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Thread: The Morgan Library & Museum Expansion - 29 East 36th Street - by Renzo Piano

  1. #31


    Sounds awfully good, but where are the pictures?

  2. #32
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    You can click here: Slide Show: A New Order

    Meanwhile ...

    Michael Falco for The New York Times

    Bringing order to a jumble of buildings: In Renzo Piano's expansion, the main entrance to the Morgan Library
    is now on Madison Avenue. The collection opens April 29.

    Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

    The large central atrium at the Morgan Library,
    looking west toward Madison Avenue.
    The white enclosed structure with projecting elevator
    landings houses a gallery and reading room.

    Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

    J. P. Morgan's former study with its collection of
    Italian Renaissance works is in the original building,
    designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1906.

    Michael Falco for The New York Times

    Looking southwest visitors can spot the spire
    of the Empire State Building through a steel and
    glass wall of Renzo Piano's atrium, part of his
    expansion for the Morgan.

    Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

    A 280-seat underground auditorium at the newly expanded Morgan Library will be used for
    concerts and lectures. It is below the central atrium.

  3. #33


    April 20, 2006
    Morgan Library to Reopen With an Expanded Look, Name and Mission

    The Morgan Library and Museum's Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery, which houses medieval treasures.

    Being viewed as one of the best-kept secrets in New York might be flattering to some institutions, but not the Morgan. When it reopens next week after having been shuttered for nearly three years, it will have undergone not only a $106 million expansion and renovation but also an image makeover.

    Its new, gleaming steel-and-glass entrance is on Madison Avenue, supplanting the discreet Old World one around the corner on East 36th Street. And banners on the facade herald a change in name: rather than the Morgan Library, it is now the Morgan Library and Museum.

    For the 82-year-old Morgan, the point is to proclaim that it is not just a well-preserved relic from Manhattan's Gilded Age, but a modern museum with world-class collections and a full schedule of special exhibitions. For the first time it will have space to show off considerably more of its own treasures, including a rare Gutenberg Bible, ancient Near Eastern seals and drawings by masters like Leonardo, Rubens, Degas and Schiele. Its host of rare manuscripts range from medieval treatises to hundreds of letters from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to an autographed manuscript of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."

    Renzo Piano, the architect who oversaw the expansion, designed a modern addition in keeping with the scale of its three existing buildings: the original 1906 Morgan library designed by Charles McKim; the 1928 Annex building designed by Benjamin Wistar Morris; and the mid-19th-century Morgan House, which was redesigned by R. H. Robertson. There are new galleries; a 280-seat auditorium for concerts and lectures; a restaurant in the former Morgan family dining room; a cafe; and a bookshop.

    "We're going to be the ultimate treasure show," Charles E. Pierce Jr., the Morgan's soft-spoken director, said last week as he showed off a new gallery, a 20-foot cube that, while painted a pristine white, was inspired by the proportions of grand rooms in Italian Renaissance villas. Here curators were about to install some of the Morgan's greatest medieval treasures, including the Stavelot Triptych, a reliquary made of gold, cloisonné and Mosan enamels and ancient gems, and the Lindau Gospels, with its elaborate jeweled bindings.

    "We're trying to educate the public about our collections," Mr. Pierce (pronounced purse) said.

    "If you took someone from Paris or St. Louis who had never been to New York, and asked them to characterize the Frick and the Morgan," he mused, "they would be able to characterize the Frick," the Fifth Avenue mansion turned museum that was once the home of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick. "But they couldn't say what exactly what the Morgan was."

    Having grown by 75,000 square feet, the Morgan for the first time will be able really to tell its story of how the financier J. Pierpont Morgan spent a lifetime collecting, starting at age 14, when he ordered his first set of covers of the Illustrated London News in 1852.

    Eventually, Morgan assembled a library that ranged from collections of religious texts to classics of Victorian literature, medieval art and historical manuscripts. He collected paintings by Corot, Frederic Edwin Church and Asher B. Durand as well as old masters like Hans Memling and Perugino.

