Time and Tide Flow Wide: The Collection in Context, 1959–1973 - Exhibitions

Time and Tide Flow Wide: The Collection in Context, 1959–1973

September 27, 2022–June 11, 2023

Upper Jetté Gallery

This exhibition considers the early history of the Colby College Museum of Art, from its founding in 1959 to 1973, the year the museum opened the Jetté Galleries, the first of five museum expansions. As a vision took shape for this teaching museum, the ambitions of those early years established the focus and direction of the collection. The 1960s were a defining decade not only for the Colby Museum, but also on the world stage, as calls for civil rights drove global protests. The exhibition draws on history, the museum’s archive and the College’s Special Collections to explore important gaps and absences.  Rather than displaying the works chronologically, it presents counterpoints to tradition through the work of contemporary artists.

Questions directly addressed include: Whose collecting priorities laid the foundation for this museum anchored in American art? Which artworks diverged from that emphasis? What subjects predominate in the collection? How might we contextualize artworks acquired in the early decades against the larger social, cultural, political, and economic dynamics of the period? And, relatedly, how can we better understand the collection from our perspectives today?

Starting from the premise that the art museum is a site of power, where knowledge is produced, exchanged, and sometimes contested, this exhibition invites viewers to consider the contexts in which these artworks were collected and now reside at Colby, a liberal arts college in Central Maine on the Wabanaki homelands. Informed by new research, it reveals the networks of relationships that created the Colby Museum. 

The evocative phrase “time and tide flow wide” comes from Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick (1851). In the context of this exhibition, it represents the complex course of relationships and events that constitute history, whose telling is forever incomplete.

This exhibition is curated by Marisa C. Sánchez, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow for Research and Scholarly Engagement at the Colby Museum’s Lunder Institute for American Art.

Alexandra Exter, Costume Design, 1924. Graphite and gouache on paper, 21 1/16 in. x 13 3/8 in. (53.5 cm x 33.97 cm). Bequest of Jere Abbott; 1982.038