The Museum of Biblical Art is closing its doors for good this June.
This shocking and saddening news was delivered to the museum’s press and friends list yesterday afternoon, and is currently posted on the website. Currently housed at 61st and Broadway, MOBIA relied upon building owners the American Bible Society for major support and gallery space. With ABS’s decision to move to Philadelphia and sell their NYC building, MOBIA was left in the lurch.
Despite this news, delivered in February of this year, director Richard Townsend actively and adamantly asserted on finding a new home for MOBIA, maintaining that the upcoming exhibitions MOBIA had planned for the rest of the year would take place. Despite the massive international critical success of the museum’s current exhibition “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces from the Florence Cathedral,” and the efforts of a devoted staff including director Townsend, MOBIA was unable to find a new home and to raise the necessary funds in such a short period of time.
“I believe that MOBIA contributes a unique element to the cultural landscape of New York and the entire country, and it is with tremendous sorrow that we close our doors,”
said Co-Chair of the MOBIA Board of Trustees John Fossum. The Museum of Biblical Art was originally founded by the American Bible Society in 1997, becoming an independent museum in 2004 and opening to the public in 2005. Committed to providing excellent research and educating the public through a secular lens about the Bible and its influences on works of all origins, MOBIA produced over 25 special exhibitions in ten years. Exhibitions explored seemingly all genres of art history, and has highlighted such diverse artists including Louis Comfort Tiffany, Albrecht Durer, Tobi Kahn, Rembrandt, Fred Tomaselli, Mark Dion, and more.
In 2013’s Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery the museum “pushed the boundaries of biblical art display and exhibition and introduced viewers to a religion from a completely underrepresented tradition” through a crocheted installation, sculpture, oil on canvas, neon signage, and other diverse works. Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, exhibited in 2012, was a memorable show that delved into a little-known aspect of Tiffany’s works by displaying such incredible works as watercolor paintings, mosaics, ecclesiastic furniture, and of course, stained glass. 2011’s On Eagle’s Wings: The King James Bible Turns 400 told “the story not only of the King James bible but of the Reformation and English history as well” through 6 centuries of Bibles as well as contemporary paintings. Last year, MOBIA hosted an unprecedented exhibition titled Back to Eden: Contemporary Artists Wander the Garden, where the museum actually commissioned works from six contemporary artists to provide commentary on the first book of the Bible. Their current exhibition Age of Donatello has been their most successful to date, receiving rave reviews from just about every major – and minor – press outlet in New York and abroad. This year celebrating a decade of existence, the museum had big plans to continue on the path they had successfully created for themselves, making it all the more upsetting that the museum is closing.
Director Richard Townsend, who has only held his post for a year and a half now, has been praised for his visionary leadership in turning the museum into a vibrant community spot with even bigger plans to involve New Yorkers from every corner. “Under Richard’s leadership, MOBIA has presented extraordinary exhibitions and programs and has elevated its standing to become a true peer of the great art museums of this city,” said Co-Chair of the MOBIA Board of Trustees Elaine Hirschl Ellis. “With Richard as director, I have no doubt that MOBIA would have continued to flourish had there been more time to raise funds to sustain the institution. It is painfully ironic that we must cease existence at the moment the Museum has achieved such prominence.”
Although not on every tourist’s list to visit, MOBIA has gained attention in recent years, even collaborating with other museums in the area, including the Frick Collection and the Rubin Museum in an effort to gain new followers. The level of research and exhibition organization and design undertaken by MOBIA set the bar high from the start and should be what every museum aims for. The contributions MOBIA has made for the general public in New York City are countless. A safe-haven for Christians and non-Christians alike, the museum was – and, for the next two months, still is – a quiet, small place where anyone was welcome to come, learn, and experience art, history, and yes, religion. It will be a tremendous loss to New York’s cultural landscape when MOBIA finally closes its doors to the public on June 14.
“I am deeply proud of what we have accomplished at MOBIA, and deeply sorry that we will not be able to present the many exciting exhibitions and projects we had planned for the coming years,”
said MOBIA Director Richard P. Townsend. Recent press articles have also bemoaned the closing of this little but powerful museum. Slate contributor Ruth Graham thoughtfully commented on the negative stigma attached to the words “religion” and “Bible” and “Christianity” today and noted that despite MOBIA’s obvious efforts to engage both religious and areligious New Yorkers alike, it was unable to balance the two; yet, as Graham points out, outwardly Jewish cultural sites around the city remain standing today (The Jewish Museum, Museum of Jewish Heritage) – why does our community not support a cultural site that has such obvious opportunity to excel and has already proven itself in such an appealing and engaging way? David Van Biema, of The Christian Century, voiced a similar opinion, wondering why no significant funding came through for the little museum.
The Museum of Biblical Art should be considered one of the most important museums in New York City. The efforts it has made in the past ten years to engage audiences of all ages and backgrounds are incredible and the staff there should be applauded for carrying out the museum’s vision. There is no doubt that should the museum have been able to continue in its current space, even greater exhibitions and events and collaborations would have been held. Age of Donatello is on view through June 14. The museum’s last day of business will be June 30. Stop by before MOBIA closes its doors for good.