Guest Post: Art and Museums with Charles Clary

As I’ve detailed before (here, here, and in random snarky comments throughout), I have a lot of feelings about art museums.  Luckily, I’m engaged to an artist!  I asked him to answer some questions as an artist for my understanding, and for the understanding of my readers.

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Charles Clary, Artist Extraordinaire

Learn more about artist Charles Clary on his website and see his most up-to-date work on his instagram feed!

I’m hoping to write more about art museums and interdisciplinary studies more in the future – I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

Q.  Why are art museums important?

A. Art museums are a place in which the people can enjoy the labors of the individuals capturing the feeling and the mood of a society at any particular time in history. Art collections are great and to the extent that one can amass a collection – I’m all for it. But many people lock those pieces into private collections, usually away from the society to which the art was created. Museums allow for the lending of these works to museums that can show case them prominently and within a historical context so that everyone can enjoy these precious objects.
This seems like it might make an art museum more interesting!

This seems like it might make an art museum more interesting!

Q.  What is the difference between a gallery and a museum?

A. A gallery is run much like a business, in many cases for profit. Now, there are non-profit galleries as well as alternative space galleries and pop up galleries that seek to showcase the content of the work for free, but many galleries are set up as for-profit spaces. That’s not to say galleries are only concerned with making money, but it is a part of the art world and the experience. A museum is a place free from the pressure of sales, which allows the artist to delve deeper into their process and content, to go bigger, and to explore their work in a more challenging way.
Q.  What is history’s place in art museums?
A. History is forever linked to art. Art speaks to the time in which it was created; it’s a moment captured in paint, or chisled into marble. Art has the ability to become a time capsule or a snapshot of a moment in time that we would never be able to witness without the work. History influences the creation of art, either through religion or individuals. There was often a patron who bankrolled the work, which also influenced the artist. Every great society or time period – Egyptian, Roman, Greek, European Renaissance, Middle East – is defined by the art work and utilitarian devices they created.
Is it?

Is it?

Q.  What’s with the boring labels that tell me no history?

A.  Art is an experience, not a bumper sticker. If the story is all given away in the beginning or in the title, then why spend time with the work? It’s the process of discovering what the work is about through key visuals or clues within the work that forms the narrative;  it’s exciting to put two and two together. In most museum exhibitions, the entrance has a description of the artist and what might have been going on at that time in history and where the movement might have been or where it was to go. Museums also have great audio tours that attempt to quantify the work being viewed and situate it into a context that makes it make sense.
Q.  Which is your favorite art museum?
A.  I’m a big fan of the Pompidou in Paris France it’s a fantastic art museum that explores all aspects of contemporary art: design, sculpture, installation art, furniture design, painting so on and so forth. I also love the Louvre for the rich history of painting and sculpture. As far as galleries I’m a huge fan of Pierogi Gallery in Brooklyn and what they do to advance contemporary art both in their man space as well as in their space called The Boiler meant for large scale sometimes interactive installations.
At Kilmainhaim Gaol

At Kilmainhaim Gaol

Q. Favorite history museum/site?

A.  I really enjoyed the Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin.  The stories of people, their lives, and their times had a huge impact on me, and was one of my favorite parts of our first time in Ireland.  Belfast was also interesting, as a more modern historical site, and the commemorative murals there do a great job of combining memory, art, and history.
Q.  How can art and history museums work together, or history museums with artists?
A.  I think both need to realize that one is not more important than the other. History defines society, society defines History through art. The more they can work together to describe the advancements in technology and culture through the images and objects that are left behind the better for all involved.
Thanks, Charles!  Now, tell me all about Marcel Duchamp….
What do YOU think about art and art museums?  Any other artists interested in answering similar questions or engaging in a dialogue?

London Day 2/2.5: New Years Adventures

1507445_10101545216840245_366034008_oAfter a full day of exploring the city followed by an exciting day at the Tower of London and Tate Museum of Modern Art, our third full day in London was a bit more low key. We slept in a bit to recover from the fireworks the night before…

New Years Eve in London

…is the craziest thing I have ever witnessed in person.  Here is the fireworks show, which was amazing in its own right (worth noting it features ELO, 1D (of COURSE), my favorite Coldplay song, and the Queen):

Some bloke getting knicked by the horseback coppers!

Some bloke getting knicked by the horseback coppers!

