Curatorial Insight

The Article “Andrew Bolton: How to Curate a Blockbuster Exhibition” is an unusually formatted article­. Given largely as a series of quotes by the subject, the “article” details in Bolton’s own words his standards for deciding what to put on display in an exhibition and how he decides which exhibitions are or are not worthy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The primary focus of the quotes is his decision to fight the perceived norm and host an exhibition on fashion designers as artists; many of his contemporaries had scoffed at the idea. Additionally he lists one of his standards for considering which exhibitions to show: “are we saying something new?”

Recently in my intro to museum studies class, we’ve been spending a lot of time examining how a museum (more specifically, a curator) decides what exhibitions to display, in what format, and with what objects. This article by CNN is relevant in that it shows insight into how Bolton decided, ultimately, to put on an exhibition on the fashions of Alexander McQueen and an exhibition called “Rei Kawakubo/Commes des Garcons: Art of the In-Between.” His disclosures are especially relevant to one topic in class, on whether an exhibition idea is market-driven. This is seen in his statement “Numbers do matter. If people don’t come to it then it’s a failure.”

While Bolton’s work cannot represent curators everywhere, he’s described by the article as the “Pied Piper of his field,” and as such his words carry significant weight. As such, this information is incredibly valuable to me as a student just beginning to edge into museums.

This post was written as a homework assignment for HISP200 at UMW; it is based off of the article “Andrew Bolton: How to curate a blockbuster exhibition” by Harriet Verney

Paying a Visit to James Monroe

Throughout the semester, my Intro to Museums class (HISP200) will be visiting a handful of museums in the Fredericksburg area. This past Thursday we went to the James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library in downtown FXBG. The museum itself is housed in a building (secretly 3 buildings) that was believed to have housed James Monroe’s law office.

This early in the semester, the vast majority of what we’ve learned in class is pretty vague – what is a museum? what goes into museums? how do museums decide what to keep, and what not to? Our visit to the museum was focused on a lot of those questions, but most especially on the objects within museums, and how they’re stored, cared for, selected, etc.

Oddly enough, the thing that surprised me the most about this museum was its small stature; the museum itself is largely composed of three rooms, plus the hallway that is the gift shop/entrance. For somebody whose experience with museums is pretty exclusively the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall and the Louvre, etc., visiting the James Monroe was almost like culture shock. This, to me, further reiterates how fuzzy the definition of a museum can be; how can such substantially different institutions fall under the same umbrella name? Surely, there should be different names for museums of different sizes. But maybe that’s a more philosophical question for another time.😉

All in all, I’d definitely recommend anyone visiting Fredericksburg to pay a visit here! It’s lovely and lovingly arranged.

Here are some pictures for the day:

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Dollhouses Donated to a Museum

In 1977 Val Ripley and her sister, Pam, found a collection of 170+ years of their and their mother’s old dollhouses and dolls in the attic of their recently deceased mother. Within the collection were furnished dollhouses of “every period from 1840 … represent[ing] a complete social history.” In addition to this collection, the sisters obtained numerous miniature toys to accompany and accentuate their dollhouses, before opening their collection to the public in 2010. Now 93, Ms Ripley has bequeathed the collection to a Pembrokeshire museum, where a new permanent gallery suite will be created to house it. The gallery will be located at Scolton Manor, near Haverfordwest, and will be funded by a Welsh Government Grant over £75,000.

The dining room in Tregear Manor, which dates from 1840, and is the oldest dolls’ house in the collection; image and caption taken from BBC Article

Recently in my intro to museum studies class, we’ve been spending a lot of time examining how a museum decides what to – and what not to – include in their collection, and how they go about receiving donations. This article by the BBC is highly relevant to this topic in that, while the author spends a large amount of time referencing the personal relationship of the Ripley sisters and the collection, they don’t get into whether or not these items have documentation on their origins. Similarly, they don’t mention what other information may have been provided to the museum receiving the collection. This means that large portions of the information on this collection will be primary hearsay and personal experience from the Ripleys, unless the museum expends funds to pursue their own research on the topic. But with such a unique collection, the fruit of such labor will likely be quite worth the effort.

This post is in reference to an article on BBC News, “Dolls’ House Collection Given to Pembrokeshire Museum.”

Rodin & Picpus

When I first came to Paris, I didn’t have a lot of expectations. I came with an intentionally empty head. The only things I knew I wanted to do were to visit the Catacombs, the tomb of Lafayette, and Harry’s New York Bar. With this lack of preparation, everything I saw was awesome and new and interesting – it was a really fun way to look at the city!

