Publication of Archival Library and Museum Materials
Publication of Archival Library and Museum Materials
Publication of Archival Library and Museum Materials

The Wolfsonian-FIU Museum
National Endowment of the Arts

The Wolfsonian-FIU Collection of Italian Art and Design

About The Wolfsonian-FIU

> HISTORY

The Wolfsonian was founded in 1986 to exhibit, document, and preserve the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, a vast assemblage of objects that includes furniture, paintings, books, prints, industrial and decorative art objects, and ephemera. In 1997 the institution became a division of Florida International University (FIU) when Wolfson donated his collection and museum facility to the university, the largest gift ever contributed to a public university in Florida.

The Wolfsonian's first exhibition, “Stile Floreale: The Cult of Nature in Italian Design,” opened in 1988 at Miami-Dade Community College. Through 1993 museum staff members were committed primarily to registering, cataloguing, conserving, and researching objects in the collection. The collection was stored in a 1927 Mediterranean Revival building, which in 1992 was renovated and enlarged for the new museum – a seven-story, 56,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility. In January 1993 The Wolfsonian opened a preview exhibition in its facility, entitled “Design 1880-1945: The Modern Idiom.” The Wolfsonian's research division also was established that year; it continues to administer a competitive fellowship program, facilitates collections access, and plays a leading role in the Association of Research Institutes in Art History. The Wolfsonian's full-scale public dimension was officially inaugurated in November 1995 with the opening of the major touring exhibition, “The Arts of Reform and Persuasion, 1885-1945,” which demonstrated the depth and breadth of The Wolfsonian’s collection and its themes. Featuring 256 objects from the permanent collection, this exhibition traveled to the leading art museums of Los Angeles, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis, garnering international recognition.

In November 1996, The Wolfsonian unveiled “Art and Design in the Modern Age: Selections from The Wolfsonian’s Collection” on the fifth floor of the museum. This installation has been updated periodically since then, while maintaining many of the original themes and basic structure from 1996. The goal has been to reveal how people viewed the modern world and their place in it as industrialization, urbanization, mass production, new transportation and communications systems, and new political ideas and regimes revolutionized many aspects of their lives.

The Wolfsonian has invested considerable resources to support research on its collection. The fellowship program has hosted more than 70 scholars, who have come from a range of disciplines, from both the U.S. and abroad. In addition, The Wolfsonian’s curatorial staff, consultants, and visiting scholars have conducted a tremendous amount of research on the collection and in relevant fields of scholarship. Now, fourteen years after its first on-site exhibition opened, The Wolfsonian has a much deeper reservoir of research on which to draw, a clearer sense of how to deploy its physical space, more knowledge about its audience, and a better understanding of strategies for museum presentation. As a result, the framework for the collection has evolved significantly, shifting to a broader, design-based perspective. With this framework as a foundation, the museum has had the opportunity to add to its holdings contributions from collectors like Leonard Lauder, whose gift of Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” posters made the highly successful 2008 “Thoughts on Democracy” public art project possible. The current “+ 5” exhibition, celebrating the museum’s fifteen-year anniversary, features many gifts made to the collection over the past five years.

The Wolfsonian’s research on and understanding of the collection has benefited greatly from its connection to Florida International University. A major research institution with strong programs in many humanities fields, FIU faculty members have conducted research on the collection and served as consultants for several exhibitions, while students from the university have worked at the museum as interns or used the collections for scholarly research. Over the years, The Wolfsonian has loaned objects and traveled many shows nationally and internationally; organized temporary exhibitions, drawing from its permanent collection; and has hosted a number of borrowed shows, all of which provide insight into the role of design as an agent of reform and persuasion. The Wolfsonian continues to present a variety of public educational programs intended to reach a broad audience including school activities, family events, lectures, films, symposia, and collaborative performing arts activities. Exhibitions and programs are designed to provide the public with opportunities to identify and contemplate the historical significance of collection themes and their relevance to the world today.

> ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION

The Wolfsonian’s collections comprise approximately 121,000 objects from the height of the Industrial Revolution to the end of World War II in a variety of media including: furniture; appliances; works in glass, ceramics, and metal; paintings; textiles; posters, and medals. Well-represented are collections pertaining to American Industrial Design, British Arts and Crafts, world’s fairs and expositions, advertising, and new forms of travel (ocean liners, airplanes, zeppelins, and trains). In addition, The Wolfsonian’s library holds more than 46,500 rare books, periodical titles, and ephemera from the period, as well as more than 17,600 reference materials. Strengths of the library collection are Dutch Nieuwe Kunst book bindings, fine-press and illustrated books, book design, and typography.

The Wolfsonian is committed to lifelong learning and offers a vast array of public programs aimed at all audiences, such as lectures, films, book signings, and collaborative performing arts events. Exhibitions and programs have received critical acclaim in national and international print and online media such as “The New York Times,” “Wall Street Journal,” “The Economist,” and the “Journal of the Decorative Arts Society.” Programs and publications have also received numerous awards from peer organizations, including the American Association of Museums Design Awards; the prestigious George Wittenborn Memorial Award from the Art Libraries Association of North America; AIGA, the professional association for design; and the Mary Ellen LoPresti Award for excellence in art publishing from the Southeast Chapter of the Art Libraries Society of North America.

Continuously demonstrating a commitment to students and teachers through arts-integrated learning initiatives such as “A Page at a Time,” and “Artful Citizenship,” the education department teaches students to “read” images to enhance their analytical skills and improve their understanding of the role images, messages, and symbols play in their daily lives.  With recent funding from Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs and other sources, The Wolfsonian is developing a digital media lab for youth and implementing “Digital Wolf Prints,” a twelve-week series of design education workshops.

The Wolfsonian is committed to ensuring that its collections are accessible to scholars. This is underscored by the Fellowship Program, which, since 1995, has hosted and provided financial support for scholars from the U.S. and abroad to visit for a period of up to six weeks to conduct research utilizing the collection. Fellows’ research is often published as a contribution to The Wolfsonian’s award-winning publication, “The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts” (DAPA). Published by The Wolfsonian and previously distributed by MIT Press and currently by Penn State University, DAPA released its twenty-sixth issue in March, 2010, focused on recent scholarship about lesser-known aspects of the Mexican Renaissance of the 1920s. A grant received in 2009 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation enables the museum to strengthen its academic role by integrating Wolfsonian resources into FIU curricula and advanced research. The grant also supports the creation of a fellowship program for Ph.D. candidates in the Department of History.

The Wolfsonian is taking an increasingly prominent role in the advancement, study, and use of digital media in museums. The Wolfsonian and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS) co-hosted the 2008 and 2009 WebWise Conferences. Attended annually by over 300 museum and library professionals, WebWise has become a premier forum where nationally recognized experts share innovations in digital technology. In addition, the museum has been working with the MacArthur Foundation to host a convening of museum, education, and technology specialists to consider the impact of digital and social media on the future of museums and their educational agendas.