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.]

Beethoven and Picasso – and the Contemporary Art of Looking?

As the year winds down, Professor Katy Siegel reflects in Frieze on recent changes in the way art is being made and studied. Interestingly, she suggests it’s like the way music was made in the 17th and 18th centuries – and unlike the way it’s made today. And all of this, in my opinion, has something to do with Beethoven, Picasso and the new art of looking. Let me explain.

In Siegel’s article, she discusses how contemporary art is more becoming more specific and local, and how room is being made for more idiosyncratic and independent artists. I agree and think it’s a important shift.

She then draws a parallel to moments in music history – saying that what’s happening in the art world today reminds her of the 17th and 18th century when music was made locally and to be performed for specific, local audiences. She contrasts that scene to today’s where the same Beethoven symphonies are performed by orchestras all over the world. The implication is clear: classical music in the early 21st century is bland and homogeneous.

I agree and I’ll add this – while a good Beethoven symphony may bring in the audience in the short term, the lack of local, varied and contemporary classical music may be hurting the audience in the long term. It just simply becomes boring no matter how good Beethoven is (and he’s undeniably excellent).

Siegel’s article makes me think how art audiences, like their musical counterparts, are bombard by the same globe-crossing blockbuster exhibits of the same art and artists – Picasso, for example. So, Picasso, whose art I very much love, becomes our art world analog to Beethoven.

These same or similar art exhibits mean that audiences in many major metropolitan areas are looking in the same way at the same art – and while a good blockbuster exhibit may bring in people today, this bland approach may be hurting the development of the art audience in the long term. 

But, there’s a problem. While the same blockbuster Picasso exhibit over and over again may become bland – it not only brings in many people today (and museums need exhibits which bring in large audiences), but it’s easy to look at. People have learned how to look at Picasso. It’s one of the reasons his exhibits are so popular. And, they do not know how to look at much of contemporary art. In fact, contemporary art is hard to look at.

Enter Slow Art Day. We’ve discussed elsewhere how our art of looking actually helps people see contemporary art. It’s hard to believe unless you see it or experience it – but slow looking – i.e. 10 to 15 minutes per piece – makes it possible for anyone of any level of sophistication to see new art.

See, for example, this Slow Art Day 2012 report from Ashland, Oregon, where the participants looked at three works by contemporary, technology-inspired mixed media artist, Jenny Vogel. “Participants told [the host] they were challenged by her selections but the experience of slowly gazing at them made a difference. It really helped them to see multiple dimensions of Vogel’s work…” And this group included a participant who had never once been to a museum, much less looked at challenging contemporary art.

Slow Art Day helps people see contemporary art. That’s important but there’s more to the connection with contemporary art.

I’ve always thought that Slow Art Day – in its underlying form – shared some tenets with contemporary art. And I didn’t think it necessarily had to do either with helping people see new art or with making art slowly – though both are certainly important part. No, I’ve always thought the connection to be more fundamental – and Siegel’s article helps me to clarify how.

While contemporary artists are making art locally and for specific audiences and locations, we are making possible a contemporary art of looking – one that is also local and idiosyncratic.

There is nothing more local than an individual staring slowly at an artwork for 10 or 15 minutes. While we are a global movement, we are indelibly local. The hosts chose the venue and the art – we dictate none of that. And, whatever they are looking at, it’s happening right there in the moment in Salem, Cape Town, LA, London, Leeds and Hong Kong.

Slow Art Day and contemporary artists together give art audiences an art and an experience more varied, more local, and more contemporary. It’s the contemporary art…of looking.

– Phil Terry, Slow Art Day Founder with Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day intern

Towards a Better Understanding of Art

Ever felt lost when looking at a work of contemporary art? Will Gompertz, BBC arts editor and former Tate gallery director, addresses this common phenomenon in his article in The Huffington Post.

He offers some solace and explanation for the confusion: “…I don’t think the real issue is about judging whether or not a brand-new piece of contemporary art is good or bad–time will undertake that job on our behalf. It is more a question of understanding where and why it fits into the modern art story.”

We agree with Gompertz that evaluating the quality of the art is not the issue and that learning about art history is important. However, we would offer a different approach. In Slow Art Day events around the world, art novices and experts alike seem to overcome confusion simply by looking for 10 minutes. Interestingly, no matter how provocative, unusual, minimalist, or indescribable the work is, Slow Art Day participants report having a good, not confusing, experience.

We hypothesize that 10 minutes of looking creates an experience where the viewer sees and feels things not immediately apparent. We believe these participants go through a process of personal discovery that, based on their feedback, seems to create a sense of joy and excitement.

We have more work to do to fully understand what works about Slow Art Day but it does seem to us that participants get excited  because they discover they actually have something to say about the art – and because they have created a connection that is emotional, intellectual, visual or spatial.

Yes, art history is important and many of the organizers of Slow Art Day are art historians or students pursuing that degree. But, the thousands of participants every year are not experts. Indeed, they are likely to be the kind of person that does not like contemporary art – unless and until they spend 10 minutes looking at a single piece.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern; edited by Phil Terry

Slow Art on the Streets

I loved this interview with Adam Niklewicz, by Two Coats of Paint writer Joe Bun Keo, about Niklewicz’ latest mural on an out-of-the-way wall in Hartford, Connecticut.

I particularly liked the exchange between Joe Bun Keo and Nicklewicz regarding the relatively obscure location of the mural.

Keo notes that without billboard lights “[y]ou’d have to be a little more observant than usual…to notice [Niklewicz’s mural].” And Niklewicz responds that he doesn’t think it’s a problem – that, in fact, “public art is not an advertising campaign.”

Agreed. Public art, or art of any kind, is not advertising. And, unlike advertising, it’s worth spending the time to really see it – rather than quickly look and move on.

I hope some Slow Art Day readers get a chance to go look at some of this new public art in Connecticut. The state has spent $1 million to commission murals in multiple cities.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day intern; edited by Phil Terry

New Video: “Erin Shirreff Takes Her Time”

The Art:21 New York Close Up documentary series just released a video on Erin Shirreff.

Shirreff transforms the experience of looking at photos. She invites viewers to linger on a single photo. Each photo has multiple still images – each image a different perspective or manipulation – and all placed into a video stream.

What do I mean?

Watch the above video to learn more and to get inspired to really look.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern

A New Look at the Old

Think you know the works of old masters? You might have to think again after you see the work of artist Bence Hajdu, profiled in this article on Hyperallergic and this article on Hypenotice. Hajdu digitally removes the figures from a series of paintings and turns the focus on the environment, the backgrounds, and the interior spaces.

The digital removal of figures forces viewers to notice things they may have missed before – like the patterns on a floor or the perspective of the picture plane. His unique approach is a good reminder that in a work of art there are always many details to take in slowly.

Thanks again to Hrag Vartanian at Hyperallergic and Boogie at Hypenotice for the great articles that originally brought this artist to our attention.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Intern