Museum Magazine, Fall 2010, Number 57

Museum Magazine, Fall 2010, Number 57

From the Director, Alex W. Barker

The Greek poet Hesiod tells of the succession of ages, from Gold through Bronze to these latter days. Like Hesiod’s succession the Museum moves from an exhibition of modern gold to an exhibition of ancient bronze; unlike Hesiod our change is not a diminution or fall from grace. Ancient Bronzes of the Asian Grasslands from the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation opens October 15, 2010, and features bronzes from the equestrian nomads of Central Asia. It examines the long history and broad sweep of central Asian metal art, providing a counterpoint to the previous show featuring art by a single artist. It’s followed in the spring by another change of pace, an exhibition exploring the artist’s colony at Ste. Genevieve, Missouri—an important but largely unrecognized influence on the development of regional art and artists.

Changes of pace are important in museums not only because they keep the galleries fresh and vibrant, but because they help us focus our attention more clearly, and increase our appreciation of what’s new and different. It’s all too easy to think that what’s familiar is natural or normal, and represents the way everyone else does or sees things. Not by half. There are many ways of constructing and construing the world around us, and coming to terms with those different approaches helps us see our world, and our place in it, much more clearly. In large part that’s what museums offer—the ability to see the world in new ways, either through the canonical art of past peoples and places or the unique and idiosyncratic vision of individual artists.

My wife—source of many of my best ideas—once suggested that we allow kids to adopt an art work as a kind of pet, and encourage them to drop by whenever they have some spare time to visit their adopted artwork. She thought it would help make them more comfortable with the idea of spontaneous visits to museums, and encourage them to become more familiar with and engaged by individual works. It fits with the broader notion of “slow art,” of coming to a museum less to tour the galleries in general than to sit and contemplate a single work, to see and appreciate an individual work in all its complexity. Often we focus on a salient feature of a work—a fauvist use of color, mannerist forms, or cubist constructions of space—without appreciating it on its own terms, without taking the work apart in our minds, examining all its parts and the choices they represent, and then putting them back together to follow the artist through the process of creation and expression. Doing so—and understanding that we may have gotten many of the steps and choices wrong— leads to a new appreciation, and to new discoveries about works we thought we already knew.

All of us who work professionally with objects have had the experience of seeing or handling a work we know well, a piece we’ve seen a thousand times before, and suddenly noticing something profound that had previously escaped our notice. It offers a tingle of excitement, of discovery, a feeling that the more recent poet Philip Larkin described as “. . . so new, and gentle-sharp, and strange.” And in that moment we truly see and appreciate the work anew.

Come to the Museum. Sit down, relax, and look deeply. Make enjoying art slowly, and seeing things anew, your pet project.

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Year: 
2010

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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association