However, as we explored I began to find new things I wanted to do. When Dr. Smith gave me a book of museum sketches on our third-to-last day, and I saw that I had only visited some of the museums in the book, I knew I had to visit the rest. And thus, I found one of my two favorite places in Paris: the Musée Rodin

It feels a little silly to say it, but my favorite thing about this musem was not the artwork and statues. Of course, they were amazing (and I adore the Thinker), but the setting in which the art was placed was the center of my attention. The museum is in a “small” mansion that Rodin once lived in, and the surrounding garden.

Musée Rodin, July 29, 2017

I fell in love a bit with the garden of this museum; it combined everything I’d seen in other gardens in Paris, but elegantly and with significantly fewer people (phew!). I loved that it was both a formal and informal garden – the front sections were organized and orderly, while the farther back into the garden, the more erratic and “wild” it became. For instance, in the above photo you can see the primary sightline of the garden leading to the chateau. In the below photo, you’ll see behind and around the statue (Orpheus) a more winding, less-perfectly-manicured garden, with the chateau behind. This wildness is even more pronounced around one of the Monuments to Victor Hugo, also below.

Orpheus, Musée Rodin © Agence photographique du musée Rodin – Jérôme Manoukian
Monument Á VIctor Hugo Dit Du Palais Royal, 1900, Musée Rodin

One of my favorite parts of the garden here was the rose garden around the Thinker and the Three Shades, and the benches in the area. During my time in Paris, I grew to really appreciate flower gardens, especially roses. This love of roses especially grew in the garden adjoined to the Picpus Cemetery, where there is a long row of vibrant rose bushes.

Picpus Cemetery, the other of my two favorite places in Paris, is quite a neat place. Located in the garden of the former convent of St. Augustine, it’s the home to 1,306 victims of the Great Terror during the French Revolution. Also located in it is General the Marquise de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolution.

Lafayette’s Tomb, Picpus Cemetery, France

This cemetery is extra neat for a handful of extra bits of trivia:
• It’s one of only two private cemeteries in Paris
• Only descendants of Terror victims are allowed to be buried in it
• It’s very small compared to other Parisian cemeteries

Of course, their roses were also lovely ♥

Free Time

One of the first things about Paris that I learned is that the people here take their weekends seriously. Many stores have short hours on Saturdays, and you’re lucky to find anything but a pharmacy open on Sundays.

At first I put it down to a cultural difference; similar to how EU citizens actually get time off of work (like, whole weeks at a time), maybe they also regularly get weekdays off.

One thing I didn’t think about, however, was what these people do on their free days. The past couple of weekends, I found out.

After visiting a (busy busy) Centre Pompidou one Sunday, I went back to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Because it was a semi-cold, cloudy and blustery day I expected it to be quiet like when we had been there for class a couple of weeks prior. However, it was jam-packed full of people, and there was even a live band playing and singing!

Everywhere I looked there were people sitting, lounging, playing, etc.. In the pond with self-sailing mini boats, there was a virtual army of children waiting to push them back in. On the other side of the park, a couple dozen men played Pétanque whie a crowd twice as big watched.

The coolest thing about the park being so busy was that it felt like everybody in the city was there; there were other tourists (I got to practice my Spanish with a family when I took their picture for them!), people of all genders and ages, couples, groups, singles, etc. and all were there commingling and enjoying the day.

It was a wonderful afternoon, and it made me a little sad that we’d be leaving soon. At least I got ice cream!

Spooky Scary Skeletons

A few days ago was the day I’ve been most looking forward to in this trip: Catacombs day.

The Catacombes de Paris, located in a former sandstone mine that supplied stone for many of the older buildings in the city, is the home to the remains of over 6,000,000 people. The bodies were removed from their original places of rest throughout the city and relocated, in a process that took more than 3 years.

Almost immediately afterwards, the place became a major tourist attraction; almost like haunted houses today. Initially it was only accessible to the wealthy and influential Parisians, but today even American plebeians like myself can experience it!

Going into today, I didn’t realize how many people were interred here. I knew it was a large number but I was thinking thousands, not millions. I expected skeletons to be on display. Honestly I was expecting something like a troll tomb from World of Warcraft

A Zandalari Troll Tomb in Grizzly Hills, Northrend, in World of Warcraft. Screenshot credit:

Clearly my expectations were off. Turns out, the vast majority of the people interred in the catacombs here in Paris didn’t even have the wealth to keep their bones in one place after they died. Instead, here the bones are arranged by type, without thought to who owned them. Femurs and skulls are arranged in artful rows, almost like the belt courses on the buildings stories above.

An image showing of how the femurs and skulls of the dead are arranged

All in all, the Catacombs proved to me what I already know: I’m really naive and there is so much I have yet to learn. My expectations of this space were completely off, and failed to account for how short, narrow, and sparsely lit this space would be (albeit very vast)

One last comment to make about the catacombs, however, is that it is an amazing example of adaptive reuse. Once the mine was decommissioned, this massive space could easily have lain unused and empty underneath the city for centuries. Now it’s the final resting place for millions of Parisians and a source of income and tourism for the city.