For some perspective, we were right behind the Eye, below the building with the countdown, on the south bank of the Thames.  Leading up to the show, we met a couple of really nice east enders, and bonded over the ridiculous drunken people camped out behind us.  We talked about the Olympics, One Direction, and the weather – they were great!

The real cultural experience began after the fireworks, though… Our usual route from the Southbank to the flat was less than half a mile.  Due to the crowds, however, the police had barricaded off all side streets to force the mass of people to go down one street.  The tubes all closed at midnight, and it was chaos.  We saw: teenagers street fighting, a man who I think was dead on the sidewalk, a lady trying to punch everyone, kids throwing fire crackers into the crowd, people in windows giving everyone a show, a man getting arrested by a policewoman who was on a horse… the list goes on. It. Was. Amazing.  We finally gave up, found some high ground, and just watched the show.

Eventually we made it along with the masses to The Cut, where I convinced a policeman that our beds really were just on the other side of his barricade, and that we weren’t up to any mischief.  Poor, silly little Americans, he probably thought.

Anyway, we got to bed, slept in, then headed out for our last full day in the greatest city I have visited (sorry Dublin, Toronto, and New York).

New Years Day in London

1502443_10101545219210495_1532383247_oSadly, the most interesting looking gallery, at Southbank Centre, was closed.  We looked around outside, and continued on to see a bit more of the city, and revisit our new favorites.  We caught part of the rainy and windy London New Years Day Parade near Picadilly Circus (lots of American high school marching bands – it felt like home!)

We saw the famous shopping districts, had MORE Cafe Nero of course, and had lunch at St. Martin’s in the Green Cafe in the Crypt.  This was the coolest spot for a lunch, and I had a most English lunch of treacle, tea, and a small meat pie.  We went up to see the church, where the creepiest baby Jesus statue ever was found outside (picture below).  The crypts were really interesting, and I loved the statue of the Pearly King!

Charles and I explored a bit more, saw the horses and military park, and decided to get dinner at the Sherlock Holmes!  They were out of a lot of things that night, including fish n chips, but I did get some delicious chicken liver pate, and Charles had yet another delicious meat pie.  It was a great atmosphere with the mist outside, a chill in the air, and the warm pub food and delicious pint.

Dinner at the Sherlock Holmes

Dinner at the Sherlock Holmes

We continued on to the southbank in the dark, where we saw our last glimpse of Big Ben, the Eye, and the city I grew to love.

The next morning, we got up and caught the tube to Euston, and back to Holyhead to catch our ferry to Dublin.  This was probably our roughest day, which an abhorrent man from the Tube harassing us about GMOs and America (like we don’t know there are problems) and a miscommunication with the cab driver in Ireland who spoke a strange Dublinese language.  We only had one full day in Dublin left, so we went to bed prepared to make the most of it before heading back to the states!

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So long, London!

So long, London!

 

So long, London!

I miss you, still!

The Tower of London: Preservation Conundrums

Better late than never on the blog!  I’ve had a crazy past month with work, traveling to Utah, and so much more.  Back to London:

After a fantastic day traipsing all over London, drooling over David Tennant, and visiting the British Museum, we were out for another day of history and art!

1008431_10101545160293565_11292607_oOne place in London that I absolutely had to see was the Tower of London – it has so much history!  I have to admit, as I walked through, I just touched all of the walls and doors and exposed material possible.  People have done that for a thousand years; don’t you judge me.  I remember walking down one spiral staircase and just running my hand down the wall the whole way down – I felt up all of the history.

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The wibbly wobbly Harry Potter bridge, with St. Paul’s ahead!

We walked along the Thames through the mist, saw the current London Bridge (I lamented the fact that it is totally lame compared to the Elizabethan version), and finally turned the corner to the ticket queues for the Tower.  Along our walk we also got to see St. Paul’s in the day light, walk across the wibbly wobbly Harry Potter bridge, the iconic Tower Bridge, lots of giant boats, barges, and bouys, and even the Globe Theater.

From a museum professional perspective, I do have to say their ticket process is ingenious – the cost of the ticket was, say  £17.99; the ticket person asks if you would like to round up to and even  £20 with the rest as a donation towards preservation.  Duh!  We did, of course, and I’m trying to implement the same among my staff.

my favorite monarch!

my favorite monarch!

Moving on, we walked through the gates, past the yeomen warders, and into the heart of 1,000 years of English history.  You can read about the entire history elsewhere, but historical highlights for me were: William the Conqueror, Richard III (allegedly) murdering the princes, and Anne Boleyn.

