Penn Museum unveils multi-phase revamp

University museum will highlight its archaeological expeditions in new galleries

Best foot forward: a footprint from the ancient city of Ur in the Middle East galleries courtesy of the Penn Museum

The Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) in Philadelphia is bringing new life to its historic collection of nearly a million objects. New York-based Gluckman Tang Architects will oversee a major refurbishment of the museum’s 1899 Arts and Crafts building and 20th-century additions.

The museum will remain open throughout the three-phase project. The $21m first phase, launching on 1 November, will renovate the auditorium and three collection galleries, reconfigure visitor spaces and improve accessibility. It is due to be completed in autumn 2019.

The galleries “explore the incredible interconnectivities of all peoples”, says the Penn’s director, Julian Siggers. Those dedicated to the Middle East are scheduled to open first, on 23 April 2018. The region’s “fundamental part of the human story” is especially relevant given the current political climate, he adds.

Queen Puabi's headdress, beaded cape and jewellery Bruce White/courtesy Penn Museum

The 6,000 sq. ft space will display 1,400 artefacts from sites such as the Mesopotamian city of Ur (now Iraq), including a 4,000-year-old human footprint and a headdress and jewellery from the tomb of Queen Puabi (around 2450BC).

The galleries will host a pilot programme, Global Guides, of tours led by immigrants and refugees, which will expand into the galleries for Mexico and Central America (opening next November) and Africa (opening in autumn 2019). A later phase of the project will renovate the museum’s Egyptian and Asian galleries.

The Penn has led more than 350 archaeological expeditions since it was founded in 1887, including 23 last summer, and will highlight this fieldwork on digital displays in the galleries. “Behind the scenes of the museum, there’s an ongoing research story,” Siggers says.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper, 295 November 2017