Infinite Variety

I’ve been having difficulty expressing what was so amazing about The Museum of American Folk Art’s limited-run Infinite Variety show.  Quilt shows have a built-in audience and can end up being sort of weak for that very reason: you don’t have to try very hard to get that combination of quilt-nuts and ye-olde-history types who always turn out for a textile show.  Infinite Variety, though: the only thing I can think to say is that this was NOT your mother’s quilt show.

Its limited 6-day run gave an ephemeral quality to the whole experience, a “get-it-now” urgency that was only enhanced by the truly breathtaking exhibition design.  Suspended from the arched ceiling of the Park Avenue Armory in New York, the quilts (all red and white yet all unique, hence the show title) swirled around in spiraled pods.  People could walk amongst and between them, standing inside the groupings or apart to get a glimpse of the whole mesmerizing display.

I only had an hour there so I didn’t take the self-guided iPad tour, choosing instead to experience the overall environment.  For a show like this, though, I think making the label text accessible through another device rather than trying to integrate them into the design was a genius idea.  It wouldn’t work for most exhibitions and I’d hate to see museums forgo labels on a regular basis but for a show as unique and visually engaging as this one, label text would just distract from the incredibly sensory experience of being surrounded by 650 floating quilts that span three centuries of American textile craft.

One of the spiral “pods.”

Exhibit Review: Harry Potter, at the Museum of Science and Industry


As a relatively recent college graduate and (fingers crossed) a future museum professional, I probably shouldn’t be admitting this.  But what is the internet for if not shameful confessionals?  And here is mine: I am something of a Harry Potter fan.  Now, I’m no fanatic – I don’t belong to any Harry Potter fan sites or livejournal groups (do they still have livejournal groups?).  I’ve never been “sorted” by some online quiz (although I think if I were I’d probably be Slytherin, and I’m not sure what that says about my moral compass) and I certainly don’t own any house scarfs or fake scar makeup.  I can, however, translate the Hogwarts motto from Latin to English (“never tickle a sleeping dragon,” ‘natch) and I figured out who RAB was about five minutes after I finished book six.  My point, dear readers, is that while I may not bleed wizard, I do know from Harry Potter.

All of this brings me to Harry Potter: The Exhibition, which is currently open at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.   The MSI is an interesting place – like many modern science museums, it has to straddle the divide between education and entertainment.  Sometimes it does so fantastically, like in the permanent exhibit on modern farming techniques (only in the Midwest, man) and other times it misses the mark dramatically (an enormous fairytale dollhouse? Really?).   So how does Harry Potter: The Exhibition measure up? Continue reading

Something small

I haven’t had a chance to really delve into the Chicago museum scene, but a quick walk through the Art Institute of Chicago has got me really excited.  Obviously, it’s impressive, although I kind of feel that saying that the Art Institute is awesome is sort of like saying “water is refreshing,” or “Lincoln was a great president” – obvious and so clearly a given so as to be a non-statement.  All that being said, I do have news: admission is FREE for the month of February!


Now, granted, there are only a few more days left to February, but that still leaves a little bit of time to check it out without paying a dime.

De Young: Yves Saint Laurent, plus a little newsflash

So I had this grand time-table in my head for the museumist, where I posted a review or article at least once a week and quickly became famous in the blogosphere and then I got a multi-million dollar book deal and built the world’s grandest tree house (in the shape of a geodesic dome, of course), and adopted loads of puppies and ate tacos for dinner every day.  Clearly, this has not come to fruition, and I apologize for the posting delay.  (Not for the geodesic dome tree house, though – one day it will be mine!)  Here, though, without further ado, is my review of the De Young’s special retrospective on legendary fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Okay, one ado: this review is remarkably apt, given that I’m moving to Chicago tomorrow to start an internship at the Chicago History Museum working in their costume collection.  The collection is the nation’s second largest of it’s kind and has over 50,000 objects.  So if you’re find yourself in the Windy City, look me up – maybe I can sneak you into the back to take a peak at a 100 year old Worth gown.  I’ll also be continuing with The Museumist, but the focus will be on Chicago museums, not SF.  I’ll miss your fair coastline and foggy days, San Francisco Bay Area, but have no fear – I’ll be back to visit.  After all, the Academy of Sciences just reopened, and I can’t stay away from that crocodile pit!  But enough about me – on to the review! Continue reading

“Here it seemed that everyone was sort of alone more:” Robert Frank and “The Americans”

Phillip Gefter wrote an article in the New York Times about the 50th anniversary re-printing of Robert Frank’s “The Americans” and mentioned that a huge show is being mounted at the National Gallery of Art in DC.  It will include all 81 contact sheets from the book.  I immediately thought, “well, Museumist, now we have to get ourselves to DC… better start looking at flights!”  And then, wonders of wonders, I saw that when the show is over in DC it will go on the road:  first to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and then to the Met.  Which is a relief, because a BART ticket is much cheaper than any airline and my bed is more comfortable than my college friend’s sofa. Continue reading