It was a bit crowded while we were there, but it didn’t dampen my excitement.  Charles loved the armor and weapons displays, I loved the animal displays and Traitors Gate, and we both loved the cooking demonstration, even though the stag’s head sat there and watched itself being butchered.  We didn’t bother with the crown jewels since the line was long, and I had promised Charles time to visit the Tate Modern across the river.  Another disappointment was the lack of info torture chamber – the yeoman laughed at me when I asked where it was; something about Americans and their love of violence.  The interactives, living history, and touch stations really made a difference, though.  Charles and I both tried our arms at the long bow – we weren’t too shabby at it!

yummy. It really did smell delicious!

yummy. It really did smell delicious!

Reading about the Tower, I was a bit surprised to find out that sections were torn off that didn’t look “old” or “new” enough. I don’t know why I was surprised since this is a common practice, but it did still hurt my heart a bit.  I deal with the same type of things (on a MUCH smaller scale) at my own site, where the historic house has undergone MANY renovations, changes, and owners in its 200 years.  What period do you interpret?  Can you tell all the stories?  What color do you paint the walls – the color from 1200, 1500, or 1850?  Should you tear down a building from 1700 in favor of the view from a 1300 building?  I don’t have the answers, and I don’t know if there is a right answer.  Preservationists – what are your thoughts?

My general demeanor throughout the Tate

My general demeanor throughout the Tate

We left the tower to head to the Tate Modern.  I originally thought I would write a blog about that, but I enjoyed it so little that I don’t even really want to think about it that much.  I saw a Dali, which was ok, and I ate an ok muffin from the cafe.  Charles saw a couple things he liked, but over all, it just wasn’t that great.  As you know if I read this blog, I have feelings about art museums anyway, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.  I have nothing against art, obviously, since I’m engaged to an artist.  I like a lot of contemporary art and old art; something about modern art just irks me, though, in general.  I like van Gogh?  And now I’ve dedicated a whole paragraph to that place. Fin.

From the Tate, we tried to find a place for dinner, which we hadn’t anticipated as a problem, until we realized it was New Years Eve.  We went to the Sainsbury’s by the flat, watched the premier of Sherlock on the BBC online, and then headed out to Southbank for the fireworks….

london day 2

Our day in review

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The British Museum: Elgin Marbles, Cabinet of Curiosities, and Overwhelming Spaces

British Museum front facade

British Museum front facade

On the best day in London ever, I had a chance to visit the British Museum, which was a dream come true.  For years, I’ve read about the museum, longed to see the Elgin Marbles and Rosetta Stone, and I even used the museum in my dissertation as an example of the old paradigm of museums.

Old paradigm, indeed.

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In the entryway

I’ve recently come to realize that I just don’t love huge museums.  I didn’t really like the Met, I really didn’t like the Tate (next blog coming soon), and the Natural History Museum in NYC was just ok for me.  Why is this?  I’m a museum person! I’m still thinking it all out, but I think it might have to do with the exhaustion of vacation, the sheer size of the places, my feeling that I NEED to see everything, and the amount of people there.  Also, they seem like spaces for rich, old, white people most of the time.  It’s kind of like that feeling I get sometimes at big parties, where I’d rather talk to the wait staff.  Maybe I’ve just built them up so big for so many years that they couldn’t possibly live up to the hype in my mind.

Regardless, the British Museum was still impressive, and again, the Day of the Feels continued.

We walked up Drury Lane to Museum Lane, and rounded the corner to find the great British Museum.  I got really excited about what was going to come next – I mean, this is THE place!  Home of the Rosetta Stone, countless Egyptian and Middle Eastern artifacts, and bane of every museum professionals’ ethical and reasoning mind powers – the Elgin Marbles.  I had a bit of the vapors as we went in, saw the entrance, and walked through some of the Egyptian rooms – but the real feels didn’t come until…

EMOTIONS!

EMOTIONS!

We got to the room filled with the Elgin Marbles.  They were huge, and beautiful, and amazing… and I was so sad that here they were in the middle of London, instead of in Greece still on the Parthenon.  Of course, there are many pros and cons to this situation, which is why its a perfect Museums Studies class discussion.  But the current ethnic Greeks aren’t the same ones who are there now – but the Turks sold them to that British guy – but otherwise they would be destroyed – but but but – I really can’t decide what is right or wrong in this case.  All of that aside, they were astounding to see.

