Going to Museums and Looking at Art

Jon at Mass MoCa
Jon at Mass MoCa

On the way home from Mass MoCa (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) today Jon asked me  how I look at art when I go to a museum.  It made me think about how the experience of going to museums has changed for me.

I remember being enthralled as an 8 year old  seeing the Baroque rooms from European Mansions at  the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Then being starstruck as a teenager seeing in person, for the first time, all the classics from Hopper to Cezanne at the Whitney.  The experience turned when I went to art school and started learning  the history of art and about contemporary art.  Going to museums and galleries  became about what I knew and didn’t know.  If I didn’t know an artist or couldn’t explain a contemporary piece of art, it made me feel stupid.  I didn’t see it as an opportunity to learn more, but as a way to feel bad about what I didn’t know.   Later, when I was getting my Masters in sculpture, I felt if art was in a museum it was already over.  The only art worth seeing was the stuff happening in  yet unheard of galleries and  public spaces.

Now, I look at art in museums more like I did when I was and 8 year old.    I go without expectations and just look.  If I see something I like, I spend some time with it.  I might read about the piece or the artist.  If it doesn’t interest me, I walk right by.   Some art is accompanied by lots of text, explaining the piece.  But I don’t want to have to read about a piece of art in order to be interested in it.  If it doesn’t have a visual or emotional hook, something that makes me want to look at it, that gets my attention, then I don’t want to read about it, no matter how interesting it may be.  And I don’t mean the piece has to be big and splashy, it just has to connect to me in some way.

I enjoy going to museums now more than ever in my life.  I think because it has become again about looking and seeing,  more the way a kid might, with delight and an open mind.  And my education has helped to keep my mind open in that I’m not cynical about the intention of the artist.  I don’t have to judge a piece of art just because it doesn’t work for me.  So I look at what I want to and don’t get hung up on the things I’m not interested in.  I don’t think about what I should be looking at or feeling or learning, I just enjoy it.

And even though I can’t say specifically how, I do know that the experience of looking at art in this way informs my work.  I think it all goes into the funnel, get’s processed in the subconscious then comes out newly formed without any awareness on my part.

A delightful and evoketive  installation by Kim Faler, made with plastic water bottles.  Each is filled with sand which slides when the bottles spin on their "windmills" making a "white noise"
A delightful and evocative installation by Kim Faler, made with plastic water bottles. Each is filled with sand which slides when the bottles spin on their “windmills” making a “white noise”
A quiet, but gripping(for me) installation by Diane Landing.  She framed one of the old brick wall of Mass MoCa with 2x3's cast and nails cast in soap.
A quiet, but gripping(for me) installation by Diane Landing. She framed one of the old brick walls of Mass MoCa with warped 2×3’s  and nails cast in soap.   You could smell the soap as you walk by.
From the ceiling of the big room hung Xu Bing's "Phoenix"  There's no way to capture the enormity of it with a camera.  They are  2 giant birds made from millions of metal found objects welded together.  I took this photo when walking underneath the "tail feathers"
From the ceiling of the big room hung Xu Bing’s “Phoenix” There’s no way to capture the enormity of it with a camera. It is  2 giant birds made from millions of metal found objects welded together and tiny lights.  I took this closeup photo when walking underneath the “tail feathers”  It took four months to ship the pieces from China and 18 tractor trailers to deliver to Mass MoCa from Boston.  The shipping crates form part of the installation.
Tiget
Another piece by Xu Bing.  A huge “tiger skin” made of cigarettes.  The stripes change color from orange to brown as you walk around it because of the angle of the orange cigarette filters.  It  speaks of the extinction of more than one species.

 

Check out the Mass MoCa website for more photos and info if you’re feeling that visual or emotional hook.

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Going to Museums and Looking at Art

  1. You sure picked out interesting ones to photograph, Maria. Thank you for sharing these and telling a little about what is special about each piece. Living in the midwest, I don’t really get exposed to stuff like this. I enjoyed seeing it.

  2. I remember going to the Cincinnati Art Museum as a child taking the courses art students gave. I remember nothing about the courses. What I do remember is Looking, Looking and Looking as we worked in the various galleries. I always walked through my favorite galleries and looked and looked. It nourished me in a way I could never articulate. I still love to look, really look at art. I have often felt stupid bec. I do not understand what i am looking at but I just know looking at art makes me happy. After reading about your journey I feel maybe my experience of art is OK, not based on head knowledge but what my heart (and eyes) love.

  3. I thought these pieces were fabulous. I am going to put the museum on my “destinations” list and plan a weekend up in that area. Thanks for introducing me to it!

  4. Maria, the art pieces shown here are incredible. Thanks for sharing these photos..the plastic bottle piece is wonderful; the cigarettes, holy cow, who would ever have thought of that…very clever.

    I don’t know about you but when I went into art college I was a quilter and remain a maker of quilts/wearable art but when I graduated from art college I was so discouraged with my own work…for the artwork I studied at the college was far and away beyond anything I could possibly conceive of and I did not touch my own work for several years. Gradually, I came to accept that the level of work, the type of designwork I did and do, works for me. I’ll never set the world on fire with my work but what I do makes me happy in the creation of it. I think that’s what matters and what a lot of people overlook in being happy at whatever level they are at. Working in sculpture as you have; textiles are a very different medium for you, yet you have an eye and that eye allows for creating in different mediums.

    SandyP in Canada

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