Here are more pics from today:

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Song of the day: “Spooky Scary Skeletons” from the Living Tombstone

There’s a Difference Between “Alone” and “Lonely”

I have clinical depression. I take good meds for it so I don’t normally show major symptoms. However, every now and then I still get what I call “the sads.” Basically I become more fatigued, more irritable, and more anxious. It’s a great combination.

Yesterday I woke up with a serious case of the sads. It was about 2pm (Paris time), and my roommate was on the way out the door for a shopping excursion with a few of our classmates.

I was alone. But I wasn’t just alone: I was lonely. I felt starved for intellectual and social interaction. I felt like I was undesirable and nobody would want to be with me anyway. I felt like I didn’t matter.

None of this is new, of course, as anyone else with depression and anxiety can tell you. But that doesn’t make the feelings any less significant.

So, feeling lonely and worthless, I did something unusual: I got up and left instead of moping around. I decided I was going to go do some shopping for things I needed, and screw the buddy system because “nobody wants to be with me/would miss me anyways”

It’s fortunate that exercise – like walking – does neat things to your brain; thanks endorphins! Similarly, chatting with friendly shopkeepers diminishes feelings of isolation, worthlessness, and social deprivation. I had a genuinely good time out shopping by myself, and even found a few of the things that were on my list!

I’m still not sure what brought on my sads, and I’m not entirely sure what cured them. I’m just glad they’re gone, and I got a good adventure out of the mix.

Sightlines are Important

A few days ago we went to visit Versailles, which is a French palace initially built by King Louis XIII and expanded upon by Kings Louis XIV through XVI. The palace itself is a seriously impressive building; these guys knew what they were doing!

The exterior of the “original” palace built by Louis XIII

However, as gorgeous and gilded and amazing as the palace was, the true gem of the estate is the gardens. In these are acre upon acre of green spaces, luxurious fountains and statuary, orchards, lawns, etc. And while there were as many people in the gardens as in the palace, some spaces were so remote that you could be alone in them.

One of the quieter spaces, the Collonade Grove

The true power of the gardens lies in its design; the way that the paths intersect, forming fun shapes and allowing sight across the entire vista. Several paths gave lines of sight from one major monument to the next (aka terminal vistas).

Example of a terminal vista: this is a view from the palace of Versailles to the very end of the garden, where Apollo’s Fountain is located

These terminal vistas are symbols of several things: for one, they tell the visitor that there was immense forethought into the planning of this enormous garden. These sightlines don’t occur by accident!

Second, the effect of these sightlines expands on the formality of the space. After all Versailles was, in the time of Louis XIV, a working mansion; it was where he hosted his courtiers and foreign dignitaries (when he wasn’t in Paris) and was essentially his seat of power. These main pathlines are perhaps not the place for a casual stroll.

Further on that point, the terminal vistas are ultimately a sign of power. To have created this space, the Louis’ must have had enormous power: to pay, to instruct, and to enforce the creation and maintenance of the garden. On top of the gorgeous palace, the garden would have signified to honored guests “this is the king’s territory.”

view of the Chateau Versailles from Apollo’s Fountain

And to top it all off, several of the paths ended with the sight of the palace, or the Latona’s Fountain immediately in front of it. To me this gave the impression that no matter where I was in the garden, I could be pretty easily tracked by anybody who wanted to track me… and from only a few choice locations.

view of the Chateau Versailles from the Neptune Fountain

All in all, I had a lovely time exploring the garden with my classmates; we had perfect weather, and it was wonderful to get out of the stuffy, packed palace into a more “natural” (albeit meticulously manicured) space!

Everything in Paris Means Something

Day 2 of Paris: we explored a little of the Ile de la Cite, stepped into Saint-Chapelle de Paris, and took a lovely boat tour down the Sienne.

The interesting thing about these adventures was the symbolism hiding in every inch meter of this city.

I’ve been through a few cities in the USA: particularly Fredericksburg, VA and Washington, D.C., and never noticed the level of symbolism that I am seeing here in this city. So I’m asking myself why. From my lessons I know that D.C. is a city fair riddled with symbolism, and yet I’m ignorant of most of it. Is it because I take it for granted? Or am I more cognizant of the symbols in Paris because they’re being semi-aggressively pointed out to me at every corner? Maybe it’s a mish-mash.

For instance, on our boat tour there were statues and images on almost every bridge we went under (of course, some of them were clearly for water-traffic and didn’t need explaining). Like the Paris coat of arms, which I would’ve assumed to just be pretty decoration. This is actually a symbol of Paris & all of France (but mostly Paris), meant to signify to visiting statesmen “We are Legion Paris, and we are the best”

I’m sure by the end of our trip I’ll scoff at my own naivety in writing this post 😉

Here are the day’s pictures:

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