Elgin Marbles!

Elgin Marbles!

Charles dragged me along, I saw the Rosetta Stone and felt/got felt by a ton of people trying to do the same thing, and the rest of the museum is kind of a blur.  I remember seeing some goat mosaics, and the large library-esque room.

I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

The British Museum also seemed a bit, like most huge museums, to be a Cabinet of Curiosities gone wild.  There is a hodge-podge of  anything and everything there.  Some of it was thrilling to see, and some of it seemed to be a testament to colonial conquests.

We saw all the things and stuff,  as you can see in the pictures below, but by the time we got to the more modern exhibit of watches and timepieces, I grabbed a small stool and sat in a hall while Charles explored some more.

Final thoughts – I am an expert spotter of goats, both in the wild, and especially in museums.

Also, I can’t decide if I have memory fatigue from that day because of the sheer size of the collection and space, or if it was because of the reasons raised in this fantastic article on the Huffington Post called “Why Taking Photos At Museums Is Hindering Your Memory. “When people rely on technology to remember for them — counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves — it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences,” Henkel explains in a description of the study.”

It was nice to get back into the fresh air as we walked on to the Richard II performance.  I’m still processing the whole visit to the British Museum, but I wouldn’t say I DIDN’T like it.  It was just a little overwhelming.  I also can’t say I’d particularly want to go back to it, either.

Hopefully someday, I’ll think some more about the visit and update this blog with more thoughts and feels…

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London: A Walk Through History and Modernity

We woke up the next morning, December 30, after a pleasant night full of chicken curry and great sleep, ready to take on the streets of London.

LondonWe started the day with Cafe Nero (thanks for the suggestion, Kelsey!) hot chocolate and espresso.  Cafe Nero quickly became a twice-daily part of our time in London.  There was one right across the street from the flat, and the public restrooms in the cafes throughout the city were an added bonus.  We also stopped by a little bookstore to buy a pocket map of the city.  Luckily, I have an impeccable sense of direction, AND I was a geography minor, so we didn’t even come close be being lost (not that we could have been, since we were just wandering!).

Having the feelings

Having the feelings

The day started out perfectly misty and damp, just how London should be.  We crossed the mighty (brown) Thames to the Embankment where we saw a beautiful World War II memorial, a great view of the Eye, and Parliament and Big Ben.  This is a great intersection of the modern and historical sides of London.  The Thames has been the center of life in London from the time of Henry VIII,  William the Conqueror, and even earlier.  The Millennium Wheel, or London Eye, is a once controversial sign of modern London.  The timelessness (ha!) of Big Ben is iconic, and the history made in and around Parliament is also impressive.  Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with all the feelings about history.

An accurate depiction of me outside Westminster Abbey. Thanks, Sherlock.

By the time we turned the corner and saw Westminster Abbey, I was having even more feelings. Let’s just take a second here to recount just a few of the things that have happened here.

  • Construction on the present church began in 1245 by Henry III (he’s also buried there)
  • Before that, William the Conqueror and his successors were coronated on the same site
  • Survives the Tudor era and all the there and back again of Catholic/Protestant rule
  • Weddings: Henry I of England to Matilda of Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II to Phillip, and Will and Kate of course!
  • People buried there: kings and queens (excluding 2 of my favs: Henry VIII and Richard II),   Geoffrey Chaucer Isaac Newton, and  Charles Darwin
Charles and the Arch

Charles and the Arch

We didn’t pay the fee to go in, but I did fangirl appropriately outside, and buy a tiny gargoyle and some tea in the giftshop.

Next, we decided to go ahead and see Buckingham Palace and see where the day took us from there.  The weather cleared up, and the sun even showed itself!  We walked through the park, saw some geese, then turned the corner to the iconic palace.  I didn’t have as many feelings here, but I did try to keep an eye out for the queen!  We walked along the royal apartments, took a picture with the changing guards, saw Charles’ favorite spot up to this point, Admiralty Arch, and then continued on to Trafalgar Square.

and we'll never be royals.. that kinda lux just ain't for us.

and we’ll never be royals.. that kinda lux just ain’t for us.

In Trafalgar, we stopped at yet another Cafe Nero, saw the lions and Napoleon, and a big blue chicken.  Since we were already out and about, we made the quickest of stop at a McDonalds (reminiscent of our first morning in Dublin) for a cheeseburger on the go – no stopping for real food on this day of site-seeing! At this point, we figured why not go on and go all out – we walked up Drury Lane (of muffin Man fame!) to the British museum (where I again had all the feels – but that’s a topic for another blog, coming next week!). – Spoiler alert – I got emotional about the Elgin Marbles.

