Last weekend’s holiday activities included (no surprise) — a road trip. On Saturday, we attended a Virginia Beach BBQ. We stayed overnight in Norfolk to visit the Chrysler Museum on Sunday, our weekend adventure day.
NO, we didn’t see any Chrysler autos. It’s not that type of museum. And, if you had wanted to see the only American manufacturer-run car museum, sorry it’s too late. The Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan, opened in 1999, closed in 2012. Lack of attendance was cited as a primary cause.
Instead, we saw art in a museum that was founded when his son, automotive heir Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. (whose wife was a Norfolk native), donated most of his extensive collection to Norfolk for what became the Chrysler Museum of Art.
The Chrysler Museum houses a collection of over 30,000 pieces spanning over 5,000 years, including glassware, statuary, American and European paintings, arts of the ancient world, Asia, Africa, and Pre-Columbian America, and sculpture.
This was a first-time visit for us and luckily came as the the museum just reopened in May after a 16-month shutdown. This $24 million expansion and renovation replaced 50 galleries from the ground up.
The museum was originally founded in 1933 as the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences. From 1958 to 1971, Chrysler housed his personal collection in a cramped Massachusetts church. He scouted several new locations; the city of Norfolk gave space and commitment and the new museum was created with 10,000 donated pieces making it one of the major art museums in the Southeastern U.S.
Particularly outstanding and of recognized distinction is its comprehensive 8,000-piece collection of glass that includes Art Nouveau and 19th-century American art glass.
The vast collection includes works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, who was a Long Island neighbor of Chrysler. There are several display cases and 2 stained glass windows in a separate gallery.
According to an online story, Walter P. Chrysler Jr., bought his first painting, a small watercolor of a nude, as a 14-year-old boarding school student. A dorm master, who believed no proper young man should have a nude in his room, confiscated and destroyed the painting — a Renoir.
In his 20s, Chrysler met the top Avant-garde artists of Paris (Picasso, Matisse, Gris and others) and began purchasing their work. He spent summers in American artist colonies and bought works from artists before they became established. He bought pieces he liked and was confident that qualities he saw in them would gain acceptance later. which most did.
Chrysler collected art for nearly 70 years and has been described by art critics as the most underrated American art collector of the past 50 years. He “traded” artwork often, and before deciding on his own museum, was generous with others such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in NYC, to which he gave several pieces now in its permanent collection.
The Chrysler Museum presents the opportunity to view artwork from its permanent collection and introduces several changing exhibitions of worldwide works. There’s some fun exhibits like this glass chess set with pieces representing Catholicism and Judaism.
One entire gallery is devoted to “pop” art with its bright, bold colors.
Get Fired Up is the theme of the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio housed in a separate building across from the museum. This facility complements the museum’s glassware collection and presents glassmaking demos to show how glass art is created. The demos are presented free, Wednesday through Sunday at noon. The studio also offers fee-based classes and workshops open to the public.
Not only is this museum a great place to explore, but it’s all FREE — the art museum and glass studio are open Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday. Guest wi-fi is available throughout the museum (also free). Visitors are encouraged to take photos of the collection, but without flash or tripod. Food and drinks are not allowed in galleries; there is an on-site restaurant. And, of course, donations are always welcome and very much appreciated.
We’re planning a return visit in the next couple of months. We had a wonderful time (doesn’t it show?) and definitely could not see everything in a single afternoon visit.