“Curating in an attention deficit”

Todd Smith, Executive Director at the Tampa Museum of Art, recently filmed a video for the Tampa Bay Business Journal on what he’s observed as the change in how people view art. He compares the anachronistic way of focusing intently on one subject that is characteristic of his generation (“vertical” thinking) with the new wave of technologically-centred “horizontal” thinking. This brings to the fore a new challenge for art museums, like the Tampa Museum of Art, in how they educate visitors who are not accustomed to “vertical” or deep thinking. Smith poses the question “what does a museum experience look like, now and going forward for both my generation and older… and the younger generation?”

Smith sees this new way of thinking revolutionizing how museums curate their exhibitions, based on their observations of whether visitors take their time and look at works slowly or if they jump around and “make their own stories”. Smith foresees this adding another dimension to curating, in that “we’ll put the work up and tell our story, but we are interested in what the visitor is making of their own stories about the work,” essentially thinking of the visitor as the curator.

At Slow Art Day we, of course, advocate for a slow looking that fosters the “vertical” or deep thinking cited by Smith. Postulating the visitor as curator has the potential to foster a freer way of thinking that might lead to this kind of deeper, or “vertical”, way, vs. the merely “horizontal”. What do you think?

Thank you

Two days ago on Saturday, April 27 we celebrated Slow Art Day 2013 in 272 museums in 207 cites across six continents.

We – the volunteer team who runs Slow Art Day – have much to be thankful for.

I started Slow Art Day with four participants at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009. Four years later – and without any money invested at all – we have built a global movement with thousands of participants and hundreds of hosts.

How did Slow Art Day grow like this?

For me answering that question means acknowledging that we have just barely begun.

Even in the United States, with the largest economy in the world by far, only 23% of adults visit art museums each year. That means 77% stay away.

Why do so many people stay away from these important cultural institutions?

There are many varied and complex reasons but at Slow Art Day we believe that at least one reason is that many people do not feel welcome. This is true despite the genuine hard work and creativity that most museums put into welcoming the public.

I started Slow Art Day because I myself finally discovered that if I stood in front of a piece of art for an extended time that I saw much more and felt included in the art experience. Most importantly, I felt that way not because someone told me what to see or feel but because I included myself. If thousands, indeed millions, of people took the time to look slowly, then they might discover for themselves that they have the capacity to look at and participate fully in art.

The art on the walls and galleries of public institutions around the world is owned by all of humanity. This is our art. It is for us and by us. And Slow Art Day creates the possibility for millions of people to realize that simple but profound truth.

So, yes, we give thanks to the:

– 272 volunteer hosts around the world who created and ran their own powerful and unique events for Slow Art Day;

– 20 members of the global coordinating team, many of them art history college students, who brought their passion, creativity and energy to building Slow Art Day 2013;

– thousands of museums and galleries around the world who work so hard to make art available and whose staffs inspire us everyday;

– many thousands of artists who give their gifts to all of humanity;

– many, many thousands of people who took two hours on Saturday to look slowly and discover for themselves the joy of including themselves in this thing called art.

Thank you!

Phil Terry
Founder, Slow Art Day

Host to Host: Rachel Matthews

[Hosts around the world are introducing themselves to each other in advance of Slow Art Day. Today we’re featuring some words from Rachel Matthews, the volunteer host at the Getty Center in West Los Angeles]

Hello fellow Slow Art hosts,

My name is Rachel Mathews and I will be hosting this year’s Slow Art Day at the Getty Center in West Los Angeles. This is my first year as a host, 4th year as a participant; I’m looking forward to being a part of Slow Art Day once again! While I’m not an art scholar, I do love viewing art and Slow Art Day is a great way to expand my art horizons. The Getty Center is a wonderful museum that has a wide variety of art, which makes it difficult to pick just 5 pieces; fortunately, I was able to get a friend to make the choices (we were originally supposed to co-host, but sadly, she’ll be out of town on Saturday).

