The Blog of John Walford, British-born, but long resident in The United States. I am an art historian, currently studying satire in Netherlandish art, an amateur photographer, and occasional writer, who writes here about art, photography, and the human condition--some of it ekphratic poetry, responding to works of art. This is to be a site for words and images, interacting on one another, as vehicles of human expression.

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Groups at The 'Stute, 2010

Groups at The 'Stute, 2010, originally uploaded by johnwalford.

Some Reflections on Museum Goers, and Museum Visits, as a Ritual of Today's Urban- and Suburbanite.

Museum Atriums are engaging places for people watching, and a good diversion after absorbing too much art over a long morning. This piece resulted from a visit to the Modern Wing (designed by Renzo Piano) of the Art Institute, Chicago, May 29, 2010.

As I run my eye back and forth along the spectrum of people seen here, I ask myself, "what does each anticipate experiencing, in visiting the Art Institute, Chicago, or other such art museum?," and "what do they actually experience, and carry away with them - apart from some postcard, trinket from the gift shop, or other such souvenir of their visit?"

Then I might wonder, "What do I anticipate gleaning from a visit to the Art Institute?" and "What do I actually take away with me, or rather, in me?"

Furthermore, I wonder about the spectrum of capacity to take in some of what is on offer, and what percentage of visitors engage - or are effectively able to engage - much to be found in the beautifully designed, and well-stocked Modern Wing?"

So then, as you cast your eye along this varied group of people, try asking yourself what might be in their minds, as they pass by the observing spectator, ready with camera in hand. Furthermore, at times when you have been in their shoes, but perhaps elsewhere, what have you carried away with you, in your eyes, mind, memory, and whole being? What, indeed do you anticipate, and actually then glean, from such a museum visit? Or, is museum-going more like a ritual that one performs, as part of living in a mostly-urban environment, in which such visits are part of life's routines, from early school days, onward. What then does the ritual accomplish?

Finally, you might want to turn the question on me, and ask: "what did I take away from the Art Institute on this occasion, besides this and the four or five photographs below it? " - As well as impressions of the legion of art works that I photographed, but do not post anywhere on the Internet.

Maybe my delight in the design of the the Modern Wing stands out as always one of the most lasting, positive impressions - besides the repeated stimulus offered by original works of art, with all their subtly of color and texture, the palpable quality of different materials, both two- and three-dimensional, and the way light plays over them, bringing out their color and texture, highlighting some elements, relegating other aspects to shadow, and so many other qualities that no reproduction can come close to emulating or evoking.

I am also struck that every time I visit the Art Institute, which is many, many times a year, each visit intersects with a different range of current experiences, thought processes, moments in teaching, questions that have been posed, books and articles read, and so forth, so that on each visit I bring to the works on display a different set of questions, a fresh set of awareness, new issues that are engaging me, a new photo-series I am working on. All these elements affect what I choose to look at, and how I see them, so that the Art Institute is for me a cornucopia of never-to-be-exhausted resources, that can be quarried and mined ever over again, always with new and unexpected outcomes.

It is the intersection between what we bring, on any given day, and what the museum has on display, also with its ever-changing exhibitions, that makes such a museum a resource that an attentive viewer cannot possibly exhaust in a lifetime. Though I live in the suburbs, one of the advantages of reaching 65 is that with any free time that I may have, I can hop on the train, for free, and be there, in front of such richly-stimulating works, for as long as my endurance holds out. Then, when exhausted, one can cross the bridge into Millennium Park, and watch all the people, totally self-absorbed, gazing at themselves and their accompanying loved ones in the beloved "Bean," that shiny, 110-ton, elliptical sculpture, properly known as Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, completed 2005 .

Herewith two of my recent photographs of people delighting in Kapoor's Cloud Gate, and their own, ephemeral presence, reflected on its shiny surfaces:

Narcissus's Dreamland, 2010


Gateway to Infinity, 2010

As well as the delightful visual play on the surfaces of Kapoor's Cloud Gate ["The Bean"], what a privilege it is, to have an Institution, such as Chicago's Art Institute, curate and display all these other works of art, in such a space, and all done so well, for all of us, should we so choose, to walk in and study, absorb, and retain in memory - to feed on, wherever we then find ourselves, and however many years later.

Some forty-eight years ago, I first saw the works of Rubens in the Louvre in Paris (such as the Adoration of the Kings, painted 1626/7, and the massive Marie de Medici cycle, painted 1622-24, see:'_Medici_cycle ). The impact of their seemingly freshly-painted figures, though in fact done over three hundred years earlier, remain with me to this day, and still inform my perception of reality, and my realization of the power of visual art.

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John Walford

John Walford
Not All That Meets The Eye

About Me

My photo
United States
I am a British-born, art historian, teaching in the USA; I studied law, in England,1964-68; worked part-time in the art world, 1968-69; then studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 1969-76; completed my Ph.D. diss. at the University of Cambridge, 1981; moved to the States in 1981, and have since written, or co-authored, other books. I am currently studying satire in Netherlandish art. My wife, Maria, was born in Milan, Italy, where she worked as an interpreter, in business; she spent seven years in Switzerland, at the University of Lausanne, 1963-70. She came to Amsterdam in 1971, and we soon married. She is a wife, mother, literary critic, of Italian (and French) literature, and completed her Ph. D. diss. in 2002, at the University of Chicago, on Cesare Pavese and His Critics. We have three married children, and eight grandchildren, all of whom we excessively adore! I welcome dialog about art, photography, human behavior, beliefs, and motivation from all comers, regardless of race, color, gender, orientation, values, or beliefs. This is to be a site for words and images, as vehicles of human expression, around topics of mutual interest.

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