Architect Renzo Piano and museum director Thomas Lentz faced major challenges as they planned the cultural megaplex now known as the Harvard Art Museums. The pair mulled over how best to combine three complementary collections: the haul of treasures from Germanic areas at the Busch-Reisinger (don’t miss a passel of works by Joseph Beuys), the Sackler’s mash-up of ancient and non-Western artifacts and the sprawling Fogg’s holdings of art from Europe and America. Pulling down some of the shabbier buildings was the easy part. Less straightforward was Piano’s task of building a statement museum (left) that would sit elegantly beside Le Corbusier’s swirling Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts next door. Lentz likens the solution to an embrace, where Le Corbusier’s corkscrewing ramps have been extended to surge down past, and even through, Piano’s design.
Six years and $350 million later, the duo’s combined efforts are set to be unveiled on November 16. The resulting merged museum, Lentz stresses, is “not a static treasure house.” No amenity better encapsulates his mission than the Art Study Center, where visitors can request in advance a work of art for inspection at leisure. “It’s always been our hallmark,” Lentz says, “close looking and thinking, so people can have some sort of transformative experience with art.” Allow one hour to scope out the reorganized collections at the Fogg and its counterparts, and tack on an extra hour for some private time to visit with a favorite piece. At 32 Quincy St., Cambridge, Massachusetts; harvardartmuseums.org.