Category Archives: museums
Accessibility is a buzzword in the museum world as of late. Innovative museum leaders are asking themselves if their institution is serving a broad audience ranging in age, race, and socio-economic status. There are physical barriers like old buildings that are not wheel-chair accessible and economic barriers like the high cost of admission for an entire family. These concerns are real, and they must remain at the forefront of the discussion.
Today, I happened upon this article by NPR titled How To Make Museums More Inviting For Kids With Autism. This was a barrier that I had not thought of before. The closest I’d come was when I teared up reading an article about the Red Sox providing peanut-free sections so people with serious peanut allergies could attend.
I did a little digging, and I was really pleased to find that the Boston Children’s Museum offers Morningstar Access hours for children with special needs. The hours are limited and require registration, but I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that the admission cost is half of regular admission. What a wonderful program!
I am curious to do a bit more research to see if any other Boston-area museums participate in this type of program. I could see it being a big draw for donors who are interested in providing access to the community, as there are many people who could be well served by these opportunities.
Have you heard or experienced any similar programs? What do you think about this effort? Leave a comment below.
My favorite aspect of writing, as discussed in my most recent blog post, is process. Sorting out my thoughts and ideas, writing them down in my notebook, crossing out the awkward parts, replacing words, and adding and subtracting punctuation until I am pleased with the finish product, is what makes writing so rewarding for me.
My favorite part about being an art historian is the ability to make and negotiate connections while looking at objects of visual culture. Studying art helps me make sense of the world, by realizing connections and bridges between things that may, at first, seem very different. If I can borrow the words of artist Alfredo Jaar for a moment, “that’s the magic of art—and i think it’s extraordinary—the power to create connections, make bridges. it fascinates me.” This is a case where someone else’s words describe my thoughts better than I possibly could myself.
My love for the process of writing is very similar to artist Charles LeDray’s love of process in the creation of art, specifically in relation to his recent exhibition at the ICA/Boston, entitled workworkworkworkwork. The exhibition just closed this past Sunday, and is currently being de-installed and packed up for safe travels to the Whitney Museum in New York.
To be honest, I love pretty much everything about LeDray’s work. Born in Seattle in 1960, LeDray’s mother, a seamstress, taught him how to sew when he was just four years old. With no academic artistic training other than working as a security guard at the Seattle Art Museum, LeDray’s work and career are even more impressive.
Fixated on commodity, repetition, and identity, and obsessed with process, LeDray’s works are systematic and powerful. Hand throwing thousands of tiny ceramic and porcelain pots (over 8,000 in this exhibition alone), hand sewn miniature clothing, delicately carved human bone – at the most superficial level LeDray’s pieces are impressive based on sheer skill alone.
LeDray’s work, however, is anything but superficial. His pieces raise questions about gender identity, work and process, and loss. Traditionally considered “women’s work,” sewing is usually considered more of a craft than an art. LeDray challenges this traditional notion, as he is a male artist who uses sewn textiles as his most prominent medium. Overcoat, a piece that consists of a and sewn, navy blue miniature men’s overcoat stuffed with even tinier male and female clothes makes a commentary on gender identity and the sometimes blurred line between male and female, a false binary.
LeDray’s obsession with process and work leads to the dismantling, re-appropriating, and re-creating of objects. A piece entitled Small Suit made from Larger Suit, LeDray created a hand-sewn miniature plaid suit, complete with jacket, dress shirt, tie, and slacks. He then cut out from this suit the pattern for a miniature suit, which he sewed hanging off the right arm of the larger suit. He went as far as to punch out tiny, pin head sized, pieces of the larger suit’s buttons for the smaller suit.
Several macabre pieces carved from human bone illuminate the permanence of some aspects of the physical human body versus the average human lifespan. One piece, a miniature orrery, a mechanism used by the ancient Greeks to track the alignment of the planets in the solar system, reiterates the discrepancy and relativity of time and space.
One of the most moving and beautiful pieces, in my opinion, is the muted gay pride flag, entitled Pride Flag. This piece makes a harsh but realistic commentary on the politics surrounding gay rights. Many times, just as changes are being made, something happens to set back the progress. This is illustrated by the muted colors of the traditionally bright and vibrant gay pride flag. With miniature gray, white, and black men and women’s clothing sewn to the sides of the flag, the lives lost during the AIDS crisis are remembered.
The human body is not present in the exhibit, not even in miniature form. On display are only the objects that people use and/or wear. The absence of people, of the physical body, creates an eerie lack, an absence that makes the viewer long for the things, the people that are no longer physically here. The piece that conveyed this feeling the most for me, and that I could relate to the easiest was the work called Hall Tree. This piece includes a miniature coat tree, fabricated by the artist, with miniature hand-sewn coats hanging on the hooks. This piece reminds me of the death of my mother, and how things just sort of sat in places, as she had left them, until we were finally forced to move them; something that we put off for as long as possible, as them staying where they were was a reminder of her and the way things were when she was alive.
The miniature objects remind the viewer of doll clothes, of childhood, of the past. Though they appear at first glance to be innocuous and perhaps even a bit cute, these pieces are the symbols of the untold, silenced stories of the past, of the people who are no longer able to tell them.