I had an incredible experience the first year I attended Slow Art Day, at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, that’s kept me coming back. A friend/co-worker was hosting and, in the viewing guide, there was a piece that I felt I was not going to enjoy. After I paid for my museum admission, I decided to head to the end of the furthest gallery and work my way back. As I walked, I spotted some of the other pieces in the viewing guide and made note where they were; suddenly, I saw a piece in the distance and was drawn to it – it was the piece I thought I wouldn’t like. But it was much larger than it looked in the guide (it ended up having an entire room to itself; I could see it about a gallery and a half away due to its size), which changed the experience completely. As I spent more and more time with this huge painting, I kept noticing more and more details about it and in it, which was intriguing. After spending 15 minutes with the piece, I absolutely loved it! After seeing all of the other pieces in the viewing guide, I decided that the first piece was my favorite. The following year, I went back to the same museum and made sure to spend time with it again.

One of my other friends wasn’t able to make the first 3 Slow Art Days, so I organized an interim Slow Art experience at the Getty last Fall for that friend and the friend who has hosted the previous Slow Art Days I attended. Since I don’t live near the Getty, I chose all of the artwork off of their website and wasn’t sure what my own reactions to the pieces I had selected would be, much less the impressions my 2 companions that day would have. I made sure to choose a couple of pieces that I wouldn’t normally be attracted to, hoping to re-enact that first year Slow Art attitude shift. Although we had to spend some time searching for the various pieces (which was part of the adventure), we all had a great time and, afterwards, had a very robust discussion about how the pieces impacted us.

I’m really looking forward to next Saturday. I wish everyone great success with their Slow Art Day events around the world!

Sincerely,
Rachel Mathews

[Make sure to check out (and register for!) Rachel’s Slow Art Day event at the Getty Centre in West Los Angeles]

Slow Art Day with Elizabeth Markevitch at ikonoTV, Berlin

[In this series, we interview hosts for Slow Art Day and get their thoughts on hosting, the art of looking, and the slow art community. Today we interview Elizabeth Markevitch, who is a global sponsor of Slow Art Day through her interesting company, ikonoTV, Berlin.]

Slow Art Day: Let’s start with a bit of background about yourself and ikonoTV. You are the founder, right?

Elizabeth: Yes, I founded ikono in 2006.

Slow Art Day: What was your founding vision?

ElizabethDuring my long-time experience in the art world, I became more and more aware of the necessity for exploring new ways of displaying art and opening it up to a broader audience. Art needs to be seen, and the joy of seeing and experiencing art should not be restricted to a small group of art professionals or collectors.

Slow Art Day: As you know, of course, we share that vision with you. How did you get from that vision to starting ikono?

ElizabethI explored different paths.  I cofounded www.eyestorm.com in 1998 as the first online gallery at that time selling international contemporary art on a global scale. Then, some years later, the fundamental idea of making art internationally accessible found its final and strongest realization through ikono.

Slow Art Day: So why bring art to TV in this new way?

Elizabeth: I thought why not achieve for the arts with TV as radio has been achieving for music? Why not use this mass medium for bringing the entire world of arts into the homes of an international public? Over the past few years, we have established a wonderful collaboration between art historians, curators, and cameramen in working with artists and international art institutions. We are producing video clips about artworks from all time periods, movements and disciplines, highlighting single exhibitions as well as the most stunning collections and treasures of our cultural heritage.

Slow Art Day: Tell us more about how you ‘see’ art.

Elizabeth: The first encounter with art is a visual one – you just need your eyes for discovering and experiencing its richness and plurality. A certain knowledge or expertise is what comes in a second or even third step. ikono offers this very first meeting: we are building a visual bridge to the arts, encouraging you to trust your eyes, and to rely on what you see and feel.

Slow Art Day: How does this connect with your notion of time?

Elizabeth: We take the notion of time seriously by inviting you to dive into the artwork contemplatively and to become fascinated by its details. You will always discover things you have never seen or noticed before! We allow art to speak for itself, which is why we never add any sounds or narrative elements and why we avoid any interruptions from commentary or advertisement. However, in case you would like to know more, you can of course find all additional information and further links on our homepage.

Slow Art Day: You guys are planning something special for Slow Art Day – five video clips, each dedicated to a single artwork. Say more.

