I commented on LinkedIn the other day on a thread with curators about mindfulness in museums. As I am also an artist, I want to separate out various types of museums. There are natural history or science museums, and then there are contemplative museums, such as art or possibly an indigenous, anthropological museum — the Holocaust Museum comes to mind. Not that one can’t silently contemplate a dinosaur, but there will be lots of noisy school kids!
My preference is the former.
My first trip to NYC (I grew up in lalaland) I went to the Met, at 21. I had slept through many of the art lectures at 7:30 — thankfully, I may add. I had been to the LACMA, and it was okay. I was unimpressed by the greats, not really taken by any of them. However, I liked Monet, sort of, and Monet’s Water Lilies were on display, and as it was summer the city was actually deserted, hot.
I walked in alone, and there were relatively few people in the museum. When I entered the large room with, as I remember is, a painting the size of the large room of Monet’s water lilies, I was IN water lily, I was IN water. I was dapples shades of lily and water. I was lily and water. I wept. I sat on the bench in the middle and looked at that painting for a very very long time, in silence.
No dates, no whys, no nothing. I got it by being with that amazing painting. It changed my life.
At the Jeu de Palme I saw clearly he was painting light. I saw I-don’t-know-how-many haystacks in one building, and got it. Amazing. Not color, but light.
I look, and sometimes I want to know the name of the artist. I enjoyed an exhibit at the Pompidou which was a retrospective on many artists from Monet’s time, and came to love Picasso and Miro when I saw who he was “painting” with. Just seeing the various artist in the same room, all lined up, I got it. I “got the git of it,” as my brother used to say. I didn’t need to know the date or the medium or the size, or read a book by an art theorist who told me why this or that one was ground breaking. I, who had grown up on GAP using the masters in ads and dismissed their incredible visions, got it immediately.
There is nothing like good curation and relative silence.
By the way, that is also saying a great deal about the curation of the MET and MOMA and Pompidou and Jeu de Palme. Brilliant curation teaches by selection and placement and lighting. I recently saw an exhibit of Mark Rothko and was disappointed in the overall exhibit. The smaller earlier painting were interesting, joyful, etc., lined up on walls. Okay. But the large blocked paintings, his most metaphysical work (for lack of a better way to name them) were poorly displayed. I have seen best displayed at the Whitney and MOMA, in relatively simple surroundings. These were crowded together and crammed in with many other paintings and the colored walls. . . sigh. What a disappointment. I just remember blue blue dark grey.
So what makes a great museum experience? Transform the visitor into a person who has their breath taken away by the experience. Less may be more. Do you NEED to know the composition of the Grand Canyon and where the river begins to have your mind awed by it?
I had a wonderful meditation teacher and we were walking. I asked him the name of the lovely flower I saw in the wild. He said not to ask, he wouldn’t say. The moment he named it for me my mind would register the name and dismiss the experience. I think that is entirely true. Instead, when I am walking, I am one with nature. I am one with my friend on the trail. I am not dismissing as “known.”
What makes a good curator? I assume they need to “git” the artist and be able to convey that to the visitor without words, experientially.
There are reasons to know all the things that may be known and printed in catalogues. That is why catalogues need to be good. Maybe you want to know the name of the artist or their medium so you can see more of him or her or try that medium. But most people should be learning to be with the thing in front of them, not being busy with techno gadgets, and I personally hate hearing a loud lecture in my head by someone when I am trying to see the painting.
I have no problem with someone with an iPad walking.
Just my opinion. I am not a curator jut a lonely visitor wanting to be awed.
Monet, Miro, Picasso, in that order, images this post. Taken from Wikipedia.