Since 3rd Friday just passed, there was not really much to do around the gallery. Robin let me go with one homework assignment: to explore! My adventure began on Sunday at the Smart Museum. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Chicago so I rented a bike. I was surprised to find out just how charming my neighborhood in Hyde Park is. The Smart Museum was only about ten minutes away by bicycle. The exhibition on display was Objects and Voices.There were 17 exhibitions each set up by a different curator or curatorial team. There was a huge variety of art ranging from furniture, to fine art, to literature, music, and even school children art. The exhibit was coordinated by Anne Leonart, a curator at the Smart Museum.
Each room had a different theme. First the rooms changed by region and then by context. I spent hours making sketches of each room, viewing the art, taking notes, and sitting down to watch videos of the curators. Each room had a short three to four minute interview with the curator. Perfect. Unfortunately, I got so into each display that I ended up running out of time and did not get to visit each room. I returned as soon as they opened Monday morning, but the gallery was closed. I made it a mission to return and finish the exhibit. One of the artists I was particularly excited about seeing was Alphonse Mucha. The museum was displaying his illustration for Job cigarette papers. I was happily surprised to learn that Mucha was a professor in Chicago. What a treat.
In an interview with curators Richard Aborne and Keith Hartley, I learned that having clusters of work rather than individual pieces puts museums and galleries on the map. They made it a point to say that art must be seen in a variety of contexts so connections can be made. The pieces they chose for their part of the exhibit were chosen because they made these connections. For example, two collages were displayed on the same wall. One titled Collage by Roland Penrose and another titled Wall by Peter Blake. The two pieces were connected by the postcards they featured.
Another curator, Russel Bownem, chose to display Rothko’s Nature to Abstraction. He displayed pieces from other artists, but all the pieces he chose were chosen because they show the goal of Rothko’s series. Curators Jie Shi & Catherine Stuer also find importance in displaying work with a web of connections. The connection can come from where the art came from, where the artist came from, and where the art has been. This is especially important for their display of Asian art because of the heavy trade between China, Korea, and Japan. One distinctive characteristic of Asian art is writing on the art. Writing on a piece of art can be the artist’s stamp, the owner’s stamp, or poetry. This mingling of poetry and art led into a smooth transition from Asian works to a display on Goethe and his work.
Being a literature buff as well as an artist, I found the exhibit on Goethe to be most interesting. A display case held an actual book of poems by Goethe. Of course a book on display can only show one page, so the wall next to the book had photographs of other pages. There was also a packet of commentary and translations of the poems. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the display were the ipods. Goethe was a great inspiration for composers of his time. They would write songs based off of his poetry, and it was all right there with translation and the real book! Needless to say, I spent some time sitting on the floor, flipping through poems and listening to the corresponding symphonies. Goethe was not only an inspiration for musicians, but artists as well. Blown up plates from an illustrated version of Faust were displayed on the wall. There was also a portrait of Goethe and more illustrations inspired by Goethe’s poetry. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.
All together the exhibit in the museum transitioned smoothly. The walls started out white, then began to alternate between grey and white to match the flow of the displays. Wall inserts were added to hang pieces and separate displays. Some larger paintings had an elevated white space on the ground in front of them. This keeps the viewer at a distance, which gives them a different perspective than allowing them to walk all the way up to the painting. In some of the rooms pieces were placed on pedestals in the middle of the room to encourage the viewer to circumambulate around the piece.
Patricia Singer, Intern.