Museums…keeping it real.

Not only is this my first post on Art Bitches, it is my first blog post…ever. It will be interesting to see where this thing goes and what it becomes. It has the potential to be a unique look at the U.S. art and museum scene through the eyes of burgeoning museum professionals. Or, as Amy suggested last night, if I post every Wednesday, it will just be a good way for me to keep track of the days of the week while in my jobless state.

(Side note: I still can’t use of the term “museum professional without thinking about the alternate term, “museum worker,” which was vetoed in class for sounding too proletariat. Anyway…)

Since this is my first post, I just wanted to use it as a reminder as to why I like museums in the first place. It’s easy to forget this when I get so caught up in job searching, not to mention the fact that after writing and defending my thesis, I needed a total vacation from all things museumy for a few weeks.

So why do I like museums? Probably for the same reasons all of you do- the access to art, the serene environment, the opportunity to be around like-minded individuals, just to name a few. I was reminded of another reason a couple weeks ago when I attended an exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison: the ability of museums to provide an authentic experience within a controlled environment (fixed objects in a fixed location). Of course, you always create your own authenticity in whatever uncontrolled environment you happen to be in, from riding the bus to attending a party. But a museum sets it all up for you, so you can only depend on your own individual response to create the authenticity. It’s this individual response to real objects that I think is what is at the core of what I like about museums. I witnessed this firsthand at the Modernist sculpture exhibition at the Chazen while observing a young boy and his grandfather walking through the galleries.

Here’s the website for the museum, which is on the University of Wisconsin campus.

(Apologies for the suckiness of the site. Perhaps they could use a museologist with a flair for design to help them out in this area…)

The boy looked to be about 8 years old, and one would get the feeling that this is the kind of kid who spends more time playing video games than visiting cultural institutions (like most kids, right?) But it was obvious that he was completely taken with this modernist sculpture exhibition, especially Calder’s mobile. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but Calder’s use of movement and primary colors make him a very kid-friendly artist.

Alexander Calder mobile similar to one in Chazen exhibition.

This boy was not using an “indoor voice,” which usually drives me nuts in museums, but I couldn’t help but enjoy his enthusiasm for the art. He was, after all, giving his immediate and unbiased responses, which you just have to appreciate. When standing under the Calder, he looked up and commented that it seemed like it would have been hard to make, and then announced, “it looks like it’s floating!” He also seemed to want more information, as he read the labels loudly, prompting his grandfather to gently ask him to be quiet.

Yeah, he probably could have been quieter, seeing as I heard this entire exchange from the other side of the gallery, but I hope more children (and adults) are exposed to authenticity like this, learning not just about art, but about their own responses to it. Ultimately, that is what every exhibition should set out to inspire. Hopefully, with wherever our museum careers take us, we can contribute in creating meaningful, memorable visitor experiences in some small way.

OK, all aboard the S.S. Snark next time, I hope.


2 responses to “Museums…keeping it real.

  1. Thanks for sharing, it strikes quite a few chords with me (the first exhibition I remember seeing was a Calder restrospective). “Authentic experience in a controlled environment” is an apt phrase.

    Also, yesterday I was trying to formulate a twitter post to “people who work at museums” and kept wanting to use “museum worker” but wouldn’t let myself. Haha.

  2. Loved the post. Seeing a Calder always brings the kid out in me.

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