The Hanover Era: Creating a Global Ecumenical Forum, 1987–2012
Lisa Tremper Hanover helped make the Berman Museum from scratch. A former registrar for a prominent art collection, she anchored funding, building, staffing and exhibiting, curating more than 200 shows herself. She helped coordinate the construction of a 2010 wing with galleries, a workspace for studying works on paper, and a green-roof sculpture terrace. She supplemented the addition by temporarily displaying over 3,000 pieces from the permanent collection that needed to be assessed.
On Hanover’s watch, the Berman became a global ecumenical forum. She balanced international with regional, traditional with contemporary, timeless with topical. She showcased women artists, acquiring their works and devoting a show to their self-portraits. She promoted the Berman by lecturing to and serving on committees with museum professionals. She expanded area audiences by talking at retirement homes, sometimes bringing Berman artifacts as show-and-tell. Her museum-studies seminar introduced students to creating virtual exhibits, inspiring graduates to become museum professionals.
The former director says she had a remarkably fruitful partnership with Phil and Muriel Berman, who were major collectors, philanthropists, ambassadors and instigators. Their mutual projects ranged from an exhibit of Rodin bronzes from a vaunted private collection to a bequest of works by and from Francoise Gilot, a Picasso muse who befriended the Bermans.
“Phil and Muriel trusted me,” Hanover says. “They never intervened or interfered.”
Nancy Berman confirms Hanover as an open-minded, open-tuned teammate of her “spark-plug” parents. She praises Hanover for turning an exhibit of biblical archaeological relics from Israel into a traveling show, and for transforming the Ursinus campus into a garden/academy for her parents’ large collection of strikingly diverse sculptures.
The Bermans rewarded Hanover’s stewardship by creating a $1 million endowment for the museum’s directorship and Nancy Berman added a $1 million Berman Foundation gift to build the museum’s wing.
The Stainback Era: Growing the Laboratory, 2012–present
Charlie Stainback has made the Berman more engaging by making it more challenging. On his watch, the museum has paired John James Audubon’s classic prints of birds with radical avian images by living artists; and photos of people sleeping in public spaces with Andy Warhol’s five-hour film of a man sleeping. Stainback’s mission is to convince skeptical viewers that the insignificant is significant, or rather, it may be significant for future generations. He likes to point out that Van Gogh’s profound paintings were dismissed as perverse during his lifetime. He aims to make people “comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he says, to be intrigued enough to ask, “Why am I intrigued?”
Stainback came to Ursinus as a veteran art educator; at Skidmore College he helped build a museum learning center, the Tang Teaching Museum. Not surprisingly, he’s expanded the Berman’s role as a behind-the-scenes school. His Museum Studies exhibition featured immaculate copies of the backs of such famous paintings as the “Mona Lisa.” Viewers became curators as they scanned re-creations of curled labels, rusty screws and stamps of venues visited.
Museum Studies helped launch the college’s minor in museum studies. Stainback consults the core course, MS-200B, in which students co-curate a Berman show. The latest exhibit, Adam DelMarcelle’s Bearing Witness, addressed the opioid epidemic that killed his brother.
Nancy Berman praises Stainback for improving the Ursinus community with innovative, influential programs. She calls the museum studies course he taught during his first semester in Collegeville a “brilliant” example of pedagogy. A former museum director herself, she rewarded his stewardship by establishing a $1 million Berman Foundation endowment for special exhibitions, a gift that has spurred more college funds.
The money will come in handy next year when Stainback stages Virgil Marti: Title TK, the first solo show to occupy all of the museum’s temporary galleries.