From the British Museum, we walked on to the Barbican Centre for one of the many highlights of the trip: David Tennant, the 10th Doctor himself, starring in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of Richard II.  Seriously – what a day of emotions, and I am not an emotional person (it’s the Britishness I inherited – stiff upper lip!). I mentioned in a recent blog that he is my dream guest blogger – still waiting on that call, Davy!  The performance was great, we loved it, then we waited out by the back stage door for him to emerge in all of his hair-extension-ponytailed glory.  I was so close, that had I not been so polite, I could have touched him.  The ponytail served as a great repellent.

Instead of a tackle or full contact hug, I just did a weak little wave.  Safe, but lame.

Instead of a tackle or full contact hug, I just did a weak little wave. Safe, but lame.

Walking on air, we went over to the Jugged Hare for the best dinner of all time.  Charles had the slow roasted rump of a Hertfordshire Fallow Deer, and I had a meat pie.  I don’t think this one was cooked by Mrs. Mooney or Mrs. Lovett, but it was certainly deserving of a song of how great it was.  The deer rump was the most delicious piece of meat I have ever tasted.

We started back to the flat around midnight, and passed Saint Paul’s Cathedral along the way.  This was one of the (if not THE) most impressive sights we saw on the trip – and we saw an awful lot of stuff. We had seen it in the distance earlier in the day, and it is an iconic part of the London skyline.  Seeing it in person, bigger than life, was something else.  None of the pictures can do it justice.

London-0630

St. Paul’s at Night

We continued along the Thames, which was the only time I was slightly uncomfortable in London – along the river, at midnight, under bridges.  Maybe we should have taken a different route.  Things were a wee bit confusing as the city was preparing to set up for the fireworks on New Years Eve.  Regardless, we made it back to the flat and passed out from a day full of excitement.

To sum it up, looking back on the day’s events, this was possibly one of the very best days of my life (surpassed by the day before when I got engaged in northern Ireland and that time I graduated with a PhD).

Next time:

  • Actually go in Westminster Abbey
  • Climb to the top of St. Paul’s
  • Ride the London Eye
  • Museum of London
  • Go back to the Jugged Hare
london day 1

Day 1 in London

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Meet Me at MOMA – Program for Adults with Dementia

After my trip to the Jewish Museum, I walked through Central Park, past the Metropolitan Museum of art (which I had not yet visited and was still disillusioned by), and continued down the Museum Mile.  I stopped for lunch at a small deli on Park Avenue, then traveled down to the Museum of Modern Art.   I found out about the MOMA Accessibility programs through the Museum Access Consortium of New York, and the staff was gracious enough to respond to my emails and invite me to observe one of their accessible programs.

At MOMA

The program I attended is called, “Meet Me at MOMA.”  More information about this program is available on the MOMA website at: http://www.moma.org/meetme/index. The website explains that at the program, attendees will, “look at art in the galleries with your family and friends…. Discuss art with specially trained MoMA educators who discuss themes, artists, and exhibitions.”  This event is offered monthly to all people with dementia and their families and/or care partners.  The museum website also offers a guide for designing a similar program to “Meet Me at MOMA” program at your own museum.  Information about this exciting opportunity is available online at: http://www.moma.org/meetme/practice/museums#museums_designing

I want to share some of my experiences with this program, and some of the comments that attendees made while on the tour.  As stated above, the program I attended was created for adults with dementia.  The group I was with was made up mostly of elderly people with some younger caretakers and family members.  As we went through the galleries, our guide Paula stopped at 4 important pieces throughout the hour to ask questions and get feedback from participants.  We looked at Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, Mademoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso, Bicycle Wheel by Marcel Duchamp, and Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth.

As a side note, I am not an artist nor an art historian.  My own views of these pieces are irrelevant, but I will say that I really enjoyed the honesty of some of the participants when describing these works of modern art.

Visiting with Starry Night

The first piece we visited was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. As another side note, the museum was closed for this program, and being in a small group, I was able to get up close and personal with this piece – it was amazing.  The guide asked such questions as, “what are we looking at? What are your observations?”.  Participants had insightful answers such as, “it looks like lights when you take your glasses off” and that looking at this painting made an individual feel that there was, “nothing little about twinkle twinkle little star.”  Others thought that the village seemed to be overwhelmed by the sky, the artist used, “blobs of paint”, and that the painting conveyed the feeling of a cold night by using cool colors.  The guide also asked, “What feelings would you say describe the work?” Answers included:  overwhelming, peaceful but the sky is exciting.

