how ya gonna keep ‘em down in paris (after they’ve seen milwaukee?)

1 August 2005, 3:56 pm

image of sculpture
(Detail of image at flickr; from the Milwaukee 2005 set)

So I admit I had a litle skepticism about how world-class the Milwaukee Art Museum was gonna be, but it was dispelled instantly as soon as I saw Santiago Calatrava’s Quadracci Pavillion.

It’s hard for photos to do it justice. It’s on the shortlist — along with NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building, the beehive tomb on Mycenae, and Lucas Samaras’ “Mirrored Room” — of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever been in, and it’s by far the most graceful of them. The photos convey something of its retro-futurism, but not its elegance and grandeur, and neither the pictures nor those words suggest that it’s a comfortable place in which to exist. It’s impressive, but it’s not overwhelming.

I’m also used to museums in which ink pens, let alone cameras, are completely prohibited, and I was shocked and delighted by MAM’s policy, which welcomes responsible photography of items in the permanent collection (not, quite understandably, those of travelling collections). I’m not even sure I was enjoined against using flash photography; although I shot strictly with available light.

As usual, I think you catch more flies of monetization with the honey of loose copyright than the vinegar of restrictive rights management, if I can burden a metaphor to the breaking point. In plainer language, I’m free to graphically demonstrate some of what I loved about MAM, which might influence people to go see its exhibits in a way mere descriptions might not. I think it’s a very clever policy for MAM, because it gives them an added value that many museums don’t offer.

We had far too little time to spend there, and I’m eager to return. (That sentence applies to Milwaukee as a whole, in fact, not just the museum.)

One of my specific regrets is that the whirlwind dash through the contemporary and folk art exhibits — we spent most of our time in the “Arts and Crafts” traveling exhibition — literally didn’t afford me the time to jot down the names of the artists and titles of the works I photographed. If anyone cares to offer clarification, it would be most welcome.

7 comments on “how ya gonna keep ‘em down in paris (after they’ve seen milwaukee?)”

  1. Ezra

    Terri and I went to MOMA earlier this year, and I was also shocked (pleasantly, for the most part) that flash photography was going on unchecked. I believe the same was true of the George Pompidou in Paris.

    That said, MOMA’s gift shop being as comprehensive it is, if what you really want is a good reproduction of some art you’re seeing, you’d be better off shelling out a buck for a postcard.

  2. summervillain

    Which MOMA?
    The thing is — if I can get all pretentious for a sec — “a good reproduction of some art” isn’t typically my motivation for taking a photograph in a museum. I’m more interested in exploring/recording my perception/experience of the art than in replicating it.
    I’m in favor of flash being a no-no, partly coz it can be distracting to other peeps, but mostly because it may damage some art.

  3. Flasshe

    I did hear one of the MAM museum employees admonishing a visitor (not me or anyone I knew) for using a flash, explaining that it can damage some art.

  4. Ezra

    The MOMA was the NYC one. Maybe it’s NYCentrist of me, but it’s still THE MOMA to me.

    I can definitely see how taking a photograph could be an aid/enhancement to someone’s participation in a work of art, but that’s definitely not the case for me.

    One of my personal psychological tendencies is intellectual procrastination, and intermediation is one of the ways this tendency takes over. For example, if I see an interesting, but long, article, I print it out instead of reading it. And never end up reading it.

    So, often, to me, taking a photo, rather than making me see more, ends up being a way to off the seeing until later. So, I do have to make a concerted effort to *have* the reaction to record later. If that makes any sense.

    Oh, and the unstated RealFake motto is that there is nothing more pretentious than a lack of pretense. So, you have full license to be as pretentious as you want in my presence.

  5. summervillain

    So, often, to me, taking a photo, rather than making me see more, ends up being a way to off the seeing until later.

    Gotcha. That’s one of the dangers of the reviewing gig for me — if I’m not careful I don’t have the experience of seeing a movie, just of analyzing it. I have to force myself to watch first, think later.

    The postcard issue is almost the reverse for me: I almost never experience visual art the way it looks in most prints - face on, evenly lit, with every segment equally available for scrutiny. So the print is almost a way of replacing my experience with a genericized version that’s identical to everyone else’s.

    I once saw an exhibit of Steichen’s photographs of Rodin’s sculptures. That was amazing, coz Steichen’s vision was so powerful that it could alter the way I saw Rodin’s work henceforth. I guess I’m after a much weaker version of the same thing, not verité but a tiny quality of my interaction with the art as distinct from others. It certainly doesn’t always work — I noticed with some amusement that my friends and I all took nearly the exact same picture looking up vertically in the Burke Brise Soleil, and the image could well have been on a postcard in the giftshop for all I know.

  6. 2fs

    “my friends and I all took nearly the exact same picture looking up vertically in the Burke Brise Soleil”: actually, the postcard should be a shot of people taking that photograph… I’m pretty sure that every time I’ve visited the museum, someone’s taking that shot! Then again, it’s easy to understand why.

  7. loudfan

    Benjamin was (politely) asked not to take flash pics when he was using my digital camera. I turned the flash off, and the photos he took after that came out fine — there was plenty of light.

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