The Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum in Balitmore was a short walk from the NCPH conference hotel and was free, so I made an effort to take a walk over there one evening.  The building itself is architecturally beautiful and the museum is well know for it’s collection of European artwork.  The material on display during my visit included a lot of religious artwork, European and Asian, artwork, as well as design artwork.

WaltersThere were two exhibits that I found particularly interesting at the Walters.  The first was the From Rye to Raphael: The Walters Story exhibition which highlights the role of the Walters family in amassing the core art collection of the Museum.  The exhibition was an interesting mixture of family photographs, artwork of numerous mediums, and explanations of the how the Walters family obtained certain items.  I particularly liked the emphasis on how the collection developed – we often don’t think about the donors behind museum items but their history is crucial to understanding the provenance of items and creating a complete narrative. The artwork in this exhibition was largely European with some interesting textile works, but for me it took second place to the historical family narrative of the exhibition.

The second exhibition that I really enjoyed at the Walters was the Madame de Pompadour, Patron and Printmaker exhibition.  Okay, I admit the first thought I had when I saw Madame de Pompadour’s name was about the “Girl in the Fireplace” episode of Doctor Who. Once I got over that particular train of thought, I really enjoyed the selections from Madame de Pompadour Suite of Prints which were featured in this exhibition.  The Suite of Prints first edition held by the Walters includes a set of etchings created by the royal mistress in the 1750s. Fewer than 20 of these suites were made overall and the Walters has the only full remaining copy, which was also Madame de Pompadour’s personal copy.

The exhibition included etchings created by Pompadour of gems that were carved by Jacques Guay.  These gems included carved images of French culture and portraits of royalty.  I found the explanation of how  etchings were created from the gems, the print making process, and the preservation of carvings in gems particularly interesting.  The etchings were complimented by additional items that reflected Pompadour’s wider interest in arts including paintings, tapestries, and porcelains.

I really enjoyed my evening at the Walters and would recommend it to anyone visiting Baltimore who is interested in art, history, and culture more broadly.

 

Slow Art Day

April 12th 2014 is Slow Art Day.  A day dedicated to encouraging people to discover art and the joy of looking at art.  The day also emphasizes the idea that people can see and experience art without an expert. 

Art galleries and museums internationally are hosting Slow Art Day events.  Most events are structured to allow participants to look at art slowly, by having people look at five works of art for ten minutes each.  Participants then discuss their experience of looking at art. The simple structure makes it easy for galleries to participate.

Started in 2009 with 16 museums and galleries in North America and Europe Slow Art Day has expended to have over 210 venues on every continent in 2014. The list of this year’s participating venues can be seen here

Locally, the Art Gallery of Algoma will be participating in Slow Art Day with art viewing from 12:00-1:00pm and Slow Food Lunch in the Cafe from 1:00-2:00pm.

Inuit Art at the Dennos Museum Center


The Enchanted Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak

One of the reasons I was so keen to visit the Dennos Museum Center was the Inuit Gallery and expansive collection of Inuit art that is housed at the Dennos.The Inuit art collection at the Dennos includes over 1,000 items including “prints, sculptures, drawings, tools, textiles, and animal specimens” primarily from the 1950s onwards.  I was intrigued by how Inuit art and culture would be displayed outside of Canada.

Despite my initial intrigue, the Inuit Gallery was probably my least  favourite gallery space at the Dennos.  During my visit the majority of the works shown were prints made from stone cuts and small stone carvings.  The works themselves were interesting and I did learn a bit about the stone cut print making from the exhibit.

However, I found this gallery space lacked vibrancy and context.  Many of the text panels looked at Inuit culture through a lens of anthropology and scholarship.  The entrance to the Inuit Gallery is flanked by two taxidermy animals, contributing to the space’s overall reinforcement of stereotypes about Canada’s North and Inuit people.

The space did not incorporate panels which were representative of the Inuit people themselves and highlighted their own views.  It also would have been nice to see some context about Inuit people in Canada more generally about Nunavut itself.  The gallery space did include one framed map that showed Canada’s North, but there was no context accompanying the map. Overall, I felt as though Canada’s North and Inuit culture was painted with a broad brush in this gallery without much attention to current political, social, and cultural movements.

To be fair, the Dennos is far from the only cultural institution that has displayed Indigenous history or material culture without context or from a Euro-centric perspective.  Jon Weier’s recent Active History post, “Strangely ahistoric sensibilities at the American Museum of Natural History.” did an excellent job of looking at the outdated exhibition practices of American Museum of Natural History.  Cultural institutions of all sizes need to look closely at their display practices of Indigenous culture and consider the implications of outdated, one sided presentations of history.

Architecture and Heritage Institutions

Resnick Pavilion

Architecture and design can have a huge impact on how a space is used.  This is true in family homes, libraries, art galleries, museums, and buildings of all shapes and sizes.  How space is configured, materials used, the amount of natural light, and numerous other factors impact how visitors perceive a heritage institution.  Architectural features can also enhance or limit display and gallery space.


Architype Review has recently published issues which focus on architecture in libraries, art museums, and performing arts centres.  The architecture featured in these issues varies greatly; some is very modern and innovative while other featured buildings are very simplistic and classical in style.  In addition to providing great images of each structure Architype Review provides descriptive details on the space and its construction.

Some of my favourite featured heritage institutions in Artchitype Review include:

  •   The Safe Haven Library in Thailand.  This library is part of the Safe Haven Orphanage and was built in 2009 using local materials and labour. The structure is fairly simplistic but the building was designed to meet the specific needs to the library.  A great timelapse video which shoes the construction of the library and be seen here.
  • The Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  The
    Wild Beast Music Pavilion

    Pavilion is a single-story, 45,000 square foot structure, and is currently the largest purpose-built, naturally lit, open-plan museum space in the world.  The fact that the space is naturally lit and relies upon open space is a very unique feature in the museum world.  

  • The Wild Beast Pavilion in Valencia, CA is a unique recital hall and outdoor performance space.  The space is multipurpose and is used for instruction, enclosed concert space, and open air recital space.  The numerous functions of the space combined with the visually pleasing design is what appealed to me about this particular design.

What are your favourite heritage institutions with unique architecture?