    From 1890 (when his father, Junius Morgan, died) to his death in 1913, Pierpont Morgan amassed more than 3,000 objects, including 600 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and 1,500 old master drawings.

    His son, J. P. Morgan Jr., decided that his father's library was too important to remain in private hands, and in 1924 he opened it as a public institution.

    The Morgan's collections have since expanded through gifts and purchases. In 1994 the dealer, collector and longtime board member Eugene V. Thaw pledged his prestigious collection of old master and 19th-century drawings; in 1998, the Morgan also received Carter Burden's collection of American and European literary works and the Pierre Matisse Gallery archives, which includes letters from artists including Balthus, Chagall, Miró, Tanguy, Giacometti and Dubuffet.

    In designing his addition, Mr. Piano was as sensitive to the Morgan's past as he was to its needs for the future.

    Half of the expansion is below ground. Mr. Piano and his team burrowed down some 60 feet, removing about 46,000 tons of rock that Morgan officials say was carted away in 1,300 truckloads. Its underworld is a blend of public spaces — the auditorium for concerts — and highly private areas, like its climate-controlled storage vaults, meticulously organized by collecting category.

    Above ground are galleries that, while retaining the modest scale of the original Morgan buildings, are mainly set around large glass windows providing panoramic vistas of Manhattan buildings.

    In the old reading room can now be found a selection of drawings dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries: Leonardo and Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Rubens, Watteau and Tiepolo, Cézanne and Pollock. Across the hall, where special exhibitions were once installed, are custom-built cabinets displaying illuminated manuscripts set against dark brown ultrasuede. Here visitors will file past treats from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves to 35 hand-painted tarot cards, one of the earliest and most complete 15th-century sets known to exist.

    Signaling a new openness, the Morgan's office is no longer protected by red ropes. The public will be able to troop through that sanctum to admire his collection of Italian and Flemish old masters and family portraits on walls of crimson-flocked fabric. In anticipation of the reopening, all the artworks have been cleaned and the lighting updated.

    "We wanted to let the public have a closer look," Mr. Pierce said. Even the Morgan's original private vault in that room will be visible.

    The new, modern galleries will have a fresh emphasis on the 20th century. Last year the Morgan hired its first curator for works of art from the last century. In 2005 it also received an important bequest from the Broadway lyricist Fred Ebb: mostly works on paper by German Expressionist and Vienna Secessionist artists, including Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

    "Our basic challenge," Mr. Pierce said, "is how to maintain a balance between beautiful shows that relate to the permanent collection while at the same time have shows with popular appeal."

    One telling sign is an exhibition planned for this fall: "Bob Dylan's American Journey: 1956 to 1966."

    Banners announce the new name of the former Morgan Library.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  4. #34


    The house of Morgan
    An expansion reinvigorates the legendary financier's famous library

    Newsday Staff Writers

    April 23, 2006

    An exhibit of manuscripts in a new gallery at the Morgan Library documents the hard road to art. One handwritten score bears Beethoven's scribbles upon scribbles, his final thoughts a jagged reef of notes engulfed by a sea of rejected ideas. The beloved elephant Babar springs from a few of Jean de Brunhoff's brushstrokes of gray and green watercolor. Bob Dylan's handwritten lyrics to "It Ain't Me, Babe" crawl across a sheet of hotel stationery.

    The display captures the way the imagination sputters and unfurls through a series of provisional stages. The library itself - both the collection and the complex - grew by the same agglomerative process. Architect Renzo Piano's gorgeous expansion, which opens Saturday, places that history under glass.

    Like most multigenerational projects, this one grew through alternating bouts of construction and demolition. The dark Victorian brownstone that now houses the Morgan's gift shop and cafe is the oldest structure on the block between 36th and 37th streets at Madison Avenue.

    A titan's vision

    J.P. Morgan's original library, a private palazzo designed 100 years ago by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead and White, is a hodgepodge of neo-Renaissance splendors, its interiors barnacled with wood paneling, scarlet damask, marble and painted ceilings. The 1928 Annex, by contrast, represents the apex of opulent simplicity. Until recently it housed the reading room, a dim haven where scholars could peruse brittle manuscripts in a clubby atmosphere of Old New York.