Elizabeth: We decided to dedicate the entire program for April 27th, 2013 to Slow Art Day. Our curators have selected some of our most beautiful video clips to be presented throughout the day: we will showcase Hans Holbein the Younger’s double portrait of The Ambassadors and the unexcelled depiction of The Tower of Babel, painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. We will present artworks of Caspar David Friedrich, the wonderful Eugene Delacroix, Vincent van Gogh, and the universal genius Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Viewers will also find contemporary examples, including the fascinating light installation of Kite & Laslett, our current Artists of the Month, and the Spatial Reflections series, a selection of artistic positions from Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, curated by Charlotte Bank. I do not want to reveal too much before its presentation, so please feel cordially invited to tune in for discovering more!

Slow Art Day: Can people watch ikonoTV if they are not currently in your cable footprint?

Elizabeth: At the moment you must meet certain technical requirements to watch our HDTV program. While ikonoMENASA is broadcasted in the countries of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Southern Asia via satellite (ArabSat) or IPTV (du, Etisalat or Solidere IPTV Broadband Network), ikonoTV is on view in Germany and Italy via Telekom Entertain and Cubovision.

But we have very good news: In 2013 we will increase our international presence by also being on view in new countries throughout Europe. Furthermore, we have already started preparing our live web stream, which is to be launched within the upcoming months. From that very moment on, everyone around the world will be able to enjoy art and to contemplate it wherever they are-an amazing perspective! In June we will announce further details, so stop by our website or join our newsletter to stay posted. Also begin checking our blog right away, where you will find all further information about ikono’s support of Slow Art Day 2013!

Slow Art Day: Great – thanks for sponsoring Slow Art Day again this year.

[Make sure to tune into ikonoTV, Berlin, if you can!]

Slowing Down at Museo MARCO

[Slow Art Day has asked its 2013 hosts and volunteers to write short summaries of their own experiences looking slowly at artworks of their choosing.]

After looking around the Museo Marco, I chose the artwork The Fuck Off Project by Daniel Ruanova to examine patiently as part of the initiative of Slow Art Day. There were, no doubt, other pieces that called my attention, but the idea of examining this particular piece interested me the most. This artwork consists of a series of metallic rods that are assembled into a set of pointy extrusions. It almost looks like a “wire frame” (like those seen in animation programs) of the back of a porcupine.


Daniel Ruanova. The Fuck Off Project. 1976

At first glance the work certainly seemed aggressive. Although not insulting (at least until you read the title), I initially did not want to get near it. Each of the protrusions appear to be directed toward the viewer, independent of the viewing angle. Judging by the name, I thought that this was precisely the motive of the artist – i.e. to portray aggression.  That made me think of similar shaped things in nature that convey the exact same defensive idea, like pufferfish or the porcupine, and I concluded that the artist may have been inspired by such animals.

Despite my apprehension, I decided to slowly approach the piece. As I got nearer, I noticed that the feeling of aggression became stronger.  I decided to actually walk into it and that changed my experience of the piece completely. There, inside it, I felt protected. The metallic arms were no longer pointed towards me but towards everyone else. It’s as if now their sole purpose was my defense. I sat down to be able to immerse myself deeper, and, as expected, the sense of security was intensified. There, in the midst of all those metal rods, I felt comfortable.

The next thing I noticed was the facial expressions of the people in the museum when they noticed me there. Assuming they shared the feeling I had felt while looking at the sculpture from the outside, I could understand why. I sat there for awhile, watching people pass looking bewildered.

I now understand the Slow Art Day initiative in a better way and can see how slow looking can really transform the experience.  Looking slowly and taking the time to move in and around this artwork completely changed my perception – and – this insightful episode reaffirmed my decision to be a host during the Slow Art Day for Museo Marco in Monterrey on April 27.

– David Zambrano Reyes, Volunteer at MARCO

[Make sure to check out Museo MARCO’s Slow Art Day event in Monterrey, Mexico.]

Take a Slow Look, Canada

Slow Art Day has asked its 2013 hosts and volunteers to write short summaries of their own experiences looking slowly at artworks of their choosing.

The day of my assignment, I strode into the gallery with purpose; J.E.H. MacDonald’s October Shower Gleam, 1922, was the only work I was going to spend time with that day.  This work did not initially outwardly appeal to me – I felt like I was up for a challenge to see what it would be like to look at it slowly.

