Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Day at the Museum

Where: Archives of American Art

When: through May 16, 2013

Before I started going to the Smithsonian on a regular basis, I had no idea there even was an Archives of American Art, let alone that they put on exhibits. 

Their exhibit space is one rather small room in the American Art Museum, but they make the most of it.  Each time I enter for a new show, I'm struck by how different the room looks from the previous display.  It's not just that they've put new materials in the display cases, they've painted the room a new background color and have put up new material on the one large wall.  I give the curators a lot of credit for what they're able to do in a small space and with almost no fanfare.

And it's not just that they decorate the room nicely, although that's what I always notice first.  Most of their shows involve the papers of artists, as opposed to their artwork, and this can be a bit dull.  Even the most interesting person's letters are only of so much interest, especially if you're only seeing one or two letters and not a full record of their correspondence.  The people setting up these displays do an excellent job of telling a story and letting the papers add to it - they add the visual impact that papers, by their nature, tend to lack.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you can well imagine my delight at the idea of an exhibit on artists' reactions to museums.  Other than going to museums myself, nothing's better than discussing museum exhibits with others, or reading about other people's reactions to museums.  Now I would be able to go to a museum to learn about how other people enjoyed their trips - makes my head spin a bit to think about it, but a grand time for me, nonetheless.

My favorite quote from the show is from Paul Cadmus, "...but I would never travel just to see the Grand Canyon because there are no paintings there."  Although I love to see beautiful scenery, and I've wanted very much to go to see the American West (especially since seeing the exhibit on photographs of the American West at the American Art Museum several years ago), I do know what he means.  A trip featuring nothing but scenery would wear on me; a trip featuring nothing but museums would never get old.

I also enjoyed William Penhallow Henderson's cutting remarks on smelly Parisian tourists in the Louvre and Richard Tuttle's letter saying that gallery hopping, "threatens to become a habit."

If you love museums, and enjoy the thoughts of others who do as well, this is a great exhibit.

Verdict: A wonderful show, easily managed in a lunch hour.

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