During my undergrad studies at UMass Amherst, there was a big media buzz about cultural ownership and cultural heritage, as many United States museums were being told they had to return some of their antiquities to their countries of origin. It also coincided with the publication of The Rape of Europa and the subsequent documentary of the same title. Needless to say, repatriation, restitution, and cultural ownership became hot topics of discussion in my art history courses.
One of the most prominent stories in the media was the so called, “hot pot,” the Exekias Vase that had been part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Collection since the late 1970s. When the provenance of the piece was questioned and the museum was unable to provide sufficient information to prove that the piece was not illegally excavated, the Met returned the piece to the Italian Ministry of Culture. The Met did not HAVE TO return the vase, but it would have been in very poor taste if they had not done so. Because of their eagerness to cooperate with the Italian Ministry of Culture, the two entities have a positive relationship and have agreed to give each other long-term loans.
Another hot story was the media buzz surrounding Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. The art nouveau artist most famous for his iconic work, The Kiss, was a prominent artist who worked in around Vienna. This portrait of a family friend, Adele Bloch-Bauer, ended up in the Austrian State Gallery decades after WWII, when the portrait was originally stolen from the Jewish family by the Nazis. The surviving family members were shocked that the portrait of their deceased relative which was thought to be lost or destroyed was now on display in a museum. The family had to fight incredibly hard to get the piece back, hiring many lawyers and attending long, arduous trials. In the end, the family had to sell the painting as soon as they got it back, just to be able to pay for the legal fees. It is now in a small gallery in New York City.
What I find most fascinating about these scenarios, besides the obvious thievery and shady business dealings, is, especially in regard to the Exekias Vase, is that art as a sign of national identity. Though there are countless vases in hundreds of museums across Italy and Greece, this one particular vase was suddenly transformed into a symbol of cultural theft. I have very strong opinions about cultural ownership and retribution, which would be way too much to fully go into in this post, but I do understand why a country would want a piece back if it was, in fact, proven to be stolen from their soil. I do not think, however, that every piece created in Italy should stay in Italy. Art should educate and start a dialogue. If we, as citizens of the United States, were only exposed to art and artifacts created in our country’s very short history, we’d be missing out on a sophisticated world view.
The power of art, and the connection that people, countries, families feel towards these art works, is most apparent in regard to cases of ownership. If I’ve sparked your interest in the topic of cultural ownership, I recommend you watch/read Lynn H. Nicholas‘s The Rape of Europa and/or search ‘hot pot’ in Google to get countless articles about the return of the Exekias Vase.
9. We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.
10. We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.
It is in Italy that we are issuing this manifesto of ruinous and incendiary violence, by which we today are founding Futurism, because we want to deliver Italy from its gangrene of professors, archaeologists, tourist guides and antiquaries.
Italy has been too long the great second-hand market. We want to get rid of the innumerable museums which cover it with innumerable cemeteries.
Museums, cemeteries! Truly identical in their sinister juxtaposition of bodies that do not know each other. Public dormitories where you sleep side by side for ever with beings you hate or do not know.
The above passages are taken directly from F.T. Marinetti’s 1909 Futurist Manifesto.
Marinetti was an Italian poet and philosopher who attacked Renaissance perspective and bourgeoisie values. Obsessed with war, speed, and machines, Marinetti wanted artists to break free from the canon and create violent, radical works that represented modern life. Marinetti’s ideas were impressive, avant garde, and highly political. Like many radical ideas, Futurist works ended up being total failures, as they have been taken out of context and no longer successfully represent the ideological ideals they were created to convey.
Case in point: not many people really understand the (not particularly pleasant) ideologies of the futurist movement, as they are not necessarily visually apparent in Futurist works. For example:
Boccioni States of Mind: The Farewells, 1911
From this Boccioni piece entitled States of Mind: The Farewells, created in 1911, the bright, abstracted shapes are actually sort of fantastic and cheerful. Though the concepts of speed, machine, and modernity are conveyed by the paintings formal characteristics, the angular shapes and the dream-like composition do not convey the the concepts of violence and destruction that are so central to the Futurist’s Manifesto.
Balla: Girl Running on a Balcony, 1912
Giacomo Balla’s Girl Running on a Balcony, painted in 1912 is even less successful at illustrating the Futurists most important ideologies. This painting looks much like Georges Seurat’s canonical pointillist work, La Grande Jatte created circa 1884-1886. Balla’s use of light, bright colors makes this painting anything but ominous and his reference to the art historical canon does not suggest the obliteration of culture. Though it too conveys an infatuation with movement, as all futurist works do successfully, but there are once again no illusions to destruction – especially not the destruction of art or art history.
Boccioni Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913
Lastly, Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, a sculpture created in 1913, is the icing on the top of the not so successful cake. This sculpture of is the centerpiece of the brightly lit, ENTIRE ROOM of exhibit space at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Yes, the artistic and social movement that wanted to destroy museums and libraries and equated museums to cemeteries has its OWN ROOM at the Museum of Modern Art. It’s own really beautiful, really impressive, incredibly misleading room…that also does not hint at destruction, war, or radical politics. The Futurists failure by ending up with their own room in one of the most prominent museums, museums being the foremost institutions that they wanted to destroy, is the perfect example of why form needs to meet function, or in this case – ideology. Oh, irony. You’re great.