J.E.H. MacDonald, October Shower Gleam, 1922. Image courtesy of WikiPaintings.

I set my alarm for the proscribed 10 minutes, and set my eyes (and mind) to work. What initially made the painting unattractive to me, the garish 70s mix of close-to-neon colours with earthy greens and browns, I set my eye to first. Looking closely at what I read as autumnal trees and brush, I soon discovered a graceful patterning of organic shapes in the entirely unnatural colours of bright pink and teal, outlined in ultramarine blue, with a ground of gessoed and textured canvas showing through. As my eye traveled downwards, towards the reflection of the landscape in the still lake, I realized that MacDonald’s depiction of water consisted solely of a reflection of the patterning I had been closely studying.

What I read as “water”, in fact, didn’t contain something normally characteristic in depictions of water; namely the colour blue. MacDonald actually had painted a ground of light orange onto which he had then transcribed his reflected scenery. Sandwiching this mirrored landscape was a mass of roiling clouds, done in wavy lines of lavender and deep purple, as well as a rocky outcropping of land containing a few windswept trees in the foreground. They squished me into the landscape in such a way that I felt like my only escape was forward, toward the rolling hills and the two small “V’s” of clear sky – away from the October shower that was imminent, seen in the shiny wetness of the purple clouds.

My “introduction” to the work lasted a mere minute or two. After that, I was lost in the landscape, its patterns, shapes, colours, and texture, until my alarm rudely interrupted. Ten minutes felt like two; I could have easily spent another ten or twenty minutes immersed in the work.

Though not initially appealing to me, I grew, through this exercise, to appreciate aspects of the work that weren’t immediately apparent. Practicing slow looking with a work I wasn’t immediately attracted to in a positive way helped me remember that to “like” and “dislike” are fluid categories (and don’t always include “appreciate”). I was also reminded not to always take other people’s word for it – it is always more rewarding to see for yourself.

-Tori McNish, Slow Art Day volunteer

‘Face’ to Face with Dorian Gray

Martin Kline, Dorian Gray, 2011. Image Courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums.

Slow Art Day has asked its 2013 college interns to write short summaries of their own experiences looking slowly at artworks of their choosing.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can feel Dorian Gray digging into the back of my neck, his carbonized tendrils reaching outward with a foreboding aura.

Martin Kline’s Dorian Gray (2011) is currently situated on the fourth floor of the Sackler Museum (one of the Harvard Art Museums). The encaustic on panel work resides in a tucked-away enclave to the left, and I might have passed it by, if not for the incredible breathtaking presence of the piece quickly enveloping me. The odd fact that this very contemporary work is being displayed on a floor usually reserved for historical European works from Middle Ages to Modern Art is jarring. And yet, it seems completely appropriate.  Its uniqueness demands its own votive-like shrine. It shouts loudly for your attention in order to simmer to a boil before your stolen attention.

This ‘portrait’ does not portray the Oscar Wilde character in his eternal youth. Instead, the spellbinding work showcases the blistering and decaying remains of the bewitched painting. Miraculously the work still carries the same devilish, enigmatic force that you would expect from a depiction of Dorian’s debaucherous descent in his perpetual youth.

As I gaze at Kline’s work, however, I temporarily forget all literary references. Regardless of intent or allusion, this piece literally feels timeless. From all directions and perspectives it becomes reminiscent of so many worldly forms. I feel as if I need to mentally map the pulsating topography of the piece inch by inch. A gigantic festering blister at direct view morphs slowly into a singed old growth forest to bubbling, oozing lava, to a hearty crop of stalagmites as my gaze traverses the panel. I am able to visually trace the peaks and valleys, following them down into the crevasses created by the dripped wax terrain. The technique used by Kline, curiously one of addition and growth instead of the destruction that you would assume of the corrupted portrait, adds to the oddly lively artwork.

Martin Kline, Dorian Gray (detail), 2011.

Martin Kline, Dorian Gray (detail), 2011.