Talking about Picasso

Next we ventured into another room to view Mademoiselles de Avignon by Picasso from 1907.  Participants were invited to study the piece and make observations and comments.  Most agreed that the painting showed lots of women, but that they aren’t real women.  The general shape, eyes, and bodies are strange. They aren’t soft bodies but instead are hard and square, and the eyes are crooked.  When the guide asked, “where are they?” answers included: Hell, a scary place, and a studio with drapes.   People described this painting as:  an image of despair, being of women, but the 2 women on the right side are not human, staring at us, there is no life, nightmarish, aggressive, painted by a man but women are masculine. A particularly insightful participant pointed out that perhaps the women are  hiding their identity behind a public masks, and the African style masks are one step further to hiding their true selves.

Discussing Duchamp

The intriguing sculpture Bicycle Wheel by Marcel Duchamp was the next piece the group visited.  The comments on this piece were some of my favorite.  Participants said that this piece presented both a challenge and a possibility.  This was countered by another person who claimed the piece was simply absurd – there are no possibilities here!   Someone else asked the question, “What makes this art? Because it is in a museum?”  This led to the every-important discussion of what art is, and how something can “become” art.  The point was made that if this piece were in your basement it would be seen as trash, or as something in need of repair.  Another person said that this sculpture was “not enough to be art in a museum.”  The guide asked what it needed to become worthy of being in an art museum.  The honest answer was, “It just doesn’t turn me on.” It was then discussed that this was intended by the artist to be art , and that anything can be art, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like it.  Another participant said that the piece represents art on a pedestal by putting a bicycle wheel on a stool.  One man, who said he was a painter, said he feels that his art, and any art really, isn’t art unless someone looks at it and reacts to it.

Lastly, (my most favorite part,) the gallery guide asked, “What did the artist do to make this?”  The simple and succinct answer? “He drilled a hole.”

Commenting on Christina’s World

The last piece we visited was Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World from 1948.  One person said that the landscape looks like western Kansas where she grew up.  The group agreed that the subject seem to be seeking something;  the house is her goal.  She is an attractive woman, graceful, but it seems that something is wrong with her.  She is desperate, disabled, yearning to walk, has no muscle tone and chafed elbows, and she resides in a bleak and barren landscape.  The painting is spare and realistic, while the colors reflect a grim mood.  Others pointed out that while she is struggling, her pink dress is not desolate.  She has a hard life, but she is pushing and determined.

Throughout the session, the gallery guide would often repeat questions, comments, and answers more loudly so everyone could hear them.  She was also very patient with the audience and made sure that everyone was comfortable and understood what was going on.  The program was very enjoyable, and the participants seem to have a great time and be involved in an engaging exercise that helped their cognitive powers.  The question and answer system seemed to work well in engaging the participants, and it seems that this would be a great way to engage any audience.

The museum also has a lot of other access programs, that I hope to explore more in the future.

New York City – A Review of the Met

I love NYC!

Over the coming weeks I will be posting reflections on my trip to New York City in May.  I was fortunate enough to have support from the College of Graduate Studies and the Public History Program at Middle Tennessee State University to spend a week in the Big Apple visiting museums and professionals in the city who have similar research interests.

I visited the Jewish Museum, Museum of Modern Art, the Tenement Museum, and the Transit Museum.  I also met with an educator from the Intrepid who specializes in accessible education programs, and I visited with the President of the Board at Coney Island.  In my limited free time I also visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and experienced the greatest and most diverse city in this county.   Needless to say, I had a wonderful time and learned more than I could imagine.   This trip really helped to kick-start my dissertation research.

Greco-Roman Exhibits

The first experience I want to share is my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  In my mind I built up this great museum that has set precedence for museums around the world and stood as a pillar in the ancient art sector.  As I rode the subway north to the Museum Mile, I was excited to see Greek vases, Roman statues, and the Egyptian collection that I had longed to see in person since watching When Harry Met Sally.  I walked up the stone steps towards the Greco-Roman façade of the building with hopes and dreams of what I was about to experience.

