Archive for February, 2011

Long standing

Thursday, February 24th, 2011 by Wendy Pollock

Center for Creative Connections, Dallas Museum of ArtIt’s been a convention of long standing in the museum world that visitors should cover as much ground as possible, on foot. The economics of museums in the United States reinforce this syndrome.  Many have come to rely on earned income, buildings and related operating costs have grown, results often are measured in attendance numbers, and visitors have to keep moving in order for the museum to achieve adequate “through-put.” And if you’ve paid a substantial amount to get in, you probably want to keep moving so you can see as much as possible.

But as recent posts suggest, people feel an opposite tug, a desire to slow down and savor their experiences. Two recent contributors mentioned their trepidation about visiting (separately) a Picasso exhibition. Anticipating long lines and an $18 admission fee (plus parking) and in one case even fearing a “claustrophobic” experience, they steeled themselves.

But as Mallory Martin wrote, “as I turned a corner sure that I had seen all there was to see and was about to exit the show, a photographic time-lapse of the various stages of Guernica was on display. It was here I sat and lingered and watched how the master that was Picasso took an expansive canvas and turned it into an evocative and timeless piece of art….at this moment I had received all that I needed from the show…a personal connection and moment introspection facilitated by a work of art.” The other reviewer, Winifred Kehl, noted the “many alluring seats” in this multimedia area that “probably drew many people eager for a sit-down.”

There’ve always been those who have insisted on offering people a place to sit down. British museologist Kenneth Hudson predicted before his death in 1999, in fact, that the museums that thrive in this century will be not only those with some special charm, but, quite simply, “those with chairs.”

You don’t need a costly multimedia presentation in order to offer a space for rest and reflection. The Field Museum’s Matt Matchuk told Kathy McLean and me that his museum had moved some overstuffed armchairs from a furniture rental company into their galleries and that visitors happily “plunk themselves down” to rest. (The photograph above is from Saralyn Rosenfield’s review of the Center for Creative Connections at the Dallas Museum of Art, which also offers places to sit.)

There’s more about seating and other comforts in our forthcoming book, The Convivial Museum, available from ASTC.

A jug of water and a rocking chair

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011 by Wendy Pollock

A jug of water in Water: Our Thirsty WorldSometimes the simplest thing can bring an exhibition into focus. In Water: Our Thirsty World, it was this plastic jug that most impressed Maraya Cornell and conveyed viscerally what it feels like not to have enough. In her review, she wrote: “When you lift it, which, unless you’re a body-builder, you do only briefly, you have a small but powerful notion of what it must be like to carry that jug on your back for several miles, as must the African women walking across the sand dunes in one of Lynn Johnson’s photographs.”

Dawn Eshelman wished for a component almost as simple in her review of an exhibition at the Morgan Library about Mark Twain. Although she found herself absorbed by the author’s handwriting and turns of phrase (“clownish self-loathing,” “skeptical tumble-bug”), a rocking chair and a volume of Twain’s writings might have evoked his presence, she reflected. “When occupied, it would frame Twain’s favorite hero, the everyman, in modern form. Either way, it would provide something Twain might call progress – a good place to read.”

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that are the most memorable.