Taking a Slow Look at a Museum

When you are looking at art in a gallery or museum do you pay attention to the building or the installation set-up?

Harry Cooper, curator of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, writes in ArtForum about his experience of the Clyfford Still Museum, a museum built specifically to house the artwork of Clyfford Still, a first generation Abstract Expressionist. Still’s will required that his works only be shown in such a museum and so most of his work had been sealed off from the public for over 30 years.

In the article, Cooper takes us on a slow tour of the museum space and considers how the exterior, the layout, and even the wall texture, compliment the paintings on display. He also makes observations about the relationships between pieces that the installation and separation of different rooms create for the viewer.

Read Cooper’s article and visit the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver to experience the amazing architecture and paintings in person.

- Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern

7 Comments on “Taking a Slow Look at a Museum

  1. I absolutely pay attention to the surrounding facility and the layout of an exhibition! Curating to a specific space is an art of its own and deserves careful consideration when viewing artwork.

    Some of my favorite museums and exhibition spaces are actually repurposed spaces- warehouses, powerplants, etc. It provides a wonderful contrast to contemporary installation and an added challenge for a curator.

  2. I recently learned about how minimalist sculpture is highly influenced by the space the artwork resides in; the viewer in a sense is “activated” by the specific spaces and having to figure out how to interact with a piece in that gallery or museum setting. So this article about how Still only wanted his paintings displayed in a certain way in a certain architectural setting was really interesting and relevant! I think the surrounding absolutely affects the way a viewer looks at art, from pop-up exhibitions to a longer process like building the Clyfford Still Museum.

  3. I get slightly obsessive over exhibition design and museum layouts, and sometimes when I go to museums I’m guilty of paying more attention to the way the works are displayed than to the works themselves. But having tried my hand at exhibition curation and design, I definitely think that creating the appropriate setting for works of art is an art form in itself.

  4. I haven’t had too much experience with curating or the details of displaying work, so this article was very informative to me. The next time I visit a gallery or museum (maybe even the Clyfford Still museum because it is gorgeous!) I will definitely take some time to look around. I always thought art dictated the feeling of the space, but perhaps the space itself can enhance the enjoyment of a work just as well!

  5. One of my most favorite museums that I’ve visited, The Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, was beautifully designed by the architect Tadao Ando. The design of the the space transforms the viewing experience into a period of meditation through the minimally crafted rooms with serene concrete walls. The natural light that comes in through the ceiling seems to provide the perfect ambiance for the artwork; the prevalence of windows blurs the exterior from the interior, incorporating natural environment into the overall experience.
    I think that the environment of a museum is in itself an art, and it has the potential to become an object of slow observation and admiration just like the art within it!

  6. Alie, what you brought up about minimalist sculpture is interesting. Does it almost propose a challenge for the viewer to actively understand the space rather than simply experience it? And how much does a viewer pick up on the artist’s or the curator’s intent? I suppose that level of communication varies, but the differing interpretations and experiences are all a part of the way art works.

  7. I do think the space is an added element for a viewer to understand. Another point to make, however, is that the artist or curator’s intent is simply to guide the viewer through the exhibition by their use of the space. The design or layout can act simply as a tool in understanding the art on display when the viewer is forced to move in a particular direction, or is pulled to a specific piece. The space adds several layers to an exhibition, and often serve different purposes.

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