Exhibition Preparation: Read Before You Go (February 2017)

It’s common to want to know more about an artist or object on display after you’ve already seen them, but why not take a page out of the Boy Scouts’ playbook and be prepared.

Here are four exhibitions (some opening this month, others ongoing) and the books to read ahead of time to get the most out of your museum experience…


Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear
Victoria & Albert Museum—Through March 12, 2017

With over 200 undergarments from the 18th century to the present on display, a lot of sartorial ground is covered in this exhibition. However, beyond the fashion of it all, it is the societal implications of underwear that really fascinates.

Read Before You Go: Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners by Therese Oneill is a humorous look at womanhood in the Victorian Age, and yes, that includes underwear.


Chow: Making the Chinese American Restaurant
Museum of Food and Drink—Through April 2, 2017

Celebrating the 170-year history of the Chinese American restaurant, this exhibition not only showcases artifacts like a timeline of menus dating back to 1910, but also features tastings from some of the country’s best Chinese American chefs. Also, given the current climate in America, this exhibition couldn’t be a more timely look at immigration and all that it contributes to the fabric of our lives.

Read Before You Go: The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee is a perfect complement to MOFAD’s exhibition.


Merce Cunningham: Common Time
Walker Art Center—Through July 30, 2017MCA Chicago—Through April 30, 2017

Back in 1963, renowned choreographer Merce Cunningham and collaborators like Robert Rauschenberg (who had designed the sets) arrived at the Walker Art Center to stage a performance. Now, the Walker Art Center (and Chicago’s MCA) is showcasing this and other artistic collaborations in a noteworthy retrospective.

Read Before You Go: Chance and Circumstance is a memoir by Carolyn Brown, a founding member of Cunningham’s dance company, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the man, his vision, and the artistic world of dance in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.


Person of the Crowd: The Contemporary Art of Flanerie
Barnes Foundation—February 25, 2017 through May 22, 2017

This exhibition brings together old and new works by more than 50 international artists who have found their inspiration by hitting the streets. And, since the art of flanerie could never be confined to a single gallery, you’ll find programs and performances spilling out onto the streets of Philadelphia.

Read Before You Go: Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London by Lauren Elkin flips the predominantly male image of the flaneur on its head.



Winter is Coming

Here’s your oddly soothing clip of the day…a foam blizzard at the Museo d’Arte in Lugano, Switzerland.

Zimoun : 36 ventilators, 4.7m3 packing chips, 2014 from STUDIO ZIMOUN on Vimeo.

Exhibitions, Guest Posts

Guest Post: Thoughts on Tate Britain’s New Re-Hang

Photo by Julian Stallabrass via Flickr.

By Isobel Wilson-Cleary

Last month, Tate Britain unveiled the re-hang of its permanent collection; 20 galleries showcasing the history of British art since the 16th century. Newspapers exploded with positive reviews of this “gloriously, satisfyingly reactionary” re-work of the national collection. Gone are the thematic groupings and the lengthy explanatory labels which have become synonymous with the gallery, replaced with chronology and minimal information—artist, title and date. The Tate’s website boasts the new hang as “conversational,” which, whilst certainly true, might raise a lot more questions about the nature of displays and museums than the works themselves…

Richard Dorment gives it 5 stars praising the transformation and exclaiming it as “chaos theory at work in the visual arts… art history as it used to be taught before it was hijacked by academic theorists.” True, it’s often frustrating that works of art have been obscured by academic theory, but that’s also true of public popularity (Mona Lisa anyone?).  The Independent’s review calls it a “triumph” for similar reasons, stressing how Tate Britain has now become a space where artists can be thought of in terms of themselves. Certainly, this is often overlooked but if that is all the re-hang should be, then surely it should be re-titled ‘A Walk Through British Artists.’

Photo by observista via Flickr.

Armed with a skeleton of information what can really be discerned? A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t speak them. Visuals alone cannot tell you if it’s representative of a wider trend or an example of a patron’s obscure and/or hidden desires. What about those self-made movements known at the time? A group of artists working towards a particular end, how do we make sense of these with no context?

The buzz around the re-hang felt like those who were excited already had sound art knowledge, both professionally and academically. I’m interested in the ways museums and national galleries accommodate their audience—what role they play in society—and I can’t help but feel that without prior knowledge or an active interest, I’d come away from the new hang with a lot more questions than answers. Theorizing doesn’t dispute that art objects are themselves “primary data,” it simply draws a bigger picture (pardon the pun) to understand it as one part of a whole. On their own, the images cannot account for why, as Dorment later mentions, half the 19th century is squeezed into one gallery, as if Victorians had grown tired at the very idea of commissioning, painting and buying art altogether.