    Today, these antique cocoons surround a new sunlit atrium, which Piano refers to as a piazza. It is one of the city's most inviting spaces. The glass canopy acts as a vitrine, turning the library's buildings into objects and people into specimens. Great sheets of glass lightly abut marble walls, marking a slender but firm border between old and modern. Whereas the rebuilt Museum of Modern Art merges disparate structures into a sleek whole, Piano's approach is about making distinctions.

    The $106-million renovation of the Morgan Library is Piano's first completed project in New York City. He has a clutch of others on the way: an expansion of the Whitney Museum, a new campus for Columbia University and an Eighth Avenue headquarters for The New York Times. He is a good choice for a city where time is always producing fresh relics that demand preservation as well as reinvention. The Morgan is a model of how to use architecture as connective tissue.

    Instead of entering through the polychrome foyer of the Annex on 36th Street, visitors will march in from Madison Avenue through an unassuming steel facade. Inside, rather than the corporate modernism of MoMA, they will find the center of a tiny humanist village.

    A conduit to history

    The new lobby, like the library McKim built for J.P. Morgan, is wood-paneled, though the effect has nothing to do with old port and fat cigars. Warm walls of cherry and wide-planked oak floors mitigate the severity of white steel and clear glass. Sunlight - lifter of spirits, destroyer of ancient paper - pierces the Morgan's membrane. This is a place to congregate, and to choose among paths through history.

    From the atrium, assorted byways lead away from the light into the darkened sanctums, where the museum's collection ranges across roomfuls of drawings, manuscripts, bound books, ancient seals, letters and musical scores.

    The library has been closed for three years, so it's stunning to be reminded of the depth of its holdings. Between 1899 and his death in 1913, Morgan went on an epic buying spree, amassing, among loads of other things, more than 3,000 medieval objects and 600 manuscripts. That's five purchases a week from the Middle Ages alone.

    Chief among those acquisitions was the Stavelot Triptych, an almost ridiculously ornate and bejeweled example of Byzantine metalwork from around 1100. The triptych occupies pride of place in the one folly Piano allowed himself, a perfectly cubical freestanding gallery clad in faceted white steel.

    Lone misstep

    To the architect, the 20-by-20-by- 20-foot cube merges the Renaissance fondness for simple geometries and the nobleman's private retreat, or studiolo. In the context of New York City, it looks like a high-ceilinged box topped with elaborate louvers to regulate natural light that curators will rarely want. It is the design's one major misstep.

    Everywhere else, small and fragile items already look acclimated to their surroundings. The old reading room has been recycled into a drawings gallery, a place of muted spectacle. An Ingres pencil sketch of a portly gentleman hints at palpable flesh, a gentle Claude Lorrain landscape basks in a sepia haze and masked, beast-like figures carouse through a Pollock drawing.

    Across the marbled hall, display cases, nicely equipped with bars for leaning on, contain illuminated manuscripts, a Gutenberg Bible and the better part of a 15th century deck of tarot cards in hues that have remained miraculously bright.

    This was once the library's main gallery, crammed with partitions to maximize wall space. Piano has added a spacious modern display area upstairs. It is a generic, flexible space where the Babar watercolors and Beethoven manuscripts have taken up temporary residence, alongside pages from Dickens' notebooks, Byron's jottings and Galileo's back-of-an-envelope calculations of the orbits of Jupiter's moons.

    There is something exhilarating about seeing the detritus of raw inspiration and hard work in these polished precincts. The Morgan has enshrined the mess of creation and made it intelligible. McKim's original library, with its baronial fittings, embalms the Gilded Age taste of its founder, while the new addition honors his mandate to make his collection "permanently available for the instruction and pleasure of the American people."

    This museum, whose architectural styles range from high patrician luxe to airy modern transparency, wrestles with the American ambivalence toward privilege. Unlike the other tycoons of his generation, self-made industrialists such as Carnegie, Vanderbilt and Frick, Morgan was born into high society, and he aspired to European aristocratic refinement. He bought furiously, entering his voraciously assembled collection into competition with the millennial accretions of Chatsworth, the vast estate of the Dukes of Devonshire.

