So maybe my love for museums is partly because I'm making up lost time. There's still something awe-inspiring and intoxicating about an institution that exists because people want halls of culture and learning to exist outside of just schools and universities. My favorite book as a kid was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I had never been to the Dayton Art Institute when I first read it, let alone the Met, but a great museum seemed like the kind of place I'd want to live if I could choose. Now that I've spent a lot more time in them, I can't say I feel any differently. Now that I live in a city where the arts rule all, I hope make 2014 the year I spent more time at more off-the-beaten-path arts events. For now, here's a roundup of the best stuff I saw at museums this year. (Note: This isn't limited to art museums, even though I just rambled about art museums for a couple hundred words.)
In January, I was lucky enough to travel to Philadelphia to see the Decibel Magazine 100th Issue Celebration Show with Converge and Pig Destroyer, and while I was there I ran up the stairs (sorry) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it happened to be the last day of the incredible exhibition Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp. The exhibition was structured around the influence of Marcel Duchamp, in particular his iconic glass panel The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, on the artists he shared the subtitle with. It seemed a bit haphazard in its curation at first, especially with a player piano jarringly interrupting the silence with John Cage compositions, but as I walked around the gallery, it all seemed to come together. Ever since his heavy-handed presence at the Armory Show in 1913 (more on that later), Duchamp has served as something of a dean for American modern art, and seeing his influence on artists from such a wide range of disciplines was impressive. The exhibition wasn't mere hagiography, either, as the offerings from Cage, Cunningham, Johns and Rauschenberg's works were as big a draw as a chance to see famous Duchamps recontextualized. A spectacular modern dance performance capped off the day and made me awfully glad I made time for the museum.
|Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even|
Back in Indiana (where I lived until August, for those who may not know), I made a point to get out to Fountain Square's Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, a tiny, two-gallery space inside the Murphy Art Center when they brought New York artist Rutherford Chang's We Buy White Albums piece to town. The title of the exhibition doubles as its mission statement; Chang purchases first-pressing copies of the Beatles' White Album and arranges them by serial number in a record store-like setting. Thumbing through the crates to examine how the thousands of previous owners added their own art and handwriting onto the minimalist cover was a thrilling tactile experience that not many museums are able to offer. The icing on the cake was the turntable and speakers that were set up in the gallery, allowing anyone to play any of the copies of the White Album they wanted to listen for differences. "Helter Skelter" always fucking rules, but it really fucking rules when the vinyl is so scratched up that it sounds like a lo-fi sludge cover of "Helter Skelter." (Chang also made an incredible recording of 100 copies playing Side A at the same time: https://soundcloud.com/rc428/side-1-x-100)
|Rutherford Chang, We Buy White Albums|
|René Magritte, Young Girl Eating A Bird (The Pleasure)|
I'm currently reading a short story collection by an author I loved as a kid, and I wouldn't be if it weren't for the great exhibition Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul at the Morgan Library & Museum. Collecting handwritten correspondence, first editions of many of his works, haunting daguerrotypes and an impressive bronze bust, the Poe exhibit serves as a needed reassessment of a figure many of us leave behind in our adolescence. His prose can be clunky at times, but as the exhibition astutely observes, he was a massive influence on plenty of authors who would deal in darkness, from Vladimir Nabokov to Stephen King. (The absence of H.P. Lovecraft from the exhibition's many wordy placards on influence tells you how far we still have to come for weird horror to be a respected literary genre, though a major Poe exhibition is a great start.) Beyond being an encyclopedic record of Poe's life and work, perhaps the exhibition's greatest triumph was its staging: the walls of the room housing the collection are painted blood red. A bit on the nose, to be sure, but it was the kind of choice Poe likely would have made if he were exhibiting his own work, and its boldness paid off in how visible unsettled many of the visitors looked on approaching the crimson room.
|The "Ultima Thule" daguerrotype of Edgar Allan Poe, |
on display at the Morgan Library & Museum
|Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2|