After years of mediocrity—if not in actuality, then in the minds of many—it’d be great if the Tate Britain re-hang did “explode into view…like a walk through Britain itself,” but when there are so many different ways to read a work of art, surely a national collection displaying British heritage in art should guide its audience if nothing else. Art is all about making you think, and although not everything can be answered, isn’t there some sense of duty to ensure all visitors have free and easy access to this information?

If this were to happen, then, as Art History News points out, providing the finer details of some works would create an interesting narrative that would otherwise be lost. For example, instead of tacking a Van Eyck on towards the end of a gallery with no indication of his important role in the development of British portraiture, some background could illuminate his influence on his contemporaries.

Among all the positive critical response, there was finally a review that spoke of what there was, rather than what there was not, in the re-hang. In a much more muted tone, the Guardian notes that the new hang has taken a “middle course,” with short explanations widening historical and political issues. Less radical and more a new way to engage art with its audience? Maybe, but as Grumpy Art Historian asks, if the Tate’s Director, Penelope Curtis, and its Head of Displays, Chris Stephens, feel traditional methods of display are outdated why not adapt to compliment and promote newer ideas?

Photo by alh1 via Flickr.

The opportunity this shake-up has afforded hasn’t been promising so far: little information in the brochure, some sort of paid app/audio guide system and no clear means for gallery attendants to engage visitors with the tablets that have replaced their folder references. If this is the brave new world of the digital age in a museum setting, it needs a little work. It also raises some important questions: Has the information simply been transferred to digital? Will there be other ways to explore the collection, perhaps similar to the Google Art Project with hi-res close-ups? What about those who for whatever reason aren’t interested in getting involved with technology?

There’s the role of the curator to consider too. If everything is to be discovered “surfing,” this new display and the dismissal of three of the historical curatorial team last spring makes for a slightly alarming prospect. This may have more to do with the fact that over the half galleries in the re-hang are dedicated to the 20th Century—leaving the remaining half for the preceding 300 years of British art—although considering the specialisations of both Curtis and Stephens this is unsurprising. You might ponder, as Bendor Grosvenor does, what is Tate Modern for? To which my answer would be, international modern and contemporary art mostly, which is probably one of the reasons it is seen as the more suave of the two Tates.

Freedom of interpretation is essential—everyone brings their own stories to the viewing of artwork—but passing this off in the form of chronology—which is itself loaded with meaning—calling it revolutionary and suggesting that curatorial intervention has been removed is all a bit much. After all, the Tate Britain collection is much bigger than what’s on display, and we know neither the selection process or what else remains in storage. And, let’s not even mention the lack of explanation as to why the sponsorship is so distractingly prominent


Have you been to Tate Britain’s new re-hang? What do you think? Have you visited other galleries and museums with a similar display philosophy? What works and what doesn’t? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


Currently residing in Paris, Isobel is an art history graduate with a serious case of wanderlust. Interested in cross-cultural relations, cultural heritage and the social role of museums, she’s looking forward to continuing her studies come September and getting to see the re-hang for herself. Find her on Twitter at @isobelkwc.


Super Bowl Art Swap

It started back in 2010, when the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art put their art on the line for their respective football teams. The following year, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art embraced the spirit of Super Bowl competition, which resulted in a Renoir from the Carnegie’s collection taking a vacation on the shores of Lake Michigan. The stage appeared to be set for an annual Super Bowl Museum Art Swap.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any mention of a proposed art swap for this year’s Super Bowl cities. This is especially unfortunate considering the high quality of museums that call either San Francisco or Baltimore home. Guess we’ll just have to settle for a hypothetical swap this year, and we won’t just limit it to art either. Here are three possible swaps, feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below.

"After the 'Slap Up' Party of Last Night" by Alfred Jacob Miller. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

Possible Swap #1: Walters Art Museum (Baltimore) and San Francisco’s Legion of Honor

In past years, participating museums have put up lovely and in some cases significant works as part of the wager, but I think it would be better if the works were more in the spirit of sports-related trash talking. For instance, the Walters Art Museum, hailing from the victorious city of Baltimore, could lend “After the ‘Slap Up’ Party Last Night” to the prestigious Legion of Honor. “After the ‘Slap Up'”, an otherwise ordinary work on paper, depicts a man in a hungover state, which could easily represent a Ravens fan the morning after a raucous celebration of his team’s Super Bowl win. Sure, we should all strive to be humble winners, but sometimes it’s better to remind your opponent who won.

Photo by Loren Javier via Flickr.

Possible Swap #2: Walt Disney Family Museum and the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards

If you’re an American sports fan, you know the story. When someone wins the Super Bowl, World Series, or perhaps even the Scripps National Spelling Bee, they shout joyously into the camera: “I’m going to Disney World!” before dutifully saying hi to their mom. So, in the spirit of that tradition, San Francisco’s Walt Disney Family Museum could send Walt’s 13-foot model of Disneyland to Baltimore’s Sports Legends Museum to help the Ravens and perhaps other area sports franchises prepare for their upcoming Disney experience.