    (Morgan's eye sometimes passed unmoved over his exquisite possessions. He once demanded to know the whereabouts of a Michelangelo sculpture that had been sitting in front of his desk for a year - and later turned out not to be by Michelangelo after all.)

    The Morgan Library has been quietly adding to its collection during its fallow years, stowing its acquisitions in fresh vaults that Piano excavated out of Manhattan schist. Indeed, some of the Morgan's finest new spaces are underground, especially a 280-seat jewel casket of a concert hall paneled in cherry and upholstered in cardinal red. Like J.P. Morgan's painted lair, the institution he left is not an extroverted place, but a house of hidden riches.


    The Morgan Library reopens Saturday. It is located at 225 Madison Ave. between 36th and 37th streets, Manhattan. For admissions hours and program information, call 212-685-0008 or go to

    The library inaugurates its new underground Gilder Lehrman Hall May 2 with a concert by baritone Thomas Hampson, pianist Craig Rutenberg and the Vermeer Quartet. The next day, the Morgan launches a new lectures series, "Old Masters and Modern Masters: Face to Face," which features appearances by playwright Edward Albee, author Pete Hamill and poet Seamus Heaney.

    Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.

  5. #35


    Totally missed out on this project until now. First time I've ever heard of it. Damn, New York ALWAYS has something grand going on that you don't know of.

  6. #36


    Images of the expansion from the Architect's Newspaper...

    All images from

  7. #37


    I wish the exterior did nor contrast so bluntly with the old buildings.

  8. #38


    At a minimum, it should be instructive to the general public of declining architectural standards. All the hosannas bestowed upon the new addition by Nic Ourousoff should drive home that lesson even further.

  9. #39


    Even if it stayed in this general style, it could have been improved a lot simply by replacing the white panels with glass, which would have called less attention to itself than the steel.

    Quote Originally Posted by LeCom
    I wish the exterior did nor contrast so bluntly with the old buildings.

  10. #40


    Quote Originally Posted by vc10
    Even if it stayed in this general style, it could have been improved a lot simply by replacing the white panels with glass, which would have called less attention to itself than the steel.
    My thoughts exactly. Glass creates airiness, gives an impression that the new building is an entrance yet also an annex, an intermediate building that just supports the main ones, not overpowers them with a dull white box. I'm liking Renzo Piano less and less. Maybe he's good with interiors; I hope he sticks to them in this case.

  11. #41

  12. #42


    Piano's New Pavilion Puts Light on Morgan Library's Piazza

    April 24 (Bloomberg) -- With an elegant tracery of steel and glass, Renzo Piano has adroitly drawn together the three eminent buildings of the Morgan Library and Museum, at last creating the setting its extraordinary collection merits.

    When the three-year, $102 million makeover opens to the public on April 29, visitors will find twice as much exhibition space, though it totals only about 10,000 square feet. Because most of the Morgan's objects are small, that's enough to display riches galore. And even with Piano's angular modernism, the Morgan retains its peculiar combination of robber-baron grandeur and domestic intimacy.

    When architectural diplomacy is required, museums turn to Piano, 68, whose Renzo Piano Building Workshop is based in Genoa and Paris. He has recently completed well-received projects in Dallas and Atlanta. In coming years, he'll build for five prominent American museums.

    At the Morgan, he found room for 75,000 square feet of new space on its crowded Manhattan campus, about half of it below ground. The princely sum bought a great deal the public won't see, including a serene, invitation-only top-floor reading room and a three-level, high-tech underground vault to preserve the collection's 350,000 items.

    Dingy Entrance

    The new Madison Avenue entrance, set between a beefy 1853 brownstone and a library annex built in 1928, strikes the only sour note. The dingy, painted-steel surface perfectly matches the rose-hued marble of the annex, but it makes the entrance look like a hospital-size ventilation unit.