“Museum at the Brink”: Worst. Timing. Ever.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles is in trouble.  The museum consistently runs over-budget, uses it’s endowment to cover operating costs, and needs to raise $25 million to stay afloat.  Also, it’s endowment has shrunk from something around $50 million to a measly $6 million since 1999.  Clearly, this ship is sinking, but according to an article in Monday’s New York Times, it can be saved.  In “Here’s How to Rescue a Museum at the Brink” Arts staff writer Roberta Smith writes about the troubles facing MoCA and what the museum can do to turn this disaster around.

I’d heard a little about MOCA’s trials and tribulations – my brother Isaac Resnikoff, UCLA MFA graduate student and all around talented artist was visiting recently and updated me on all the crazy shenanigans going on down south – but I’m ashamed to admit that I wasn’t aware of MOCA’s importance in the art world until just a few weeks ago.

Maybe it’s the Northern California bias I was raised with or my persistant (and false) belief that the only thing worth visiting in the LA area is Disneyland, but I’ve never been to MOCA or even thought about it as one of the stars of the museum world.  Apparently, though, I’m very, very wrong. Continue reading

Flashback: “Melbourne: Stories of the City”

I studied abroad in Melbourne, Australia, during the spring of 2007.  I loved it wholly and enthusiastically, but the experience took a lot out of me too.  I was constantly moving and exploring, and I felt this mild yet inexorable panic that if I didn’t try to cram as much into the experience as possible I’d arrive home laden with regrets.   Trying to fit a lifetime’s worth of experiences into one semester is difficult and exhausting.  That sort of energy level is hard to maintain and by the end of my five months there I was ready to go.

The thing about Australia, though, is that it isn’t known for its museums.  Don’t get me wrong – the island continent has a lot to offer, museum-wise.  But when I was traveling around with my fellow study-abroaders trying to get a sense of what we absolutely couldn’t miss, there was never a helpful Australian citizen or Lonely Planet book saying, “oh, you can’t leave without making it to the Australian National Maritime Museum,” or something similar.  So we did all the “important” things, like going to Manly Beach or doing a tour of Victoria’s wine country, seeing the Sydney Harbor Bridge and visiting the Opera House, and somewhere along the way I missed a bunch of museums.

Which is why I’m all the more thankful that I took a course called “Museums, Objects, Spectacles,” while I was at Melbourne University.  By  far the most difficult class I took, “Museums, Objects, Spectacles” was about the history and philosophy of museum exhibition; the Whens, Whys, and Hows of exhibiting, if you will.  Besides giving me a crash course in museum history, the class also got me out and about visiting Melbourne’s museums.  Arguably the cultural capital of Australia (Melbourne sees itself as the New York to Sydney’s LA), Melbourne has an awful lot of quality museums.   I spent the most amount of time at the Melbourne Museum, where I reviewed an exhibit called “Melbourne: Stories of the City.”  Looking at the Melbourne Museum website now I can’t tell if the exhibit was permanent or not, but their current permanent city exhibit called “The Melbourne Story” is likely very similar to the galleries I saw in 2007.

I thought I’d kick off The Museumist with a walk down memory lane and revisit the first museum exhibit review I’ve ever done.  The review I wrote for “Museums, Objects, Spectacles” was long, academically-minded and, in retrospect, not quite as earth-shattering as I remember it being, but I’m going to try to distill it down to the pertinent points. So if you’re interested in a short  analysis of an Australian history exhibit from the perspective of a non-Australian, click for more. Continue reading

So, Museumist, tell me about yourself.

The San Francisco Bay Area is chock-full of wonderful museums just waiting to be visited.  I’m going to be doing my darned best to explore them, posting here about which exhibits do the job, which could use some work, and which simply can’t be missed.

On the off-chance that I get to do any traveling (unlikely, given the state of my bank account and those troublesome college loans), I’ll be sure to review some of the noteworthy exhibits I see.  If you see any exhibits you think deserve a mention, be sure to drop me a line.

Let’s just be clear on one thing: museums are serious business, but this blog isn’t.  I don’t have a degree in Museum Studies (although I’ll be working towards an MA in that venerated field soon, I hope), but what I do have is a critical eye, an academic background in American Studies, Religion, and Art History, a good sense of humor and years of museum-going to back me up.  Also, I have a true and abiding love of museum exhibiting, nurtured in me by a childhood spent at the California Academy of Sciences and too many readings of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  Since I can’t move into the Met like Claudia and Jamie Kincaid did, this will have to do instead.