Posts tagged “museum”

ChittahChattah Quickies

Know it when you see it

Rhino art at the Centre Pompidou. Better pictures here and here

Cattle advertisement in the Bankside area of London.

Take the form of some large animal and paint it Ferrari red. Then cover it with layers of gloss. Is the result art or advertising? The context in which we experience it seems to make all the difference. A museum or outside a restaurant?

Note: a more detailed, and impassioned exploration is in I Know It When I See It. But they start with the big red rhino, too.

The Phillips Collection

Our hotel in Washington was just blocks away from The Phillips Collection, a small museum (made up of an old house and a modern extension). I paid $12.00 to see the Klee exhibit (although the permanent collection is free). I don’t remember the last time I went to museum alone; lacking much of a grounding in art and artists it’s that much more of a challenge without someone to talk it over with — even the basics of who these artists were and what they were known for is helpful in order to build up a bit of a vocabulary. Given that, the Klee exhibit was worthwhile since I learned a fair amount about the artist and saw a lot of his work (I remember that he was actively championed in the US but never came here, was insanely prolific, had enormous variety in visual styles).

My favorite pieces were from the permanent collection, although much of it seemed browned and faded and cracked (more than I’ve never noticed in other galleries). Too much of the commentary had to do with the Collection itself (I learned a new word: deaccession, the removing of a work from a collection).

The Luncheon of the Boating Party (Renoir) is very cool. It was given a prominent place at the end of a small room. It’s one of those paintings where you think a light is being shone upon it, but it’s all in how it was painted. It just glowed with light, and with the complex energy and stories of these characters all in place.

Philip Guston, Untitled – 1980. I don’t know why I liked this, I just did. The cartoon-y look certainly appealed.

Approaching a City by Edward Hopper was a familiar and surprising subject for a painting. This would be a great photograph, but who would think to paint it?

Nicolas de Sta?´l (I’m not sure this was the piece I saw; they had a few de Sta?´l and all were amazingly thick-thick-thick with layers of paint, very cool in person but useless to see here).

Obviously these compressed on-screen images aren’t meant to evoke anything except recognition.

Museum Disaster

Remember last month when someone attacked Duchamp’s urinal “Fountain” with a hammer? How horrified the museum administrators would have been! I can relate because today I went into the garage and saw the archives of the Museum of Foreign Groceries had been plundered by a varmint who entered the garage, prying open the non-sealing storage containers (those ones that simply press shut, but don’t snap shut), and ripping up all sorts of boxes and packages and the like. Many of which are not replaceable, and several of which I hadn’t ever photographed.

I’ve contacted Lloyds of London to see if they’ll honor the Raccoon Policy but I guess this just means more grocery shopping in more foreign countries will have to be in my future.

Those who can’t do, teach, or what?

Ahh, a career milestone reached. I’m blurbworthy. Recently, Nikola Design, a one-man firm in Yugoslavia, asked me for a blurb for their exhibit in Belgrade. I had no prior exposure to the principal or his work, but I took a look and offered a brief writeup. Yesterday I watched a DVD of the exhibit. The camera moves around, showing the work, with text and images overlaying the live imagery. At one point, you see the various quotes from the different critics, including myself (credited as Design Strategist and Core77 Columnist). It was pretty neat; especially given the far-flung nature of the event.

Chip engineer seeks employment

Here’s an email I just received; presumably in response to my Museum of Foreign Groceries, but of course not someone who pays very close attention.

Subject: my cv
To: steve at portigal dot com

Hi I have 8 years experience in potato chips processing with Heat and
Control,Kiremko,H&H,FMC equipments.Also in frying oil formulation and
potato chips flavor fomulation.If you need some one with this experience
please E mail me.I am food processing technology engineer.I willbe waitting for your E mail.

Reminds me of similar weird and inappropriate contacts received before (here and here)


Yesterday we went to the San Jose Museum of Art to see the a special opening event for the exhibit BLOBJECTS & BEYOND, curated by Steven Skov Holt and Mara Holt Skov (where blobjects refers to the curvy designs seen in products over the past few years). The event featured the curators moderating a conversation with Karim Rashid and Harmut Esslinger.

As we arrived at the museum there was some pre-event tour of the exhibit happening, with I imagine press folks and patrons of the museum. We were escorted very deliberately into the cafe so as to not overlap or sully the high-powered scene taking place mere feet from us. Welcome to high culture.

And the extent of this high culture (and high class, indeed) could be felt if not seen when the host for the evening did the usual round of introductions. One woman who contributed a great deal to the organizing of the event and/or the exhibit was out of the room at the time, and implying that she was in the restroom, the suit-wearing genteel host offered that “perhaps she was making some blobjects of her own.” Nice.

