Objects and Attachment

The exhibition design process at the Rubin is a collaborative adventure. A team from Curatorial, Collections, Education,  Design, and Publications meets weekly to discuss upcoming exhibitions, and it can be both a creative and frustrating process (like all group work).   By going through this process we  develop close connections with the Exhibition Team and can voice opinions and ideas, as well as particular concerns.  I recently had to have a few meetings about a sculpture that is being taken out of a gallery to make way for a new exhibition.  One of the misconceptions about art in museums is that it is always on display.  Sometimes artworks travel to other institutions to be a part of new temporary exhibitions, sometimes space needs to be made for different arrangements or new acquisitions, and sometimes art has to rest (as is the case with many of our delicate and light-sensitive thangkas).

The artwork in question has become a favorite with our visitors, but even more so with the many museum educators who tour groups through the galleries.  To the defense of the Exhibition Team, the decision to move the sculpture is sound – it makes complete sense to the new exhibition, the sculpture could use some time off of the floor, and it will make a return in a future rotation of the exhibition. The one thing that was surprising to the curators was how attached the Education department had become to the sculpture.  It was interesting to discuss not only the curricular and thematic connections to this piece, but also the strong emotional ties that many of the educators have with the sculpture. It brought me to ask, what is it about a particular works of art that cause a deep sense of emotional attachment?

I think it’s different for everyone.  I definitely appreciate a wide range of artistic styles, but there is something about graphic, illustrative art that particularly resonates with me. I’m in heaven right now with the Charmion von Wiegand selections currently on view in the Grain of Emptiness exhibition.

Charmion von Wiegand; Untitled; 1964; Oil on masonite; Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

The simple, organized, graphic shapes effects me emotionally and physically, and I feel that they further my curiosity about the traditional Himalayan art that they are inspired from. Even though they’ve only been on display for a week, I’m already attached, and find myself drawn to their corner of the gallery. I felt the same way during our exhibition of Jain Art, as there was something fiercely modern and different about the form of the Jina. I miss those pieces.

At the same time this week, I’ve been meeting with staff members of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.  Chief of Staff, Allison Blais, stopped by last Friday and gave me an overview of the future plans, and by all accounts, the memorial will be truly an incredible, emotionally charged space, not just for New Yorkers, but the world.  She expressed how deeply emotional she gets by seeing new installations of giant objects like a fire truck and other large remnants from the towers that are being placed into the construction site now because they’ll be too big fit in the door once the museum is built. She put me in touch with Education Manager, Noah Rauch, who met with me to discuss how the Education programs at the 9/11 Museum are working on curriculum about objects and memory, and how New Yorkers created tribute art after 9/11,  such as a highly decorated Statue of Liberty that was placed outside a fire station on 48th street.  This symbol took on new meaning for many New Yorkers (I remember passing it often).

It’s human nature to become attached to things, objects, art, and this week has made me think deeply about how, when placed into the context of a museum, this feeling can be amplified 1000% and how angry we can get when we expect something to be around the corner, and it has been removed.  The removal of things can open us up to new ideas, but it is incredibly difficult to break old habits.

Is there an artwork, object, or exhibit that you are emotionally attached to?  Have you ever been disappointed by a missing piece?

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