I realize something while looking horizontally from the right at the Martian landscape (after exhausting all of my other viewing options, museum etiquette-wise). Stepping back a few feet, I see that the wax used is a variety of colors, not the monotone mound it appears to be. Light gray, dark gray, even a sickly shade of green is intermixed to add depth and shading to the work. I was so close and drawn into the work that I didn’t realize this core component. What else did I miss?

I draw back, not in retreat, but in pursuit. The optical feat created both by the layers of wax and its pigmentation is still enchanting and intoxicating. As I’m across the gallery, however, I realize that I’ve made a crucial mistake in my original viewing of the work. This is not a remnant of past events, or a passively brewing force.

This work has a life of its own and it’s still spreading.

-Karen Trop, Bennington College.

Martin Kline’s Dorian Gray among other great works is available to view at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum in Cambridge, MA. The Harvard Art Museums are not currently hosting a Slow Art Day event. Inspired? Sign up as a host today!

The Art of Looking with Vermeer’s “Girl”

Slow Art Day has asked its 2013 college interns to write short summaries of their own experiences looking slowly at artworks of their choosing.

Few paintings possess the same level of fame as Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Who was the enigmatic girl in the painting? What was her relationship to the artist? Why did he paint her wearing such a large and distinctive pearl earring? Art historians have speculated tirelessly on the answers to the questions, and the level of mystery surrounding the Girl has led her to be labelled “the Dutch Mona Lisa.”

Given all this, it’s next to impossible to not be aware of Girl with a Pearl EarringThe last time I did a slow art viewing experiment, with Jay DeFeo’s piece The Rose, I had only a passing familiarity with DeFeo and her work. But Girl is an inescapable piece, so when I viewed the painting at the de Young Museum’s special exhibition Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis, it turned out be a completely different viewing experience.

Girl is obviously the star of the exhibition. She appears on all of the de Young’s promotional material for the exhibition, and her face is currently plastered on the side of every bus in San Francisco. Before I even walked into the exhibition I’d seen her face many times over the past few weeks, and was, frankly, a little sick of her. But as any art lover will tell you, seeing a reproduction of a work pales in comparison to seeing the work in person.

Jan Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring (detail), 1665. Image courtesy of the de Young Museum.

The painting’s placement in the exhibition reinforces its central importance. The exhibition spans five rooms of the gallery, all of which are densely packed with paintings, with the notable exception being the room that houses Girl with a Pearl Earring. The room’s only occupant, the Girl confronts you head-on, visible even from the preceding gallery. The painting’s dimensions are rather underwhelming in person, something that the curators and installers cleverly disguised by shining bright lights on the painting and shrouding the rest of the room in darkness. An otherworldly glow seems to emanate the canvas.

When conducting slow art viewings, I like to view the artwork from as many different angles as possible – far away, up close, from the sides. However, I quickly discovered that this is difficult with a painting as diminutive as Girl with a Pearl Earring. I could barely see it when trying to view it from across the gallery; I just got an impression of large blocks of bright colors, an impression that was validated when I moved closer. One of the things that struck me was how sparingly Vermeer used different shades of pigment. Although the painting seems rich in color, and it certainly is, relatively few different shades of color are used in the painting. It seems almost minimalistic – although this isn’t something we generally associate with the Dutch Golden Age, I was reminded of the sparsity of different color shades used in abstract paintings by Mondrian or Rothko.

However, after spending several minutes in front of the piece, I did start to notice several subtle but startling uses of color. There is a small dot of white paint at the corner of the Girl’s mouth that echoes the white dots in her pupils. Her lips appear at first glance to have been painted bright red, but upon closer examination actually contain traces of black, gray, white, and even blue pigment. Even though her pearl earring is the painting’s brightest focal point, it is actually painted almost entirely in black and gray, with just one small white brushstroke that lends it a luminous, glowing quality amidst the darkness of the surrounding canvas.

I realized at the end of my slow viewing experience that the work, which seemed so diminutive at first glance, seemed to have taken on greater proportions. After looking at each individual detail of the painting at great length, the whole of the painting had become much larger than the sum of its parts. The work is only one and a half feet high, but it feels monumental and, at the same time, intimate, as if she is looking at you alone. If you are in San Francisco, I highly recommend that you make the effort to go see this painting (and the rest of the exhibition). You may think you’ve seen it already, on postcards, book covers, and other reproductions, but when you see it in person you will realize that until that moment you’ve been mistaken.

