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.

A City Becomes a Museum

The art world takes over downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan each year for an International art competition called Art Prize. This is the 5th annual year and is currently going on. Artists start setting up their art in mid to late August and the voting begins September 24 and ends October 12, 2014. The city is completely transformed throughout the duration of this event. One cannot walk a block without seeing any type of art. Each year art is displayed in all mediums, painting, sculpture, performance, etc… are all represented. This year there are 1,536 entries at 174 venues each falling within three square miles of the downtown area.

The competition began in 2009 as a kind of social experiment because it is one be the first of its kind. The creator and benefactor Rick DeVos was curious to see the outcome and response this type of event would have not only on the the city but also for the artists. There are two grand prize winners. One that is voted solely by popular vote from the public and the other is decided by a jury of art experts. Each of these grand prize winners will receive $200,000. There are also 8 other artist that could win. Two per category one chosen by the public and the other the jury chooses. These other categories are two-dimensional, three-dimensional, time-based, and installation. $20,000 is awarded to those 8 that win. This makes it one of the largest art prizes in the world.  This event is for everyone. Anyone can participate whether it is through voting or being an artist venue.

In 2009, the experiment turned out be a success. Hotels were fully booked and restaurants ran out of food just in the first week. Also the venue that hosted winning piece that year had around 80,000 visitors. Overall that first year there were over 100,000 visitors and 334,219 votes cast. This event was bigger than anyone could have ever expected. The winner in 2009 was Ran Ortner with a large scale painting of ocean waves, titled Open Water No. 24. Ortner went from not being able to pay the bills to being in newspapers around the world.

Ran Ortner, Open Water No. 24

Since 2009 there have been 1.7 million public votes cast and this number is only going to keep getting larger. 2014 alone includes 1,536 entries which represent 51 countries and 42 U.S. states and territories. In 2013 alone there were over 400,000 active participants. Thus, Art Prize has been a huge success and shows signs that it will keep growing over the years to come.

To give an idea of what other kinds of pieces are displayed and the various sizes here are some more pictures. Everything imaginable can be displayed and artists are encouraged to try out new ideas. The videos at the bottom of the post give an good overview of what has been exhibited over the past couple of years and what is currently around the city.

Joachim Jensen, Steam Pig, 2010

Robin Protz, Myth or Logic, 2013

Adonna Khare, Elephants, 2012

Grand Rapids fully embraces having Art Prize take over the city. It generates a lot of business for the local museums, galleries, and restaurants. On top of that it also is great exposure for artists. The city becomes a museum itself. Outdoor spaces such as Calder plaza, the Blue Bridge, and Canal Street Park all have curators. In fact, each space has a curator and team that helps make sure the pieces are being exhibited correctly. Each venue has certain specifications that the artist must put into consideration when displaying their works. Such as in the Calder Plaza there is a permanent Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse and each piece needs to work around that. Also they cannot be within 20 feet of the La Grande Vitesse. Artists must also be preventative in making sure that the environment and venue are not harmed. For example, the art pieces cannot leave behind any rust on the plaza.

The VandenBerg (Calder) Plaza

Local museums such as the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum are venues. These museums help display the art in a manner using their knowledge of exhibition display. Often the curators for other locations are owners and curators of local galleries like Richard App who owns the Richard App Gallery and is the one curating the Calder Plaza. When those putting together the Art Prize venues have experience in exhibition design especially when they are putting together the outdoor spaces it makes the city a museum. It is an interactive museum that is accessible to everyone. There is public transportation around the city and the artwork is all within walking distance of each other.

The transformation of Grand Rapids to a Museum and Art Center rolled into one is a great thing to witness and draws in people from all over the globe. Not only does it exhibit the great aspects of the city, it encourages and teaches the viewers to get involved in art and the various things that one can do with art. The message of Art Prize is simply “For 19 days, three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, become an open playing field where anyone can find a voice in the conversation about what art is and why it matters. Art from around the world pops up in every inch of downtown, and it’s all free and open to the public. It’s unorthodox, highly disruptive, and undeniably intriguing to the art world and the public alike”. Art Prize demonstrates this task with flying colors and each year it gets improved upon. Thus, even though it is an unconventional museum it is effective in its methods and execution. If you ever get the chance to come to Grand Rapids, Michigan during Art Prize do not pass it by because it is truly a great experience in totality.

