gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Tag Archives: exhibition

Art viewing in the time of Covid

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I went to the Art Institute of Chicago recently for the first time since the covid pandemic hit the U.S. last Spring, and I was surprised by how much I felt like I had to re-learn how to look at art and get the most out of a museum visit. I suppose we’ll have to re-learn how to do a lot of things post-pandemic. The Art Institute was quite crowded, which I was not expecting, and there was a three hour wait for the Monet exhibition. I didn’t wait for it, but I definitely want to see it before it goes down in June. It was incredible and rather surreal to see some of my favorite works of art at the museum, and I found myself spending more time than usual in front of them to soak them all in – scanning them from top to bottom so that I didn’t miss anything. I mostly went for the Henri Toulouse-Lautrec special exhibition, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Celebrity Culture of Paris. He’s one of my favorite artists and I always spend time with his works when I go to the Art Institute. They are typically on display in a room close to where the special exhibit is now. To have a full room dedicated to him and his large colorful posters and prints was spectacular. I love the playful imagery in his works that have a slight sense of mockery underneath their artistic virtue.

During my first museum visit since the pandemic started, I had this New York Times article about museums in the Berkshires on my mind. The Berkshires hold a special place in my heart. I love the beauty and the peacefulness of these majestic mountains, that take on a purple hue in just the right light. My mom grew up in the Berkshires and I lived there for one year before going to grad school. This area might be rural, but it is certainly rich and vibrant in art and culture. With numerous museums for its small scope and population, it’s a destination for visitors seeking solace in nature and intellectual awakening in its cultural institutions. The house that my mom grew up in in Williamstown, MA (the same house that I spent my time in while living there) was just steps away from the Clark Art Institute. We also took advantage of and appreciated MASS MoCA and the other museums in the area.

Williamstown, MA

What I really appreciated about this article was the commentary on contemporary art. Contemporary art is certainly contemporary, relatively speaking, but it’s not as contemporary as it claims to be. As this article points out, it can’t keep up with the current times that we have experienced over the past year. What then, one can argue, is the value of contemporary art? I agree with the author, Jason Farago, that we can learn just as much from the old masters as we can from contemporary art. Furthermore, art isn’t so much about what we can learn from it, but how it reminds us of our humanity.

“If I seek out art in a time of national catastrophe, it’s not because I need that catastrophe explained to me. And it’s not because I want to block that catastrophe out with a veil of pretty pictures. It’s simpler than that. It’s because I need to be reminded what to live for.”

Jason Farago

Hut philosophy

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Muji Hut, Japan 

As a Philosophy major in college and a lover of anything to do with one’s home/intimate space, I was intrigued by this article about a class at UChicago called A Curating Case-Study: The Hut taught by Dieter Roelstraete. In conjunction with an exhibition at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society last spring, Hutopia, both explored three philosophers and their construction of their huts, real and figurative. Wittgenstein and Heidegger had physical huts where they liked to retreat to think and write, but Adorno did not and instead a sculpture was made by artist Hamilton Finlay to represent his hut. 

The idea of using a place as inspiration, whether for creative or intellectual endeavors, is alive in anyone who cares about the physical space around them – their room, apartment, house, hut, cabin, etc. It doesn’t have to be a faraway remote place that you escape to, although perhaps part of the inspiration lies in the escaping; it is something you can construct wherever you are.

It’s exciting and freeing to think that we can make choices about our space that can affect not only how we feel, but also potentially our productivity. If you were to build yourself a hut, what would it look and feel like? Would the colors on the walls be light or dark? Or would you have patterned wallpaper? Would you want light streaming in through the windows or dark curtains blocking it out? Would you put art or other decorative pieces on the walls, or do blank walls allow you to stay more focused? How about adding some plants for visual interest and air purification, or a cozy rug to feel beneath your toes. Where will you place things like a sofa or chair or writing desk so that it has a good view of the room or out the window? What kind of lamps/lights will you choose and where will you put them to create an ambiance that feels perfectly cozy and balanced? In other words, how will you strive for the hygge that will allow your thoughts and feelings to do what they need to do?

When trying to picture my hut, I can think of a million countless possibilities. It’s hard to even attempt to define one vignette before thinking of another that feels just a little bit better. While this can be frustrating because it seems like nothing will ever be quite right, it’s also part of the beauty of creating our hut – that it can constantly evolve along with our desires.

Museums of everyday life

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The Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, VT exhibits random objects that most would probably consider junk, especially in our disposable throw-away society. But I think the argument that these objects actually hold value and are worth keeping, maybe not in your own home, but somewhere for people to look at and remember, is worth considering. And that it was recently featured in the New York Times is certainly a testament to that. The museum, which is an unassuming barn, displays matches, which was the first exhibition, locks and keys, scissors, toothbrushes, etc. Some objects from special exhibitions then make it into the permanent collection. These objects may seem completely mundane, but they are important in their banality because they are things that we use everyday and are all around us. The museum is free and open to the public, although donations are always appreciated. It truly is a public space, as there is no one there attending to it and visitors can just come and go.

I lived in New England for one year and I absolutely loved it. Somehow a free little barn museum full of mundane, thrown-away objects is something I can totally picture in New England! 🙂

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It turns out this isn’t the only museum of everyday objects. They are around the world, including Hversdagssafn in Iceland. Their focus seems to be not only on mundane objects of everyday life, but also feelings, experiences, memories of everyday life, and “finding the poetry that comes forward when no one is looking.” As the women behind the museum, Björg and Vaida, put it:

Everyday life is a little bit like dark matter. It is what happens in between significant moments in life and holds everything together. It is meeting friends, having dinner, yelling at children, being yelled at, sulking, laughing and so on. And so on. It is walking from one place to the next. It is going to work. It is staying at home. It is worrying and washing dishes. It is both random and routine.

All of these little everyday things that we do mindlessly are actually what make up our lives and build our story day after day. So not only should everyday objects be appreciated, but also routine actions and activities because they are what make up our lives on a very primary level, and then comes everything else.

Constructing Space in European Prints

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I took a class on The Invention and Revival of Prints, 1500-1900, this past Spring at the University of Chicago, and as part of the class we put together a small exhibition revolving around the theme of space. Our interest lied in the ways in which space can be created, exaggerated, and used to tell a narrative. We selected ten prints that we thought exemplified this theme, including works by Dürer, Piranesi, and Tissot. For the exhibit, I wrote two didactic labels, as well as the introductory text.

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It is now up at the Smart Museum on the University of Chicago campus.