    Beyond the wide lobby entrance, Piano unfurls a 55-foot-high prismatic glass room that marks the crossing of the museum's myriad paths. Mastery of light is the architect's equivalent of an opera singer's high note, and Piano delivers, diffusing sun ethereally with metal grates and shades. The spires of nearby buildings appear to press in on this crystal pavilion, which actually makes it feel even more generous an oasis from the urban din.

    From this central gathering space, which Piano likes to call a piazza, visitors must go in five different directions to access the Morgan's original library and its six galleries. It's far from an ideal arrangement, but each of the old structures was demonically conceived, it seems, to prevent a flowing connection. (A greenhouse link, completed in 1993, was sacrificed for Piano's much larger addition.)

    Redone Galleries

    A slick, glass-box elevator rises within the glass room to a new upper-level gallery devoted to book and music manuscripts. Peer at Jane Austen's perfectly handwritten and elegantly bound manuscript for ``Lady Susan.'' Across is ``It Ain't Me, Babe,'' lazily inked by Bob Dylan.

    A second new exhibition space, one level below the piazza, offers an inaugural display of Piano's own work, including drawings and models of the Morgan project.

    Piano chopped out bedrock to make room for an adjoining 280- seat recital and lecture room, draping it lusciously in panels of burnished red cherry wood. If this gorgeous hall sounds as good as it looks, it will give the similarly sized Weill Hall at Carnegie a run for its money.

    The original 1906 library, concocted by famed architect Charles F. McKim, has been buffed and polished. Set in this lovely marble pavilion is Morgan's personal library, one of New York's most spectacular rooms. Bookcases rise in three tiers to an elaborately decorated ceiling and a skylight twined playfully in stained-glass vines.

    Signature Bauble

    Piano has placed a small, classically proportioned gallery between the library and the annex. This bauble, 20 feet square and 20 feet high, is the Morgan's only art-display space that admits daylight, elaborately filtered by Piano's trademark assembly of movable louvers, glass roof and a diffusing scrim of fabric. At the opening it will host medieval and Renaissance objects, including the 9th-century Lindau Gospels.

    In the annex, easel tables make the close-up examination of exquisite drawings a pleasure. (The collection spans 500 years, from Raphael to Jackson Pollock.) Also displayed are gorgeous book bindings and one of the Morgan's three Gutenberg bibles.

    In the brownstone that was for many years the home of Pierpont's son, Jack, Piano inserted a restaurant and museum shop in handsomely restored rooms, though I can't imagine the Morgan will long retain the woodwork's bilious green paint.

    Blue-Chip Bad Boy

    Piano was once architecture's bad boy, scandalizing the museum world in 1978 when the Pompidou Center in Paris turned museum-going into entertainment. (Piano designed it with London- based Richard Rogers.) Now he's the blue-chip choice for risk- averse museum boards. The Morgan is the latest variation on the graceful modern pavilions he's refined since he completed Houston's Menil Collection in 1986.

    Museum directors and curators love Piano because of his evident respect for art. His best work has been for singular collections and strong-willed collectors like Dominique De Menil and Ernst Beyeler, who built the already revered Fondation Beyeler in a suburb of Basel, Switzerland.

    Piano's increasingly familiar ingredients threaten to become formulaic for museums with more diffuse personalities, such as the Whitney, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

    Yet, somewhat to my surprise, his bespoke style fits the Morgan perfectly. The extraordinary refinement and air of calm clears the brain for appreciation of an obsessively scribbled-out 1808 piano trio by Beethoven or the 1440 Dutch Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

    To contact the writer of this story:
    James S. Russell at

  13. #43

    Default For whatever it's worth . . .

    Can't say that I am a big fan of the design or the materials used either, but I just walked down Madison tonight and the block is full of life. The museum is packed, the cafes are full, and it kind of gave me a different perspective. It seems alot less like "hospital ventilation shaft" now and just shows that what a building becomes is a lot more than the physical elements!

  14. #44
    Banned Member
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    I wish the exterior was as inspired as the interior. However, if that exterior was necessary to create an interior place that looks rather extraordinary, so be it. It does look much better lit in the evening than in daylight.

