Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S1 E39 | FULL EPISODE

Fuller Craft Museum & The Future of the Museum

Jared visits the Fuller Craft Museum, where motion and sound are at the forefront in Machines and Mechanizations: Explorations in Contemporary Kinetic Sculpture. Also hear Jared's interview with art historian and Harvard professor Joseph Koerner to learn more about a discussion hosted by the Boston Athenaeum on “The Future of the Museum.”

AIRED: February 07, 2014 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome to Open Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen.

Coming up on Open Studio, Artists getting a move on.

>> The artists see motion as one of the tools

in their visual vocabulary.

>> BOWEN: Then, the future of the museum,

a series that's taking a hard look at how museums

are struggling to adapt in a fast-changing world.

>> We also have, like any moment in the history of museums,

questions about where museums are going to go in the future,

how they're going to respond to the economic challenges

once you build these buildings.

>> BOWEN: Plus, the dark past of one of the original thrillers.

>> Poe has become arguably the most illustrated

author of all times.

>> BOWEN: And we'll show you where East meets West.

>> But what comes very often in all those art is the time,

the history.

>> BOWEN: It's all now on Open Studio.

First up, at the Fuller Craft Museum right now

things are rockin' and rollin', movin' and shakin'.

Machines and Mechanizations is a new show that looks at

how artists compose motion.

There is at the moment a movement at Brockton's

Fuller Craft Museum, an exploration of sculpture

that refuses to stand firm.

Pieces that twist and turn, wind and whirl.

>> Kinetic sculpture is artwork in an

two dimensional or three dimensional form

that incorporates motion into the work,

whether it's implied motion, the illusion of motion,

or actual motion.

The artists see motion as one of the tools

in their visual vocabulary.

So much as artists will use paint and metal

and steel, they see motion in the same wa

that they would see color or form, and that that's

one of the tools that they use.

>> BOWEN: David Lang, he's a local artist.

This piece is so mesmerizing, The Swine Flew.

>> Yeah, yeah, he's an interesting guy.

His history is he had a stroke a few years ago.

And he was formerly a painter and watercolorist.

And after his stroke, he could not pick up a paintbrush.

So he started thinking more about the mechanics

of kinetic sculpture, and decided to start going

in that direction.

He loves gears, and he loves all the machinery of it.

And he really wants the guts to be hanging out of that work.

>> BOWEN: Elizabeth McLaughlin is curator of

Machines and Mechanizations, pieces she says shimmer

and swirl on the surface, but often belie what's beneath.

>> Erica von Schilgen, the mechanical collages,

her work is initially very playful and very fun,

but in fact she's looking to bring the visitor

to that place of childhood imagination.

But then the closer you get to them, it's really about

nostalgia and a longing for days gone by.

And if you turn the crank, it plays a music box.

So it really has these connotations of just a lost age.

Chris Fitch's work also, on a first appearance,

has this playfulness to it.

And then the deeper you get into the work,

it does have a mournful quality.

His Good Dog, for example, when you first look at it,

it looks like a rubber toy.

And then there's a bulb that activates a pneumatic switch.

And the dog, you know, collapses onto itself.

And there's this sadness that's evoked through that.

Mark Davis's pieces here, as the pieces move,

the composition shifts.

And to him that's really his message,

is the sense of balance, and how, as the pieces shift,

it reflects what's going on in our own lives

and our own quest for balance as things continue to shift

and change in our lives.

>> BOWEN: With a start in the early 1900s

and a heyday in the '60s, contemporary kinetic sculpture

references the past, sculpting in color,

but also employing fresher technology,

like David Lang's Babel, made of doormats, fortunes, and sound.

>> David Lang's Babel, for example, he uses sound,

and it's on a motion detector, so as you approach the piece,

you start to hear all these voices.

And they're layered on top of each other.

He created this piece to suggest the failure

of communication that we as human beings have,

and how very often we are stymied by how to

express ourselves to each other and to listen to each other

as well.

>> BOWEN: No stymieing here, though.

For the movement, we are mesmerized.

Next, about a week ago, the Boston Athenaeum

held the first of three sold-out salons it's hosting

this winter about the future f the museum.

Don't worry, you'll be able to catch the remaining ones

as they stream live.

But they're tough conversations about how local and national

museums are struggling to adapt to meet the needs

of a rapidly changing public, technology, and economy.

Joseph Koerner, you are Professor of Histor

of Art and Architecture at Harvard, also on the board

of a couple of museums.