– Maggie Freeman, Mills College

Jan Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca. 1665) was viewed at the special exhibition Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, CA]

Lost in the Galapagos: Looking Slowly with Michael Bogin

Slow Art Day has asked its 2013 college interns to write short summaries of their own experiences looking slowly at artworks of their choosing.

Last week I decided to spend some time looking at the work of Michael Bogin at the Davis Gallery here on my school campus.

After wandering the rooms of the gallery, scanning the walls in search of one of Bogin’s pieces that speaks to me, I notice a pattern. While at first seeming overtly simplistic, upon closer inspection his pieces start to formulate individual stories. Scanning the room, I am immediately struck by the stunning color schemes that run across the walls. His use of color varies in each piece despite their overall similar structure and as the works progress, a tale forms.

Upon closely looking at Galapagos #157, its shapes come to life and a story emerges. A koi fish whizzes past with a mermaid trailing behind; an underwater flower opens its blossom to say a few words; fish of every size decide to come investigate the scene; a coral reef arises from the abyss; bubbles float to the surface like fizz; and light begins to reflect off the ocean’s crystalline surface.

As I continue looking, I realize that I have just reached the Ecuador archipelago. As I gaze into the depths of the Pacific, I see something dart by. With the face of a woman and the tail of a fish I deem her a mermaid. Here things get strange. I fall into a kind of dreamlike state and the creatures gain the gift of gab. The koi fish tells me of the mermaid’s high status amongst the sea creatures as the mermaid playfully chases him away. The coral reef begins to tell me of her tremendous beauty and suddenly the fish that reside in the reef come out to confirm her allure. The sudden commotion causes water bubbles to lift to the surface and as the bright reflection of the water hits my eyes, I snap out of my delusion and once again I am standing in the gallery.

The process of slowly looking at Bogin’s painting proved a surprising experience. The more I look, the more I see. I now notice Bogin’s use of color and forms. The piece now opens up to me in a different way and I begin to see the intricacies of what Bogin has created.

Done in gouache, watercolor, and colored pencil, the multi-medium quality gives the piece a depth that mimics that of the ocean. Looking at the center of the painting, it becomes difficult to tell if the water sits in the foreground or background. The sea creatures seem to remain in limbo undulating back and forth between the different layers of the painting and it is this confusion that leads to my intrigue. The more I look at the painting, the less sure I am of where all the shapes sit in space. The reds and oranges seem to float to the surface in some areas while they seem to recede into the cloudy blue expanse in other sections. After a while I begin to see the intentionality behind Bogin’s every mark. I can see, upon closer inspection, where he has laid down a block of color, taken most of it away, and then put down more paint in order to achieve the illusion of depth. The blues overlap the greens in the top portion and leave behind a shadow of what once was, thereby furthering the magic of his artifice. It is this ambiguity that endows the painting with such power.

There seems to be an extreme intentionality that lies behind every mark in the painting. Simple shapes are transformed into sea life with Bogin’s poignant mark making and the scene comes alive with his innovative use of overlapping color. While there is a broad expanse of green and purple shapes conglomerated on the right side of the painting, this mass is offset with the smaller blocks of reds and greens that sit at the center of the scene. A large stretch of blue evolves into ocean in the areas where the watercolor pools into dark waves of indigo. Color merges and submerges in a playful coalition of paint and story. Just as your eye begins to follow a stream of red, you are pushed into a puddle of green; and just as you begin to circle around the green, your eye is slung into the neighboring pool of purple. This diversity of shape and color employed by Bogin is what gives the painting such life and allowed me to conjure up a story while exploring the piece’s nuances.

Had I left the gallery after a brief browse, I would not have taken notice of the intention that lies within Bogin’s work. I would not have formed the connection to the painting that still remains. The practice of looking slowly at art requires no expert nor expertise; art speaks and I learned again that if I am willing to slow down and listen, then I will hear its story in all its dimensions.

Mary Nyiri, Hobart and William Smith

[Michael Bogin’s Galapagos #157 (2009) was viewed at the Davis Gallery at Hobart and William Smith in Geneva, NY]