Author Archives: Alison

Sounds of Fall

Amy and I must be in sync today- we’re both updating. 🙂

I’m veering off theme a little here, but music = art, right? Thought I’d share some of the music I’ve been listening to lately.

I keep my ipod speakers at work in the collections area where a bunch of us work, thus subjecting my co-workers (and yesterday, a tour group) to my music every day. I thought some of their responses to my tastes have been interesting. For example:

Him, in reference to my entire ipod library: “What is this, your shoegaze mix?”
Me: “Huh? This is Radiohead.”
Him: “I know. Haven’t you ever heard that term before? It’s, like, music that’s good for looking at your shoes. But it’s the kind of stuff I listen to, too.”

Yeah. Luckily, I don’t think ALL my music fits in that category. Plus, one probably doesn’t want to play hardcore gangsta rap in a work environment.

I think I do have a pretty eclectic taste in music, probably partially due to my upbringing. I grew up tripping over guitars and amps and mandolins and lots and lots of vinyl. Our cats even participated- they played with old guitar strings instead of catnip toys. I took piano, viola and choir (um, in addition to 3 kinds of dance, and several art classes. Yeah. I was one of those kids. I guess in a home that valued the arts, but shunned math and the hard sciences, you can see why I ended up in a museum studies program in Seattle?)

I got the Music 101 education at home- classical and classic rock/folk-rock- but listened to Top 40 pop and R&B with my friends. (Why yes, I DO know all the words to Coolio’s Fantastic Voyage.) By middle school and high school I was all about the alternative rock. (R.I.P, WMAD, Madison’s New Rock Alternative. Thanks for getting me through my high school years…) In college, thanks to Napster, I revisited classic rock, with my friends viewing me as some sort of novelty who appeared to have missed most of the 80s music but had somehow fully participated in the 60s and 70s. (Side note: I still think the 80s was worst and cheesiest decade for music. I don’t heart synthesizers. Well, OK, late ‘90s music was pretty bad, too.) I expanded my classical listening in college- my roommate was a music performance major, and I attended most of her concerts and we listened to her Shostakovich and Brahms CDs a lot in the apartment. After college and in grad school I got more into the indie rock stuff, especially living in Seattle- KEXP!

Anyway, that’s my brief musical history. So here’s what I’ve been listening to as of late. (I’m not sure how to post mp3s on this thing, so I’ll do YouTube/Hype Machine links.)

1. Nick Drake, River Man

How can you not have Nick Drake in an Autumnal mix? As my co-worker joked the other day, “Everyone has to have a Nick Drake song on their ipod.” This one is the most haunting to me- a masterpiece of melancholy. For some reason, this song also reminds me of the Peanuts movies, most notably, Snoopy Come Home. Is that weird? Most likely.

2. Bon Iver, For Emma

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver is a fellow Wisconsinite. He recorded his album, For Emma, Forever Ago, in a remote northwoods cabin, and I think the end product really reflects that sense of isolation.

3. Jeff Buckley, Grace

Dude sang like an angel. This might be the quintessential fall song. I feel chilled and like I’m standing under a streetlight in the rain watching leaves blow by when I hear this song. (I swear this isn’t supposed to be an emo mix.)

4. The National, Mr. November

Appropriate for election season. I love love this song. The National is one of my new favorite bands, even though the songs took a few listens for me to get into.

5. Joni Mitchell, River

Joni Mitchell is one of those singers I didn’t get until recently. My dad always liked her but I found her voice annoying as a kid. But yeah, she can sing and tell a story. And who doesn’t want a river to skate away on once in awhile…?

6. Band of Horses, No One’s Gonna Love You

Really pretty, mellow love song. I guess fits the “shoegaze” criteria.

7. Diefenbach, On The Move

This song has a lot of weird chords/dissonance. Makes your ears take notice and say WTF. It’s nice to be surprised instead of predicting every key change.

8. Devendra Banhart, Carmensita

I’ll close with a fun song. This video is awesome, but I’m sad he and Natalie broke up. Anyway, I like songs in sassy Spanish.

