Monday, November 26, 2007

Why Does It Matter?

Doing some random browsing on the web in an effort to keep up-to-date, I came across the Art Gallery of Ontario's collectionx website. I'd visited the AGO late last December, and was very intrigued by some of their work in connecting with audiences. On one blog entry, they posit some questions that they as a staff have been pondering as they undertake major re-installation in their new building:

What is art?
Why does it matter?
How do we connect with each other creatively?
How can we discover new relationships together?
How can we create meaning?
How can we raise issues?

The connect part of the website talks about their exhibitions--and explores the answers to a whole range of questions about art, elitism and community. But for community based museums, the site also, perhaps unintentionally, provides a raft of ideas for exhibitions that might help them connect better to their own communities. I saw In Your Face, their exhibit of community (including nationally and internationally) portraits and self-portraits last year--and watched visitors of all ages, classes, and ethnicities spend substantial amounts of time looking at the work done by thousands of people who mailed their postcard size portraits to the museum. But then there's community and personal mapping, Carbon Copy, where students created a forest out of paper waste, numbers of outdoor art installations exploring a community's past (and in several cases, using boarded up or empty lack of those in upstate New York)....

And I very much like the part of the website that encourages people to share either their own artwork or artwork that interests them. You can find Misfortune Cookies, a series of vapour trail images shot in the skies around Toronto, and The Shooting Gallery, a project of the Thunder Bay Arts Gallery in Northern Canada, that features work by First Nations' young people.

Above: Portraits from the In Your Face project at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Same and Different

In the past couple months, I've visited three museums that reflect their ambitions, tastes, and desires of their early 20th century collectors: the Barnes Foundation outside Philadelphia, the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, NY and the new Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, NY. Taken together, they're a fascinating look at collectors and the museums they found--and how those museums move forward into the 21st century. The Barnes is the most familiar, I suppose, and certainly the subject of the most controversy because of its planned move to downtown Philadelphia. I'd read about it for years, of course, and the subject of the move was a part of my museum controversies class at Hartwick. I understand the need to move, but at the same time, the experience will be greatly changed. Like the other two places, it's a tremendous place to see crowds, small intimate spaces, and the chance to connect directly with work--and much of the work was art I hadn't seen before. I had read about Barnes' interest in juxtaposing American decorative arts--ironwork, Pennsylvania painted chests and the like--but it was really stunning to see. After a room or two, it really begins to make sense...Barnes was about color and shape, and the works play beautifully off each other. I'm glad I had a chance to see the collection in its original location...but if I worked there, I would probably be lobbying for the move.

A friend and I took a little field trip to the new Arkell Museum in Canajoharie. Most people have probably never been to Canajoharie, but if you drive the New York State Thruway, the Beech Nut sign marks the spot--and is the source of the Arkell money. It's a fine collection of American art--and then that large reproduction of Rembrandt's Night Watch. It really is a community place, connected directly to the community library. I was surprised, a bit, at how conservative the installation and interpretation were. I enjoy places like the Brooklyn Museum, who experiment with how to engage visitors with art and was disappointed that the presentation was so staid. That said, beautiful work and a chance to look carefully and closely. Most intriguing--the Rufus Grider paintings (but I wanted to know much more!) and the exhibit that explores the ways in which Arkell used his art collection in promotional materials for Beechnut--creating this idea of a bucolic, romantic American part.

Not so far from the Arkell, the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls. I was there for work, rather than for pleasure, so in some ways, a very different experience. The Hyde has just undergone a major restoration of the house itself, where a highly eclectic collection of art is installed. Here's the place where you can imagine living with the art--along with the candlewick bedspreads and ball fringe curtains of the 1950s!

All three places were wonderful places to see art...small and intimate, not crowded, and allowing you to look closely at works.