Of Heaven and Earth

Over fall break my parents and I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum. As we entered we were first greeted by a museum worker who saw that my parents were taking pictures of the amazing architecture. These workers were all very friendly and willing to help. They even pointed out areas that are great for taking pictures. When walking through the museum, permanent exhibits most were easy to maneuver and well laid out. The overall flow of the museum was straight forward. There are two main isles and one of them leads to the other galleries while the other one holds sculpture and ends at a room for students.

The most problematic exhibit to me was one that happened to be one of their temporary, special exhibitions, advertised on their website as a headliner. It was titled Of Heaven and Earth, 500 Years of Italian Painting. Although this exhibit was one of my favorites because the of the works of art I got to see, it was also the most frustrating. It is an impressive collection that came from the Glasgow Museums. However, for an exhibit that is suppose to be chronological it was very hard to follow. There was often two directions that one could go when entering a new section. The visitor could go left or right and each direction felt like a different time period or topic. Thus, when going through the exhibit my parents and I often got confused about what time period we were in and not sure what direction to go. Often I found myself going from one side to the other to the middle. There was no clear path to the exhibit.

The museum attempted to guide the viewers through wall texts. The exhibit starts out with a wall text describing the overall exhibit and the era. Then moves on to smaller ones throughout the exhibit to explain the different time periods making up the 500 years. These attempted to direct the audience but the route often did not feel natural. This often caused great confusion because I felt conflicted between the various ways to go through the exhibit. The confusion in layout caused the exhibit to feel crowded because there were people walking in different directions. Each person was trying to fine a course. I found myself going through it differently than my parents.  Since, there were labels and bigger wall texts some context was given to the viewers. Mixing that with the odd layout meant that that some sort of knowledge of art from this time period was necessary.

The walls of this exhibition also changed colors a lot. It seemed that each new wall was a different color. At first I thought it was synced with the time period but then it became more and more frequent and no longer fit that pattern. There was often a wall stuck in the middle of the room that had a couple paintings on it as well. This made me even more confused and was never sure when was a good time to look at the middle wall. There was nothing in this exhibit that truly guided the visitor.

Another issue that I had with this exhibition was the lighting. Part of it may have been due to my height and the amount of lacquer that had been put on these paintings as a form of conversation but there tended to be a large glare on most paintings. In my opinion they could have worked to find a way that caused less of a glare. This glare made it really hard to see the details of the paintings and during these 500 years detail was a very prominent part of their painting style.

Even though the exhibit Of Heaven and Earth had many faults it was successful in demonstrating the art the 500 year span.  It also featured big-name artists such as Botticelli and Titian. The collection is made of up of important religious scenes such as the Annunciation, and also secular scenes such as landscapes. Despite all of the frustrations I had with this exhibit it was one of my favorites in the museum simply because the works of art and it did not cost extra to enter. It was a very enjoyable trip to the museum and it was not overwhelming as a whole either. I would suggest going to the The Milwaukee Art Museum to anyone because the building itself is a work of art and you get to see wonderful pieces of art that are prominent in the art history.


One thought on “Of Heaven and Earth

  1. I enjoyed your post about your family’s visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum. The issues of flow/organization/direction of traffic through the “Of Heaven and Earth” exhibit are unfortunate. I wonder if this is a common problem for traveling exhibits. When an exhibit is designed to travel around to different museums, it must be difficult for designers to set up the exhibit to fit a variety of museum spaces. Perhaps more signage could have helped guide the visitors through the Milwaukee set up.
    It’s also unfortunate that you needed some sort of background understanding of Italian art to enjoy the exhibit. I’m sure that is a common difficulty for museums. I usually think of this issue in the context of hands-on science museums geared towards young children. How can the exhibits be geared towards children but still teach adults something so that they don’t get bored. Perhaps the Milwaukee Art Museum is having the opposite problem of reaching less-informed audience members.


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