“Of the nation. For the people.”
So reads the new tagline for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which reopened to the public today—for the first time since November 2020—with an overhauled visual brand calibrated toward messages of optimism and equality.
The federally funded institution’s old palette of grays and off-whites has been replaced with nine bright colors, which will adorn institutional signage, employees’ uniforms, and new banners on the building’s facade, as will a new logo and universal typeface.
The makeup of the museum has changed too. E. Carmen Ramos, who currently serves as curator of Latinx art and acting chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, has been named the National Gallery’s new chief curator, according to the New York Times. Upon starting in August, Ramos will become both the first woman and first person of color to hold the position.
With the hire, more than half of the museum’s seven top leadership positions will be occupied by BIPOC. That’s a stark change from just two years ago, when the group was 100 percent white.
“With our doors finally open, we re-present to our public how the National Gallery will meet our mission of welcoming all people to explore and experience art, creativity, and our shared humanity—with generosity, inclusivity, and joy,” the museum’s director, Kaywin Feldman, said in a statement.
“A brand is more than a new logo or color palette,” she went on. “A brand is the embodiment of what we offer and what our audiences experience. Most importantly, it helps us demonstrate what our vision, mission, and values promise to the nation.”
Behind the rebrand effort was Pentagram, a New York-based design firm, and AEA, a Beacon, New York consultancy. The companies were paid $500,000 and $320,000, respectively, per the Washington Post. Meanwhile, an additional $900,000 from the museum’s operating budget was put toward updating the museum.
Feldman explained to the Post that, upon being hired as the museum’s first female director in 2018, she was tasked with one major mandate from the institution’s board. “They described it as putting the national back in the National Gallery of Art,” she told the paper. “That’s been the focus of the work.”
In recent years, the museum has faced increasing pressure from both internal staff and the broader public to address issues of diversity and inclusion. In July 2020, two anonymous former employees and one current staff member issued a petition alleging sexual and racial harassment at the museum.
The National Gallery also came under fire for its postponement of a long-awaited Philip Guston retrospective due to concerns over how the artist’s more politically charged pieces would be received.
To that end, Feldman stressed that the rebrand wasn’t just aesthetic. “We have done the rest of the work, too,” she told the Post, citing a diverse slate of new acquisitions, including the museum’s first painting by a Native American artist, and upcoming shows, such as those dedicated to contemporary female photographers and “Afro-Atlantic Histories.”
“It’s not like we’ve been sitting around only doing a brand identity,” Feldman added. “We have a lot to show for the last two years. The challenge is: We couldn’t do the work without updating the brand.”
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