge and new creative expression. The Huntington has always been a place for connection. A partnership such as this with the Hammer provides an opportunity to go further still in expanding our reach.
In this unprecedented year of multiple challenges and crises, The Huntington has served as a place of solace, learning, beauty, and sanity for many different groups of people. I’m reminded yet again that founder Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella, specifically expressed their desire to establish—for the public welfare—this institution of research and learning 100 years ago. And so, into our second hundred years we go: honoring their wishes by harnessing our collections anew—engaging artists, writers, students, architects, and makers of all stripes—in strengthening our commitment to our public mission, and finding ways, both on-site and online, to make resonant and meaningful connections.
Karen R. Lawrence, President
Why It Matters: James P. Folsom in Conversation with Karen R. Lawrence
Recorded Dec. 2, 2020 | Watch Now
James P. Folsom, the Telleen/Jorgenson Director of the Botanical Gardens at The Huntington, shares insights into a lifetime spent exploring the intersections of botany, art, literature, and history. Folsom joins Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence in conversation before taking questions from virtual attendees around the world. This will be one of Folsom's last public appearances as director of the gardens before he retires at the end of the year.
President's Series: Inspired by Octavia E. Butler - A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: Lynell George in conversation with William Deverell and Karla Nielsen
Recorded Aug. 26, 2020 | Watch Now
Centennial Launch Event
Recorded Sept. 5, 2019
The Huntington's Centennial Celebration kicked off Sept. 5, 2019, setting in motion a yearlong series of exhibitions, public programs, artist interventions, and more—inviting people with a range of interests to engage with the venerable institution's collections and the connections they offer, and to join an exploration of ideas that will shape the future. The launch event included news announcements from Karen R. Lawrence, president of The Huntington; panel discussion with Roy Choi, Juan Devis, Victoria J. Orphan, Yuval Sharon, and Melodie Yashar; music performance and conversation with Dexter Story and Josh Kun.