Variety keeps life from becoming boring. You can imagine what it would be like if every museum was exactly the same. Each would hold the same static displays and spout the same factoids. Fortunately, this isn’t the case. Each history museum has its own approach to telling stories from the past. We also have a nice selection of subjects to choose from. On one of our visits to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, we took the time to enjoy one of their annual events. With this particular museum being in our hometown, we have plenty of opportunities to visit. Seeing the details in the exhibits is a lot easier when you can take the museum in bite-size chunks.
Chinese New Year Festival
We have visited during special events in the past, but will usually avoid the crowds. Since the timing for this visit coincided with our daughter’s birthday, we were willing to break that rule. Inside the museum, there were reminders of the event scattered throughout the various common spaces. We also found a variety of exhibitions and performances to watch. In fact, in one of the smaller galleries, I came upon a group of dancers posing for some friends. It seemed like a great opportunity to practice my portrait photography.
Behind the Scenes
They say you can learn something new every day, and we feel it’s a good goal. Did you know that the Nelson-Atkins Museum has a research library? We didn’t, but our daughter happens to be friends with the staff, so they invited us on a private tour. Underneath the art museum is their closed-shelf collection that includes about 1/4 million books and periodicals. As we walked past row after row of reference pieces, we were in awe of the mass of information available in one place. We have the highest respect for their ability to keep so many pieces organized.
Getting Down to Business
After the impressive tour, it was time to head into the galleries. On this particular day, we were navigating around the areas that had large crowds. The Nelson-Atkins is large enough that we can almost always find an area that offers a more tranquil setting.
When people ask us how long it takes to go through an attraction, it is always harder to gauge with art museums. We can estimate timing at a history museum based on the depth of exhibits. With art, you can find yourself spending extra time taking in all of the nuances of one piece or a special exhibit. We have a few pieces at this museum that stop us in our tracks on each visit. It seems that we can almost always count on seeing the details in a new light.
You also need to account for the rotating special exhibits that dot the museum. While each is only on display for a limited time, there is always something new to discover. This gallery on accessibility shows how design is incorporated into everyday items. Often it is an artist that will create or modify a simple tool to make it better serve the end-user. We found that there are many improvements being realized by adding technology to the mix. This particular exhibit reminded us of a similar gallery we found at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.
Engaging the Next Generation
While art is working on engaging all people, the Nelson-Atkins Museum is trying to interact with all ages. The addition of pamphlets that allow kids to engage through games and activities helps make learning fun. The museum has also installed a series of electronic portals that challenge visitors to begin seeing the details in a new light. While these are designed to draw in the younger group, we adults have just as much fun with them.
Education of the arts will help foster an understanding of their importance. One of my favorite time periods is Ancient Egypt, which is extremely popular with many around the world. We have had the pleasure of visiting various exhibits about pieces found in the cradle of civilization. A traveling display, that we toured at the St. Louis Art Museum, focused on items that had been submerged for centuries. It’s amazing to think there are still artifacts out there waiting to be discovered.
Not all hidden gems are lost due to time. One of the rotating exhibits we viewed focused on artwork that had been stolen by the Nazis. During World War II, the German regime looted countries that they conquered. Many private collections were pilfered, especially those of Jewish owners. While a large portion has been recovered, there are still many pieces that have never resurfaced. Museums like the Nelson-Atkins serve the role of documenting artwork with a goal of determining proper ownership.
Life is Art
It is often said that art imitates life and the same can be said in reverse. Most artwork comes from human experiences since these inspire the artists. Unlike photographs, paintings and sculptures can represent a different view of a moment in time. Many may be chilling, but they cause us to reflect on the meaning that the artist was trying to express. What does this piece say to you?
Seeing the Details
When we look at a piece for the first time, it is easy to just note the overall idea behind the subject. It is only by taking a closer look that we begin seeing the details that make each piece unique. Sometimes a piece of pottery is more than it seems and further investigation may just create more questions than it answers. The intricate decorations of an old gun are often overlooked by people, as they don’t see it for its artistic value. Even an old fur pouch can be seen as grotesque by some, while others will note the complexity of its assembly.
Art is Symmetry
In life, symmetry can be hit or miss. In the art world, it is more often found. While many will think of mirror images as true symmetry, in reality, it can take many forms. Harmony and balance are two signs of symmetry that can make the viewer want to pause and reflect. The use of drawing the eyes from right to left will also pull people into a piece. In the piece above, the eye is drawn from the foot to the hand in a pleasing fashion. It creates a balance that brings art to life.
Seeing the details with fresh eyes helps us keep exhibits interesting. There is an old guard behind us in the picture above. It is a statue that has been at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for years. No matter how many times we see it, it still intrigues us. There are new details that we will discover that make it feel like we are seeing it for the first time. This is how art stays fresh and current even after centuries of existence. Perhaps it’s time for you to visit and start seeing the details in a new way.