Once inside, I realized this was not going to go quite as well as I had planned.  I walked through the hall with Greek and Roman artifacts that I had studied in the past and seen in books and on documentaries.  At first I was thrilled to see these objects; black and red pottery from Ancient Greece, a Roman sarcophagus, and even the recreation of a bedroom in a Roman villa.  As I continued on throughout the museum, a sense of disappointment began to grow within me.  By the time I made it to the Egyptian section I was trying to force myself to have a good time and enjoy the museum.

At the Chapel of Perneb

As I ventured through the Egypt exhibits, I had several thoughts.  First of all, the exhibit opens with the mastaba of Perneb, which is an offering chapel from the Old Kingdom.  Of course it is thrilling to walk through this building that dates from around 2450 BCE; however it also felt really weird to have this building inside a museum in New York City, thousands of miles from its original home.  This goes back to the unanswerable question of having objects in museums that are not in the context that they were originally.  Obviously I’m excited that so many people get to see this chapel and experience walking through it that might not otherwise have the chance to go to Egypt, but it still felt wrong to have it in a place so far removed from the Old Kingdom in Egypt.  I had similar feelings in the Sackler Wing with the Temple of Dendur.  For one thing, the water wasn’t running, so my illusion of Harry and Sally meeting in the Met was ruined.  Also, how many of those grubby handed children were touching the walls of the temple?  Granted, the temple would have been under Lake Nasser after the construction of the Aswan Dam.  Somehow, it still felt wrong to me.

ALIENS!? Having no interpretation, this is the obvious answer.

Another glaring problem for me was that there were so many statues, works of art, stelae, and more, but nothing was historically interpreted or explained to the extent I would have wanted.  This is something that I have always seen as a major reason that I have a problem with art museums.   I know that interpretation  isn’t their area of focus necessarily, but it is still disturbing to me.  This lack of explanation just makes me think that it is no wonder people aren’t very interested in ancient history. I have posted about this problem before, and the problem has yet to cease irritating me.  The presentation of ancient history in art museums is not personal or exciting.  When a jar is placed on a shelf and the date, material, and accession number is on a tag, people are less likely to want to go home and learn more about that wavy line red ware black line pottery fragment.  Why is it important?  What does it signify?  What can we find out about the person who owned that piece of pottery for?  What did they use it for?  What did it mean to them?  Perhaps gallery guides and educators address these issues more, but will the average person walking into the museum go on one of these tours?

JCD is not impressed.

Perhaps some of my issues with the Met also go back to the pre-John Cotton Dana idea of museums as elite, gargantuan, foreboding structures that are not open to everyone in society.  The outside of the Met definitely conveys the feeling of an “old world museum” and perhaps that is where my trepidation began.  Dana believed that libraries and museums should be, “vibrant community centers instead of collections of relics that only appealed to a small segment of the community.”  What would he think about the Met today?  More information on “The Gloom of the Museum” is available for free on Google books by clicking this link.  

Washington Crossing the Delaware

On a much more positive note,  I very much enjoyed the American art sections which is something in the past I have never particularly enjoyed.  American history, American art, American literature, and more have never been my favorite things to study.  However, seeing Washington Crossing the Delaware in all of its gigantic beauty after always seeing it in grade school textbooks was something I will remember.  Perhaps it is because I had a more personal connection and history with that piece.  The works of Thomas Cole were also impressive to me, and I very much enjoyed studying the nuances of his work and thinking about the encroachment of Americans into the west with “Manifest Destiny”.  I also liked the armor and weapons wing, and I especially enjoyed seeing Henry VIII’s field armor.

There are many factors that could have played into my overall dissatisfaction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Perhaps I had not had enough coffee, maybe I was somehow expecting a history museum instead of Art museum (but – duh museum of ART).  Unavoidable obstacles also stood in the way of my expected pilgrimage to the great museum.  There were crowds, there was also some construction going on throughout the museum that meant wings were closed, objects were moved, and things weren’t quite as “pretty” as they usually were.  Another thing that could not be avoided was that many artifacts in the Egyptian collection were in a different exhibit way across the museum,  which made it hard to experience the entire exhibit.

But the fact remains that my experience at the Met was not an overall positive one, and I might not visit again.  Next time I am in New York, perhaps I will better prepare myself before visiting if I do decide to return to the Met.

My friends who are art professors were horrified by my proclamations that I did not enjoy the Met, however many friends in public history or museum studies understood my feelings.  Have any of you had great or terrible experiences with the Met?  What would you change or not?

Images from my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

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