Intern offers insightful museum gallery observations

Above, a sample of the pieces on display at Magazzino Italian Art Foundation, including works by Alighiero Boetti (on the left and right) and Giulio Paolini (middle, foreground and background). Pieces such as these inspire a range of responses from museum-goers. Gillian Redstone/The Miscellany News.
Picture yourself entering an art museum. It might boast an opulent entryway like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre, or it might be sleek and simple like The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) or Vassar’s own Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. You purchase tickets, grab a map, perhaps browse the gift shop and then finally move on to the reason you came: the art-filled galleries. Now, the million dollar question. How do you interact with the art?This past semester, I have enjoyed the opportunity to work as an intern at Magazzino Italian Art Foundation, a small but exquisite gallery of post-war Italian art in Cold Spring, NY. My role as an intern sometimes entails rudimentary tasks, from checking in visitors to making many a mean espresso. But spending time in the galleries, answering questions and ensuring the art is not touched, has given me the chance to watch how museum-goers interact with art and understand their patterns of connection.

Some visitors truly savor every piece of art—I can tell. They take it in from afar, squint at the details and read about its background in the guidebook. They spend an hour or two in this museum of less than 100 pieces and ask questions. Some visitors take time to inspect only pieces that pique their interest and simply glance at the ones that do not call to them. And then there are those visitors who pull their phone out for every work of art they care for—or better yet, have a friend take pictures of them in front of the pieces on display. There are even artworks printed on mirrors at Magazzino, which provide an opportunity for that perfect museum selfie we all so desperately covet.

Now, I am not one to judge when it comes to taking pictures of or with art. My Instagram feed is absolutely full of them, and my Snapchat stories can’t claim differently. But it’s interesting to examine these different patterns of interaction. And I ask readers of The Miscellany News to ponder how they themselves interact with visual art, especially in this age of social media.

I know that if I enter a museum thinking, “I really want to post something on the ’gram today from this visit,” the way that I choose which pieces with which to engage completely changes. It’s easy to be drawn to the brightly colored paintings, or better yet the famous ones: “The whole world must know that I was in the presence of this Renoir today!” Did I even go to a contemporary art museum if I didn’t post a picture of something neon-colored, be it a clever phrase or vibrant motif? You get the idea.

But when I enter a museum seeking to find human connection—be it with the beauty ideals of Renaissance Italy or the emotional turmoil of a living artist—I always leave feeling enriched. Museums provide a window into the history of human emotion in a way that no other medium can, whether curated or not. Sure, Rothko just painted some colored squares (over and over again). And yeah, maybe “I could do that!” But I, nor anybody else, could ever create a piece with the same feelings, inspiration and motive behind it as those seemingly simple squares.

My advice to you the next time you visit a museum is to enter with the goal of purposeful, active engagement. If it’s your first time at the MoMA, of course go see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.” These iconic pieces draw an endless semi-circle of museum-goers to linger around them for a reason.

But take the opportunity to explore the less-crowded areas of the building, where the wall labels have names you don’t recognize. See what catches your eye, and give it a good stare. Notice the intricacies, the brushstrokes, the use of color and perspective. Try to understand the artist’s motive, whether the piece was commissioned by some wealthy European aristocrat or an absolute explosion of vehemence. Search for a connection. And if you achieve that, then yes, of course, pull out your phone. Take a picture and post that bad boy up. And if you don’t want to engage, but you think it’s pretty, post that one up too. The important difference is cognizance of how you interact with whatever vessel for connection might be lining the walls. As long as you stay true to your relationship with art, the museum is a magical place for anyone to visit.

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