Monday, April 19, 2010

Slow Art Day in Kyiv

As most people who know me in person know, I talk fast (to the dismay of anyone who has to interpret for me here), I want to move on projects fast, I walk fast--so the idea of time set aside to be slow--and to be slow in a museum--a place where I spend a great deal of time--was pretty interesting to me.  Yesterday, I participated in Slow Art Day, an international event which happened in museums around the globe.  In Kyiv, it was organized by Larissa Babij.

What is Slow Art Day?  According to their website, 
Run by volunteer hosts around the world, Slow Art Day helps people slow down and see art in a new way. It's very simple. Attendees visit a local museum and view on their own 5 to 10 works of art pre-selected by the volunteer host. They then gather for lunch to talk about the experience.
The result? Participants say they get "inspired not tired" and plan to return to that museum again and again. 

And how was it in Kyiv?
Larissa had visited the museum and selected a group of artworks which she had e-mailed to those who registered and met us at the front desk with maps.  Importantly, this wasn't necessarily a group activity.  I looked at works on my own, and others looked in small groups.  Along with the works, there was a list of questions and a suggestion that you spend a least 10 minutes looking at each piece of art.  10 minutes! I thought to myself, knowing the statistics about how long people spend looking at and reading labels in museums.  But off I went.  The museum is organized chronologically, and I began with the most recent work and made my way back through Soviet Realism, impressionism and genre paintings, ending up with the icons that compose the earliest parts of the museum's collection.

I decided that I would just look for five minutes and then spend the other five thinking about the questions and taking notes on the questions.   Not surprisingly,  I found that, because of my own lack of knowledge about Ukrainian art, I made my own meaning out of the works.  The village looked like a village I had visited;  my students last year had written about one of the painters; how were the icons collected and restored;  I wove each of these works into my own narrative about my experience here. But I also looked more deeply at each work--at the ways the artist used paint, about who's depicted, about how works change as you move closer or further away. 

But Slow Art didn't end with the looking.  Afterwards, the group, about 8-9 people, convened at the Center for Contemporary Art for coffee and conversation.   Because most of us were involved in the arts in some way--as curators, as art makers, as art historians, our conversation ended up being not just about the art (and probably could have been more about the art itself) but about the process.   Some people wanted more information;  some people liked the deep looking and that was enough;  we talked about the differences between Ukrainian and American museum visitors;  and about guided tours or other ways to provide information.    We discussed how it would be nice to receive a list of works to look at every month;  to have a "curated" list that we could explore on a regular basis.

I particularly liked several things about the event:
  • It felt a little rebellious, because it was done outside the museum framework.
  • It didn't really cost any money.  Everyone paid their own museum admission and the only cost, perhaps, was making copies.
  • It was successful in making me look more deeply at works in this museum; and hopefully I will carry that with me as I visit other places.
  • And it had conversation!
Hopefully, wherever I am next year, on Slow Art Day 2011, I'll be slowly, contemplatively,  moving through a gallery somewhere.

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