That’s it for now- but maybe more music posts in the future.


Collections management ideals have ruined me: A Trip to Taliesin!

Last week, J and I took a day trip to the rolling hills of Western Wisconsin. Specifically, we set out for Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal estate near Spring Green. Funnily enough, we had been to Taliesin West, Wright’s winter home, in Scottsdale, Arizona a few years ago, but not to his original home just an hour away from Madison. Both of us are Wright-ians. My interest goes back to high school, when I chose Wright as a final paper and presentation topic in my 11th grade “History of City and State” class. J took an entire course on Wright in college. We both knew a lot about Wright coming into the trip, but the Taliesin tour turned out to be a lot more informative than either of us had expected.

As it turned out, we didn’t actually get to the main part of Taliesin- his home, although we had a pretty nice view from the highway. The tours were expensive, about $80, so we decided on the cheaper “Hillside Tour”, which took us about a half-mile down the road from the visitor center via minibus. This tour included the co-ed architecture school, founded by Wright. The original portion dates from 1903, and also includes attached dorms from the 1930s, a dining hall, and theater, all of which are still in use by current BA and MA architecture students. This is a very prestigious school, difficult to gain admission, but almost guaranteed a great architectural position upon graduation.

The site is beautiful- hilly, green with tons of old trees. The surrounding farmland was originally part of Wright’s family’s property, and then became the school’s. Students (apprentices and fellows) were expected to contribute to the daily chores and farming as part of their education. Today, the architecture students are required to live onsite in the dorms during the warmer months. During the winter months, they continue their education while residing at Taliesin West in Arizona.

The architecture, of course, was completely visionary, considering that it had been conceived of over 100 years ago. Like all of Wright’s buildings, the school is integrated with the landscape in color and form, and contains flowing, open spaces rather than the box-like rooms typical at the time. Another element Wright added were huge, almost floor-to-ceiling windows- completely shocking when the school opened. According to our guide, some of the first parents of students at the school were so concerned about the perceived lack of structural support that they felt the building would be too unsafe to allow their children to attend the school.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was a room filled with Wright’s original models for some of his most famous projects, including the Guggenheim Museum. The day I was there, a photographer from the Guggenheim had been photographing the model in preparation for an upcoming exhibition on Wright at the museum. The Plexiglas that usually fits over the model was still set aside, so our group was able to have a much closer look at the model, which was pretty amazing.

Then we entered the large, main school room, where the students were working. My inner museum nerd was startled when, during the tour, a student walked past carrying a full glass of juice, and continued walking through to her drafting table. Yes, they can eat throughout the entire complex. No, it’s not a museum per-se, but it’s a historic site operating as a 501(c)3 (according to the brochure), so I was filled with conflict about the current use of this space, as intended by Wright, versus a space to be preserved and cared for like one would other historic buildings.

Another Museology collections-management buzzer went off for me when our guide explained that since no one uses the space during the winter, there is no need for (and no funds for) heating. Instead, when the nights are chilly, the students gather near a huge fireplace in the main work room. In the winter, our guide said, temperatures inside the school reach far below freezing. Okay. Let’s back up here. A fireplace? Still in use? Fire danger, smoke damage? No heat in Wisconsin winters? Expansion and contraction, people! The whole place is wood, for god’s sake.

Bottom line? I came away from Taliesin with a greater appreciation for our local legend, and respect the fact that the school is still in use and students are able to be educated in Wright’s original environs. But along with that opportunity also come a few cringe-inducing preservation issues. These are partially caused by financial problems, but mostly stem from the fact that the buildings are not merely a century-old historic site but also a current educational institution. By allowing students’ access to the offerings of the facility, they are compromising the structure. But by allowing the structure to be nothing more than a historic site, the students lose out on an amazing educational opportunity. What would Frank say? It’s hard to know. It’s no secret that he valued his buildings more than the wishes of the people who lived in them (not what I am advocating! I like people, maybe even more that I like stuff!), but he was also a strong promoter of education. So, I guess it’s the age old access vs. preservation argument again.

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.