  15. #45


    April 28, 2006
    Art Review
    The Morgan's Treasures Bedazzle in Their New Jewel Box

    Slide Show: A Treasure Trove

    IT has been 2 years, 11 months, 3 weeks and 6 days since the Morgan Library closed for its expansion by Renzo Piano. Not that I've been counting; I have a life. Still, the time has not sped by. We revere the Met, we adore the Frick, but the Morgan is extra special, in a class of its own. No place looks like it, feels like it or has what it has: namely some of the most sensationally compact art treasures anywhere in this treasure-loving town.

    Now the counting can stop. At 10 o'clock sharp tomorrow morning the Morgan will reopen. And all concerned parties — you, me and everyone else in New York — can dash over to see what's new and what's not.

    What's new: a Madison Avenue entrance into Mr. Piano's splendid four-story glass and steel court, a sort of giant solarium with see-through elevators. Mr. Piano has also created two good-size second-floor galleries, and a neat strong-box of an enclosure, called the Cube, for the Morgan's famed reliquaries and altar vessels, medieval objects made with so much silver and gold that they seem to give off heat.

    In addition the library's former reading room is now a gallery for drawings. And Pierpont Morgan's baronial private study, where shrewd minds and expensive cigars once gathered, has been refurbished and Lemon-Pledged. I'll skip over the auditorium, new dining room and expanded gift shop, but will note that the Morgan Library has acquired a semi-new name; we must now call it the Morgan Library and Museum.

    Of course the Morgan has always basically been a museum. That brings me to what is not new: almost everything in the celebratory exhibition "Masterworks From the Morgan," which fills every gallery. Regular visitors will spot old favorites, like the ninth-century Lindau Gospels cover, encrusted with agates that glow like nightlights; Dürer's pen-and-ink Adam and Eve; Michelangelo's smudgy sketchlets of David and Goliath; and a good-as-new Gutenberg Bible. (The Morgan has three.)

    But there are also things on view for the first time; a suave drawing by Juan Gris is one, a recent arrival. And some are fresh from a long vacation, as in the case of a set of 35 Milanese tarot cards hand-painted with allegorical figures. The work of a 15th-century master — Bonifacio Bembo seems likely — they haven't worked a room at the Morgan for 20 years, but they're certainly working one now.

    Is there any logic to such eclecticism? Not really, though there is a binding thread, and it's proprietary. Much of what is on view — the Gris is an obvious exception — was bought and owned by the library's founder, J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), or his heirs.

    Morgan was born in Hartford. He went to school in Europe, came to New York City as an apprentice banker at 20, inherited family money and made more on his own. A lot more: enough to help bail out the federal government twice. In 1895, the year he established J. P. Morgan & Company, he provided Washington with $62 million in gold to reverse an economic depression. To avert a similar crisis 1907 he scared up $25 million in an afternoon.

    He was a prodigious personality in a high-rolling age. By the late 1800's New York was what London had been, the financial capital of the Western world. What it lacked was European-style culture, so its robber-baron citizens started buying some and bringing it home.

    In short order we got the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera, and Carnegie Hall, along with Ignace Paderewski and Marcella Sembrich, as well as the occasional Raphael Madonna. It was around this time that Morgan, well into middle age, began buying art, in part from a sense of patriotic duty, in part because that was what grandees did; and in part, I suspect, to lift himself out of bouts of despondency, to which he was prone. His first wife died from tuberculosis four months after their marriage, and he never fully recovered from the loss.

    He wasn't an especially picky shopper, at least at first. He bought a bit of everything — Egyptian sculpture, Renaissance paintings, Gothic tapestries — often from a distance in odd-lot bulk: art by the box, the peck, the estate, tossing what he didn't want and keeping what he did. In 1899 he picked up the tremendous Lindau book, outbidding the British Museum for it. With that his interest in medieval art, in the form of books and devotional objects, took hold.

