Images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art |
Blending folk art with more polished contemporary works could enliven the appreciation of both. “Lake George and the Village of Caldwell,” left, by Thomas Chambers, challenges the perspective, right, of John Frederick Kensett’s “Hudson River Scene.”
_________________________________________________In recent article in the New York Times, Roberta Smith calls on art institutions to diversify their installations. (For original article please click here
). Specifically, she argues for the inclusion of folk art and outsider art alongside “academic art” in temporary and permanent exhibitions. Though she specifies folk art, her general proposition to combine works from various art historical periods and geographies resonates with the mission of the Bass Museum of Art.Smith’s reasoning is twofold: the first echoes her desire to “finally break this linear historical account,” or to break the traditional art historical hierarchy, which broadly operates with regard to place and time. As we’ve seen with Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, a project where Warburg combined images of artworks and anthropological objects, this strategy proves enlightening, evoking unique connections between previously unrelated items. But she raises a second point, one that deals more with perception and phenomenology:“Homogeneity dulls the eye and lulls the brain. It is the discrepancies that grab our attention and make us look more sharply and deeply. Comparing and contrasting noticeably different artworks helps us learn to use our eyes, to look for ourselves rather than depend on labels, to see form itself rather than just subject matter and narrative. The process is reflexive; it works best when distinctions are forced on us, as when markedly unlike works that still speak to one another through echoes in form, subject, color or mood are placed side by side.”Hinting at not relying on labels, Smith pushes for an installation that encourages naïve readings of artworks, and a strategy for doing so consists of viewing works through the lens of other—supposedly completely unrelated—objects. Speaking of discrepancies and forced distinctions between various works, she alludes to a necessary frustration that enables us to perceive elements of works of art in different contexts. In their text for documenta XII, Roger M. Buergel and Ruth Noack elaborate on the need for such frustration: “Without any concrete idea that something could be different than it is (and if so, how), we would be hopelessly cast adrift on the tides of social change.”
At the Bass Museum of Art, we strive to explore the connections between past and present art. At times we have exhibitions of contemporary artists whose work creates a dialogue with art history, while other times we install contemporary art alongside the works from our historical collection. With these strategies, we hope to reveal universal connections between disparate artworks and objects that have never been discovered before.
-Bryan Granger, Bass Museum of Art’s Knight Curatorial Fellow