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Posts Tagged ‘Museum’

What’s A Museum For?

In antiques, art, business, cities, culture, design, education, entertainment, Fashion, History, science, Technology, travel, urban life on April 17, 2011 at 1:35 pm
Sir John Soane's Museum

Sir John Soanes Museum in London. Treasure trove!!! Go! Image by Mal Booth via Flickr

Do museums still matter?

In an era where we can now (which is fantastically democratic) access almost any image at our fingertips on-line, is it worth the time, energy and money to actually enter a building and spend a few hours looking at the real things?

I think so. Some of my happiest and most powerful memories are of museums in which I’ve whiled away hours. I inevitably come away awed and humbled, refreshed and inspired by the collective creativity of the millennia, all those ideas and fantasies and skill and global commerce — 16th. century porcelain! 12th. century jewelry! shields and armor and paintings and chairs used by those now long-gone….who were they?

Mine include:

– the amazing pietra dura (inlaid stonework) tables at The Prado in Madrid

– a room swathed in olive green raw silk, filled with exquisite Art Nouveau jewelry at the Gulbenkian in Lisbon

– Odilon Redon’s paintings at the Met

– the Venetian palazzo that is Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (and the subject of the largest unsolved art theft in history, covered in this terrific book)

– the impossibly fast Blackbird SR-71 jet, (Mach 3.5!) at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson

– a gorgeous room-sized painting of Joan of Arc at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

– the funky leather chair that was Sigmund Freud’s at the museum that is his former home in London

– the small, perfect Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art in Toronto (my hometown)

Here’s an interesting recent interview in The Wall Street Journal with Arnold Lehman, director of the Brooklyn Museum:

In any case, Mr. Lehman has moved on to his next idea, which involves something many museums should be doing: focusing more on their permanent collections. “I have spent a lot of time,” he says, “looking at how this collection should be seen in the 21st century by 21st-century visitors, all of whom have a lot more access to information than even the most respected curators did 75 years ago.”

In part, this is pragmatic: With money tight, museums have had to cut back on expensive loan exhibitions. But in part, this is visionary. For decades, museums trained visitors to come for their changing exhibitions, all but ignoring the treasures they actually own. Frequently, permanent-collection galleries are virtually empty, left to the dwindling pool of committed art-lovers. “We will make the permanent collection the primary attraction of the Brooklyn Museum,” Mr. Lehman promises. “I don’t want to see our visitation going up and down because of exhibitions.”

And a profile of another one of my favorites, Sir John Soane’s Museum, in London by FT columnist Harry Eyres:

The Sir John Soane’s Museum is a museum like no other. I remember going to see it when I was still at school and immediately liking it, though I would not have been able to say quite why, or to pin my enthusiasm on any particular object. According to the dapper and smart new director, Tim Knox, the museum has a strong appeal for the elusive 16-30-year-old bracket, the kind of young people you imagine would rather be on Facebook than going to some fusty old house in a lawyers’ district of London.

Now I’m a bit older I still like the Soane, and can come up with a theory about why it might appeal to the young. It is a place liberatingly free of cant: the educational cant that tells you that you should be learning about the history of western painting; the scientific cant that will fill you with facts and explanations; above all, the cant of good taste…Soane committed a terrible sin by being eclectic; by filling his house with an unclassifiable collection of occasional masterpieces – paintings by Hogarth, Watteau and Canaletto – and odd plaster casts, a huge model of Pompeii, the tomb of his dog and, in the basement, the magnificent alabaster sarcophagus of the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I.

What are some of your favorite museums?

Can you tip us off to an object or work of art in one that you especially love?

Ditch The Junk — aka De-Accessioning

In antiques, art, behavior, business, culture, design, domestic life, family, life, Money, Style on February 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm
Usen Castle, an iconic building on campus

Time to clear out the castle! Image via Wikipedia

I love this odd, elegant phrase — de-accessioning — used by curators of museums, to describe the formal and sometimes fraught process of culling their collections in order to upgrade and acquire new pieces.

Sort of a garage sale, but with 17th. century tapestries and 19th.century portraits.

Here’s an interesting New York Times piece on it:

Cultural institutions like the National Academy Museum and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University have generated controversy by selling or even considering selling items to cover operating costs, a practice forbidden by the professional association for art museum directors.

So even though all of the sales — with the exception of the historical society’s — are to be used to generate funds for future acquisitions, institutions that deaccession these days find themselves on the defensive. “Part of the normal biological clock of museums is to examine their collections,” said David Franklin, the director of the Cleveland Museum, which hopes to gain about $1 million from its sale. “We should be constantly refining and upgrading. I’ve given the message to all the curators that I regard deaccessioning as a normal act, and I encourage them to reassess the collections constantly.”

I think about this because I have some nice belongings I now want to dispose of, get some cash for, and acquire something better: a Lartigue photo, a kilim rug, a Japanese silk kimono, a raccoon boa. It’s much easier to bring something into your life or your home than find the right buyer for it when you need that cash.

Here’s a fairly astonishing/depressing look at what happens when your husband is a scam artist and the Feds swoop in to auction off everything you thought you owned.