    Most of that art of princes and prelates was modest, even miniaturist, in scale. Over time Morgan gave his larger acquisitions away; thousands of objects went to the Met. But he kept the small-to-tiny stuff for himself. And the library that Charles Follen McKim designed in 1902 as an annex to the Morgan home was tailored to them: it's a cross between a bank vault and a wonder cabinet.

    What does this passion for reverse monumentality, for gorgeous smallness, for the imperialism of the minuscule mean? Does it represent a psychological return to a childhood world of controlled fantasy? An exercise in connoisseurial trophyism? A tacit acknowledgment of the fragility of beauty? Freud had many thoughts on this subject; so did Shakespeare, Einstein and Emily Dickinson. So did Morgan, through the objects he held dearest, many of which the library still has.

    In the Marble Hall, for example, at the former 36th Street entrance, you can see a sample of his prized collection of ancient Near Eastern cylinder seals. These incised stone sculptures are so tiny, you can't make visual sense of them until you make an impression, which as often as not turns out to be a panorama of muscle-bound gods and half-human beasts engaged in cosmic wars.

    Of the European paintings that line Morgan's study, the very smallest — three Hans Memling panels — are by far the best. And the most spectacular of his medieval pieces, the Stavelot Triptych, a reliquary of the True Cross, is only a foot and a half high.

    What this piece lacks in height, it makes up for in metaphoric depth and breadth. A miracle of metalwork and enameling, it is actually composed of three triptychs in different sizes, two of Byzantine origin contained within a larger Gothic one. Here Eastern and Western cultures meet. And as the reliquary draws your attention inward toward the two splinters of wood nested at its center, it also releases a spiritual ripple effect, as energy radiates from the relic, to its container, to the Cube, to the library, to the city and beyond.

    Illuminated gospel books, some the size of a computer motherboard, work on a similar principle of worlds-within-worlds amplification. The Evangelist Luke, with a wrestler's neck and prehensile toes as portrayed in the Morgan's Reims gospel book, is a man, a saint and an embodiment of sacred history. The heavenly Jerusalem depicted in the earliest surviving complete copy of the "Commentary on the Apocalypse" by Beatus of Liébana, is seen in God's-eye aerial view. But with flattened walls that look like carpets and a checkerboard floor, it's an ornamental view of the End of Time, distilled to pocket size.

    Finally, a similar sense of compressed vivacity comes through in the autograph manuscripts Morgan started buying even before he collected art. In one major purchase, he acquired all 40 volumes of Henry David Thoreau's Walden journal, along with the pine box Thoreau made to hold them. The two pages open for view in a new gallery devoted to literary and historical manuscripts are filled, top to bottom and edge to edge, with stream-of-consciousness words. In them, acute, you-are-there observation is inseparable from philosophical speculation. That's also the case with Galileo's doodly sketch of the satellites of Jupiter.

    Since Morgan's death nearly a century ago, other handwritten material, less exalted though still notable, has found its way into the holdings. My favorite acquisition, which came to the library in 1969, is a cluster of poems and stories written in feverish, eye-punishing minuscule by the four teenage Brontë children: Bramwell squeezes 2,500 words on a page; Charlotte binds her stories into books an inch wide. And bringing the Morgan more or less into the present is a Bob Dylan souvenir: lyrics for "It Ain't Me, Babe," scratched on a sheet of hotel stationery. It dates from 1962 and arrived at the Morgan in 1999.

    "Museums are cemeteries," Mr. Dylan once said in an interview, though his presence here suggests that the Morgan is, at least, a cemetery in active use: pages will be turned during the course of the show to avoid light damage. And the Morgan will be presenting more contemporary manuscript shows, including one of Dylan material, in coming months. Actually for the Morgan, the analogy I prefer is to a reliquary, once a carved casket of solid stone, now also a vessel of translucent crystal, thanks to Mr. Piano and Beyer Blinder Belle, the architectural firm he worked with. With reliquaries, size means nothing; the energy inside means all. It's a super-radiant energy; an entire city can be soaked in it, though, naturally, the closer you are to the source, the more you get. And transmission is instantaneous: no fuss, no worry, no wait.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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