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Thoughts on Museums

Above: Robert Ryman, Untitled (1974). Centre Georges Pompidou.

Salut nos amis! Anita et moi, on est à Paris! This past weekend, we visited Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, one of the leading museums in the world. The Centre Pompidou, a museum of modern and contemporary art, is most renowned for its innovative architectural structure. Built in 1977 and designed by the architectural team of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano in the style of high-tech architecture, the building has much of its functional structural elements exposed.

Above: Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs (1965). Centre Georges Pompidou.

As some of you may know, I really enjoy art, especially the modern and contemporary; I don’t make art myself, but I study Art History and love thinking about art, about ways to interpret pieces. Because of this, whenever I visit art museums people expect me to be able to talk about the art and “explain what it means.” This tends to happen most at modern and contemporary art museums and galleries, where pieces, as opposed to being realistic or semi-realistic depictions, tend to be abstracted or conceptual. These pieces, like Robert Ryman’s untitled white painting (1974) or Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965), both of which are housed (in a sense) at Pompidou, tend to have a confusing effect on people. First reactions are usually dismissive, along the lines of “this is not art,” or “I could have made this myself.”

Above: Yaacov Agam, Aménagement de l'antichambre des appartements privés du palais d'Élysée pour le Président Georges Pompidou (1974). Centre Georges Pompidou.

Being at Pompidou got me to really think about these pieces; about how they’re often interpreted as ridiculous by the museum goer. But I believe this wouldn’t be the case if people set out to really be with the works, for as long as necessary in order to understand them. I think that the key to enjoying these works, and to viewing them critically, is not intense analysis or academic expertise. Rather, it’s having patience, curiosity, and an open mind. A work of art that seems to not say much, could hold a plethora of potential ideas. It might be representative of controversial ideologies. It may think through form, color, or material. It may have purposeful action in mind, and cause that action. But it may also unintentionally inspire you aesthetically, and present an exciting and unfamiliar framework to think through.

Above: Tony Oursler and Mike Kelley, The Poetics Project (1977-1997). Centre Georges Pompidou.

The next time you’re in a modern or contemporary art museum, like Pompidou, allow yourself to think, without judgement: “This is art. What can I do to understand it in my own way?” Give yourself some time with it. And if you still feel totally at a loss, look up the title, the artist, the era. It’ll make your museum-going experience that much more rewarding, entertaining, and enriching.

**Disclaimer: As this is the first art-related post on this blog, I was unsure of how to approach it. I would like to talk about art meaningfully, but in a way that is also accessible and not pretentious.


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