Things did get better from there, however. Onstage, the speakers and the moderators embodied massive accomplishment; they have each done so much and had such an impact. That alone made the time spent listening worthwhile. Both Karim and Hartmut had projected slideshows of images associated with them or their work, the breadth and wealth of the imagery made for a stimulating backdrop while actually sitting in the same room with these fantastic talents.

The format was a risky one; “a conversation with” is usually better than prepared remarks, presentations, panels, all the usual stiff and non-interactive content, but it’s without-a-net, and anything can happen. Unfortunately, I was mostly reminded of an episode of Geraldo or Oprah, where an important issue is presented, experts brought forward to offer sound-bites, and pretty soon it’s a commercial break and then the credits roll, and we’ve never really made it anywhere. The level of conversation was poor; questions were asked but not responded to, comments made by one guest were not responded to by the other guest, despite remarks being prefaced with “I’d like to respond to that by saying…”

There were indeed moments of brilliance, fantastic ideas, provocative expressions of passion, insights into the personalities, history, stories, but it took a lot of work and my brain just go so tired from trying to hold it all together. It was like watching a bunch of good musicians jam; most of the time it’s going to sound like crap, every once in a while you’ll hear a little piece that excited you, and then it’s gone.

I’m not blaming the format; I am blaming the guests. They aren’t good listeners. They have a lot to say but they were unable to focus and interact. The event reached its peak when there was some actual debate on a specific topic: the value of the slow manual tactile process of model making; working with a material versus the power, speed, and rapid prototyping afforded by digital tools.

But these moments were all-too-rare in the 90 minutes. We heard a lot of stories, somewhat in response to Steven Skov Holt’s line of inquiry around how they each chose to pursue design in the way they did. But once we got to a fever pitch of prognostication and pronouncement I was thinking about tearing my hair out. It was sadly reminiscent of so many conversations I’ve had with designers in my career; hearing them predict the future from their stance as a designer, with little understanding of the market, of human nature, or of history. Rashid told a story about seeing an exhibit of a gray room with a gray motorcycle when he was very young; the exhibit was a consideration of how we might all become nomads and live in extraordinarily plain environments. It was a good story; artistic explorations of how a future might unfold and what the implications might be on products, technology, lifestyle and beyond are absolutely fascinating, but when you begin to restate those hypothetical considerations as certainties and then offer up the solutions as necessities, my bullshit detector starts a-ringin’.

My biggest criticism is about a slide that Karim showed – it featured his face surrounded by a bunch of his words – Digitalia, Indus-trial design, Organomics and others too painful to recall. Perhaps these are names of projects, but whatever. For someone who understands so well the process of working with materials to create sensual beauty, it’s appalling to see how badly he works with the material of words; creating awkward, ham-fisted cacophonous artifacts that evoke a teenage boy’s litany of synonyms for “fart” more than some brilliantly insightful NuArgot. Please, stop!

The best moment came during the Q&A. Virginia Postrel asked how blobjects do or don’t deal with the past or nostalgia, since she observes in these items so much of what Thomas Hine describes as Populuxe, a 50s-esque optimistic style. Steven Skov Holt pointed out that today, both the past and the future are resident in our artifacts (he said it much better than I can recall) – in that moment it was clear how much thinking and analysis had gone into the planning and curating of the exhibit.

We had a brief period in the exhibit after the speakers were finished – it’s always disconcerting to me to see “designed” items – products intended for use – in a museum setting. Invariably there is a chair that you can’t sit on, or a lusciously textured product that you must not touch. This exhibit featured a touching station with brightly colored rubbery shapes, giving a valve to that common need. Another moment of dissonance came from seeing very recent product designs appearing in a retrospective collection of a movement – in this case those blobby Phillips appliances. I guess if VH1 can have a 90s flashback, we can do the same thing in our museums.

Without a lot of time, it’s hard to say very much about the exhibit, but it did seem very thoughtful and considered, sections on color as well as form, and motorcycles and cars that may not come to mind immediately as blobjects, but in the context of the exhibit make the concept of the blobject clearer and broader.

Despite my criticisms, I had a great time, I’m totally glad I went. I always learn something, even if it’s a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of talented and famous people.

Experience Music Project

While in Seattle we went to the Experience Music Project.

It was $20 to enter, so we didn’t bother. What a weird building! We took a monorail over there, a 3 minute ride, at least you got to sort of enter the structure on the train in an interesting way, but then you get out to see this gross monstrosity, like some kind of huge scale model of your internal organs for learning purposes. There’s a midway and rides and the Space Needle, and this thing. And it’s $20. So we wandered around uncomfortably, trying to make sense out of things like “SkyChurch” and other weird labels for features of the museum that were just too hard to figure out but you knew they had musical relevance because they were “cool” names. We hit the gift shop which was one of the most depressing things ever. Jimi Hendrix water bottles! Jerry Garcia fuzzy stuffed toys. Gah! The whole thing just was so incredibly sold out, I mean, I guess rock and roll is totally over, I certainly felt it that day.


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