Photo by mat79 via Flickr.

Possible Swap #3: Baltimore Streetcar Museum and the Cable Car Museum

America’s first commercially operated electric streetcar debuted on the streets of Baltimore way back in 1885. However, Baltimore’s status in the world of streetcars has fallen over the passing years, while the San Francisco cable car has grown to be an international icon. So, imagine the joy an old Baltimore streetcar would get out of an opportunity to run with the big boys in San Francisco. Perhaps a swap between these museums would even lend backing to a movement to bring back streetcars to Baltimore.


Seeking a Cure at the Museum

I have an incurable disease. Don’t worry, I hear it’s not fatal. The symptoms include an insatiable curiosity about maps, a sudden feverish desire to visit places both new and familiar, and a compulsive need to make sure my passport is up-to-date. It’s called wanderlust, and I’ve come to terms with the powerful lure of travel.

Entry to Photography Exhibition at the MIA

Living with wanderlust means coming up with creative ways to calm the cravings, and so this afternoon, as the snow flurries began to join the existing drifts and the temperatures started to plummet, I sought relief in the hallowed halls of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. In just forty-five minutes, I was able to not only see the wide world, but was also allowed to journey to places not as easily plotted on a map. As a result, I was able to put my wanderlust symptoms at bay. Check out some photos of my journey…

European Vacation: Venice and Paris

Back to Nature: In the Meadow and At the Seashore

Near and Far: A Duluth Cabin or An Asian Temple

Off the Map: Imaginary Journey and Inside a Silent Conversation

Are you a fellow wanderlust sufferer? If so, have you ever sought relief from your symptoms at a museum? Tell us about your journey in the comments below.



As If I Needed Another Reason to Go to Paris

Photo credit: Batiment - L. Erlich © Henriette Desjonquères & Paul Fargues.

Found out about this Leandro Erlich exhibit currently on display at Paris’ Le 104 gallery over at My Modern Met. Check out her post, visit Le 104’s website, or check out this video of the installation.


And So the List Grows…

Photo by Charlie Phillips via Flickr.

Whew, I finally managed to get through my Google Reader. But, a new problem has arisen. As if the McQueen show at the Met and the Steins Collect show at SFMOMA weren’t enough to get me excited to go to museums this summer, there is now a whole new crop of exhibits to add to my must-see list.

What museum exhibits are on your must-see list this summer?


Random Exhibition Title Generator

Stumbled across this Random Exhibition Title Generator on Coudal this morning.

It made me try and imagine what would be in these exhibits.

For instance, In Search of Illusion: The Disjunction of Dysfunction…is this an exhibit about magicians? Or perhaps it’s a photography show?

Or how about Postcolonial Banality: A Retrospective of the System? A look at how postcolonial societies struggled to find their own identity, or an interior design show?

And when Archaeological History: Figuring the Avant Garde came up, I was at a loss. Is there such a thing and avant garde archaeology?

So, you tell us, what would we find in an exhibit titled Decadent Properties: Defying Too Many Dinner Parties?


Body Image


In a bright little gallery (the Firehouse Gallery) in one of my favorite little towns (Burlington, VT), lies an exhibit called Homunculus. The artist, Steven Budington, is a professor at the University of Vermont, and his works were explorations of the deconstructed human form. Or as the Firehouse Gallery’s website explains:

“In Steve Budington’s Homunculus, human bodies unravel, fly apart, and merge with prosthetic technology. Budington’s new body of work takes as its point of departure the neuroscientific concept of the “cortical homunculus”: a remapped image of the human form that scales body parts in relation to the degree of sensory input present in each area.”

Budington’s work showed some real talent: like his bold colors and great use of texture. Nevertheless, some items in the show seemed like they went instantly to the lowest common denominator of provocation. Not sure what I mean? Well, be careful not to step on the pile of sperm in the back room.

On the whole – sperm pile or no – I liked the show and Budington’s work. I’ll definitely be back to the Firehouse Gallery next time I swing through Burlington.


Puzzling Pleasure at Pacific Sci

Scattered puzzle pieces next to solved fragment

On Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to get a sneak peak of the upcoming exhibit, Mindbender Mansion, at Pacific Science Center. Now, I’m a bit of a puzzle freak, so I was a little excited to see this puzzle-centric exhibit. After a tour with PacSci’s own Wendy and Jamie, I found my expectations for the exhibit met and exceeded. I had a wonderful time.

If you would like to read my preview of Mindbender Mansion, check out my posting on Seattlest today…

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