Sunday, April 5, 2009

I'll Curate Your Face: Yale Museum and Indian Art

So here's a photo from the New York Times about some "brilliant" exhibition of Indian Art at the Yale Museum of Art. I love this image because it exemplifies a number of things I HATE about museum curators.

First, lets examine the image hung ABOVE THEIR HEADS. Why on earth would you hand a picture that high? NEWSFLASH: No one can see something hung that high. Maybe if they back way the fuck up, they'll be able to get a general idea of what the piece is, but they'll never be able to see any detail. You can't look at this piece from multiple perspectives unless you're a goddamn ogre. This seems to be some sort of idiotic trend among museum curators, hanging a show at mostly eye-level and then having making it look like your art-handler suddenly left and you had to replace him with that actor from "My Giant." The whole point of putting a museum show together is so that people can come and SEE THEM.

Enough about that, let's discuss point #2: Back-lighting of walls meant for hanging art. When I was in art school, they built this brand-spanking-new building for undergrad studios. Though it was so nice to have a big new space to work in, we were constantly fighting a back-lighting problem. The studio was designed to let in light, as most art studios are, but the windows at the top of the walls were just too low. So when you hung art at certain times on certain walls, you couldn't see a thing because the light coming through the windows a few feet above was absolutely blinding. Here in this fancy-schmancy new Yale Museum, there appears to be a similar design. Back up from those walls to get a sense of the whole installation, and you will be blinded by the windows above (and also below). You end up with a dark shadowy wall. In fact, the original image from the Times was very dark, and I actually had to significantly lighten the photo above.

My rant here is not just about the design of a few buildings, but a complaint about museum curators everywhere. I am tired of walking into a museum and am feeling astounded by the ineptitude of the people laying out the shows. I used to work in a museum it always amazed me that spatial and traffic flow concerns seemed to be ignored in show layouts. Large paintings would be hung in narrow spaces so that you couldn't back up to see the entire work. Videos and time based works that required extended periods of stopping by visitors would be placed so as to completely block traffic flow. Power cords would be lying all over the place. It was just amazing how these art-history eggheads would spend so much time trying to dissect meaning that they would completely forget that people are going to be walking through this space trying to look at work.

I'm an intelligent and educated individual. I understand that curators are very knowledgeable and want to create meaning and push boundaries and do all sorts of other admirable things. But for god sakes people, no one cares how many Ph.D.'s you have if they can't see the show. How am i supposed to understand what you're trying to say if I can't even see the work? If I'm so frustrated because I'm bumping into people and being blinded by glare and distracted by a tangle of power cords, then your months of putting together some kind of meaning isn't even going to matter. People come to museums because they want to see things, and while I understand that sometimes challenging conventions and making the viewer do extra work is indeed a good thing, you have to throw us a bone. You may have had months to look at these artworks, but we only have a few hours and we want to actually see them while we can.

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