This week I’m in Canada, to face the not unusual but fairly horrible task of sorting through my mother’s possessions and deciding — with her help — what will be sold, donated or kept. She is moving tomorrow into a nursing home, and it’s all been pretty sudden, so we’re having to make quick yet major decisions about some valuable objects and art. Let alone books, photos and personal papers.

I’ve bought and sold at auction before, and have written enough on art and antiques that I have a good idea what’s potentially valuable and is not, but for many people — and this is only a one-bedroom apartment, not a huge house full of stuff — it’s overwhelming physically, emotionally and financially. I admit, I’m dreading it.

When we’re at our most vulnerable, blindsided by grief and haste and confusion and loss, whether of life, home, vehicle, job or all of these at once, we have to detach from all these objects and dispose of them.

However Buddhist we wish to be(c0me) through practicing non-attachment, our possessions so often define us and encapsulate our memories.

Not easy!

What are you trying to get rid of?

How will you go about doing it?

What’s A Museum For?

In antiques, art, behavior, business, culture, education, entertainment, History, parenting on August 26, 2010 at 1:35 pm
NEW YORK - MARCH 13:  A woman looks over print...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal:

Not so long ago, directors were proud to say museums were “cathedrals of culture,” collecting, displaying and preserving the best art. Today, that’s regarded by some as elitism, and it’s not enough. Reacting to demographic and social trends, they are bending the art-museum concept to reach new audiences and remain relevant. “We live in a more global, multicultural society that cares about diversity and inclusivity,” Ms. Feldman says. “We’re thinking about how we increase our service to the community.” …

There’s no shining line separating the generations, of course. Some directors have been preaching the “populist” gospel for years, often translating that into exhibitions about guitars, hip-hop or “Star Wars” paraphernalia and live music nights with cocktails, DJs and dancing.

Current thinking goes much deeper. Many young directors see museums as modern-day “town squares,” social places where members of the community may gather, drawn by art, perhaps, for conversation or music or whatever. They believe that future museum-goers won’t be satisfied by simply looking at art, but rather prefer to participate in it or interact with it. “The Artist Is Present” show by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art—silent, one-on-one encounters between volunteers and the artist, which viewers hung around to watch—is a recent, popular example.

New technology and social media, from blogs to Facebook to YouTube, are helping to drive the trend. “We’re on the cusp of a huge change in the way technology will change the visitor experience and how people learn about art,” Ms. Feldman says. Adding to the pressure are changes in the art world, which is growing more global and more interdisciplinary, and in education, which skimps on the arts and is forcing museums to provide more context.

I recently visited the Metropolitan Museum, my goal to marvel at Big Bambu, a rambling, growing, insanely unlikely structure made of bamboo poles atop its stolid, sober, gray roof. It was a golden summer afternoon and the place was a mob scene: kids, tourists, hipsters, investment banker boys in their $3,000 suits. There was a giddiness to it all that was lovely, and unlikely, and engaging. This was art you could touch and stroke and walk on and peer through, the towers of Manhattan like some distant Oz captured between fronds and poles.

Then I wandered the museum, visiting my favorite object, a Hungarian shield from the 15th. century, covered with carnations. I admired Greek funerary statues and some cloisonnes and, when I got lost, was told to “turn left at the table” — a stunning pietra dure splendor in itself.

I don’t think museums are just for amusement or titillation. I think they are, and should remain, a place to slow down. To stand very still and contemplate — without the desperate need to interact or touch or listen to a noise — what extraordinary things man has created for milennia. In the Greek galleries, I saw, and coveted deeply, a pair of gold earrings, a pair of doves each ridden, with reins in their beaks, by a cherub. Want them!

I was very fortunate in growing up in a home where my father was a painter and artist in his own right, as well as an avid collector of all sorts of objects, from Japanese masks to Eskimo sculpture and prints to lithographs and engravings. I took for granted that my life, somehow, would always (as it has) include great visual beauty.

When I visit a museum or gallery, I feel deeply refreshed. Beauty feeds my soul. I need to remember, we all do, that every culture, in every century — whether working in clay or gold or gouache or plastic — has made objects worth contemplation.

How many young students now feel the joy of making lovely things with their own hands? How many will ever go on to appreciate that others, too, have created and continue to make, things well worth an hour or two or three of our time?

A recent study of museum-goers found that, on average, most people were spending barely a minute in front of any one piece.

Kids now spend seven hours a day engaged with technology, things that buzz and beep and tell them they are extremely cool and connected. It’s a closed, comforting repeating tape loop of narcissistic fantasy.

How, if at all, to bring them — to bring anyone — into a place of quiet beauty?

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The World's Ten Ugliest Buildings. Is One In Your City?

In art, design on November 29, 2009 at 9:26 pm
ROM Crystal - Daniel Libeskind, architect

Image by Randy OHC via Flickr

Where are the world’s ugliest buildings? One of them’s in my hometown, Toronto, according to the second annual list from virtualtourist.com

The Royal Ontario Museum added the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, opening in June 2007, a totally incongruous Daniel Liebeskind designed addition to one of the city’s loveliest buildings, built in 1914 of sandstone. Now its aluminum and glass shards protrude from the north end of the ROM, North America’s fifth largest museum.

Which monstrosity gets your vote?

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