The Art Institute Exposed

By Alisha Ankin and Mieke Miller

The Art Institute of Chicago, which we have most recently visited in March, is the perfect example of the “traditional” museum which is often viewed as the pinnacle of Western culture as it derived from the values of the Ancient Greeks. Its impressive exterior pulls many elements from classical architecture. The Roman arches, decorative Corinthian columns, exquisitely carved friezes, prominent pediment, and wide steps mirror Grecian and Roman temples, as the museum itself is a temple of art. This precious institution is guarded by massive iron lions that flank the entrance. One cannot enter the museum without receiving the message of importance and grandeur.

But what is the Art Institute really like? Does it deserve its place on such a high pedestal? Is there more to this museum than its inspiring façade?

It is universally agreed upon that the Art Institute of Chicago has an extensive collection of art. Because of this, unfortunately, it would take multiple days to see everything displayed at the museum. The average trip lasts about three hours in which an ambitious visitor might make it to three sections. The sheer enormity of the museum is responsible for the museum fatigue of visitors. When museum goers try to fit as many works into their trip as possible, they might find themselves overwhelmed and under appreciative of the works due to sensory overload. This is a major, although regrettably uncorrectable, problem with the Art Institute. It simply holds too many pieces to see them all in one day and remain sane.

To combat this problem, the museum provides detailed maps for guests, which a smart visitor will utilize to form a navigation plan. The maps are an effective way of making the museum accessible and manageable. For those who struggle with reading maps, are too lazy to read one, or are just plain lost, the museum has staff members stationed throughout the building to assist with directions and questions. For instance, “Where is the bathroom?”

The museum does a good job of accommodating the visitor’s needs. It provides bathrooms on each floor for those with bladders, elevators and ramps for those who are handicapped, and a cafeteria for the hungry. The cafeteria is ultimately designed to keep museum goers in the museum longer and to get them to spend more money. At least they make the food delicious! But delicious food is, sadly, expensive.

Actually everything in this museum is expensive. The whole shebang is arguably overpriced, from the tickets to the gift shop trinkets. This can make it difficult for some to visit the museum as they simply cannot afford it. The Art Institute of Chicago is unfortunately a cultural experience exclusively for the economically privileged.

However, it could be argued that the museum is expensive for a reason. As a large institution, it costs a lot of money to run the building, preserve works, pay employees, etc. So an expensive entrance fee is perhaps not so unreasonable. However, the museum does what it can to reduce fees for visitors. For example, the museum has discounts for students and seniors, kids under 14 are free, and there is free admission for Illinois residents on Thursday evenings in addition to reduced price the rest of the week. And as the museum offers such a wonderful experience, many people would consider it to be worth the money. One gets a lot of art, culture, and knowledge all in one place.

Visitors also get to see many world famous works by renowned  artists at the Art Institute of Chicago. Seurat, Picasso, Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Dürer are just a few of the famous artists one can see. Well known works such as American Gothic and At the Moulin Rouge are also on display. Some paintings are hung at eye level in large gilded frames on white walls. To avoid monotony, the museum exhibits some works on green or gray walls to help tie in the mood of the exhibit. For example, the Indian exhibit contains many Hindu sculptures that contrast sharply to the red walls. Despite this Eastern exhibit, the most prominent works are European or American. Euro-centrism is a theme in many museums that is regrettably continued in the Art Institute of Chicago. That being said, the museum does hold a large collection of Asian and African art. The Indian, Southeast Asian, and Himalayan art featured in the Aladorf galleries are strategically placed between the entrance and the more popular western galleries including the sculpture court, Greek and Roman displays, and modern wing. This demonstrates that the museum is making an effort to include other cultures and break the streak of “traditional” Western museum. However, there is room for improvement as the African, Indian Art of the Americas, and Chinese, Japanese, and Korean art collections are tucked off to the side.

The museum itself, however, is anything but tucked away. It is hard to miss sitting in the Museum Campus on Chicago’s S Michigan Ave. Located near the shore of Lake Michigan, the museum lies between the famous Millennium Park and other prestigious institutions including the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium.

The Art Institute can definitely hold its own among these impressive establishments in an impressive city with much to offer. Despite its issues of museum fatigue, expense, and Euro-centrism, which are issues faced by many “traditional” Western museums, the Art Institute of Chicago, in our opinion, with its expansive collection, innovative use of color for exhibit walls, and accommodations for visitors, deserves its place high on a pedestal. The museum’s extravagance is warm and exciting rather than cold and daunting the way museums can be. A beautiful building inside and out, the museum thrills and inspires wonder in its visitors whether visit number one or one-hundred.