When we first started talking about this, you told me

that one billion people visited museums in 2013.

Last week at the first session some of the directors

talked about how this is a great time for museums,

they're sort of flush, but there are challenges.

What have you noticed are the biggest things

confronting museums that you'll talk about

over the course of this series?

>> Well, one thing, just in Boston, we're in

a really... a golden age, in a way, of museums

and museum expansion.

We have the Gardner's new entrance, we have

the fabulous Art of the Americas wing.

And the Harvard University Art Museum is going to

rise again with a fabulous building opening in 2014.

And so we have buildings, but we also have, like any moment

in the history of museums, questions about where museums

are going to go in the future, how they're going to respond

to the economic challenges, once you build these buildings,

how do you keep them running, and how do you compete with

and use the new technologies, media technologies,

which are able to broadcast the holdings of museums,

but also transform the experience of museums?

>> BOWEN: In all of the research that you were doing about this,

do you feel that the museums in this country are where

they should be right now, in trying to anticipate

how to keep evolving, especially with technology?

>> Yes.

I think new technologies are wonderful ways of capturing

a much larger audience.

We learned in the discussion last night that more people

sign on to the Web site at the Met by far

than actually visit the museum.

But on the other hand, you've got to get people

in the door.

And in a way, by looking at things online,

you get a kind of hunger for seeing the original object.

But at the same time, people are not necessaril

going to go see objects that are obscure to them,

historical periods that they don't know about,

unless they're educated, and unless the curators

are able to bring people into a conversation

with these strange objects.

>> BOWEN: Well on that point, and this is something

that I noticed came up right at the beginning

last night, as I was just mentioning, I was reall

stuck by what Malcolm Rogers had to say about this.

But for decades in this country the thought has been

that you have to have a big blockbuster show

to get people in the door.

But what I heard from people at last week's session

was that they're moving away from the blockbuster.

>> It's nice to have a blockbuster, but to be

dependent on them isn't a good idea.

Exhibitions are becoming smaller and more varied,

which I think is a good idea.

But also I think we're all trying to invest

more in what we call our permanent collections--

I'm not sure that's the right word--

and not to let an exhibition suck all the energ

or rather the resources out of the museum.

How do we give our gallery, our public galleries,

the magnetism, the excitement, of a temporary exhibition?

>> I think that people, when they go to a museum,

they want to have a special experience,

and they want to see objects, original objects, and have

a kind of profound, moving experience

in front of them.

And you can't have necessarily that experience

unless you're in the right light circumstances

and the right time frame.

And what happens in a museum, then, is if the curation

of the permanent collection and the way the visitor

from Boston, say, comes to the

museum that's their museum, they know some of the works,

they've looked at some of the works, and they're going

to look at them again, and they're going to see them

in a new light.

That's probably as challenging and as interesting a task

as bringing in the gold of Tutankhamen or the gold

of the Aztecs.

So I think the challenge is, once you get people in the door,

how do you move them?

And the permanent collection, the fabulous works

that any museum has, is an opportunit

which I think we have somewhat lost in the last few decades.

>> BOWEN: Going back to the blockbusters for a moment,

and from what you discern from panelist, did you have

a sense that there was a turning point, that it became

too expensive?

We also know what the high cost of insurance is

for traveling shows in particular.

But why wouldn't... I'm thinking of a couple

of the most recent MFA shows, for example.

Why wouldn't a big Mario Testino show or Impressionist show,

John Singer Sargent show... granted that was largel

from their own collection shared with Brooklyn,

but why wouldn't those shows be the big audience draw

that they had seemed to be for so long?

>> The economy of these blockbusters

is a problematic thing, too.

They're very expensive to mount, they have, as you say,

insurance costs.

But I think there is also a sense, just what is it

that makes an exhibition successful?

It doesn't have to be moving things

from all over the world into one venue.

The risks are great, and insurance doesn't cover

those risks.

You can't... once a Surah is destroyed by some accident,

it's never going to come back, even if the insurance value

is high.

I think people are more cautious,

people know that conservation of works of art

is one of the most important features

of what a museum's responsibility is,

and I think people are more skeptical

about both the experience of a blockbuster show

for the visitor, and also the risks that are incurred.

>> BOWEN: Also speaking to last week's session,

one of the questions that you posed that got

quite a dynamic response and a difference in opinion

was the issue of loans.

>> What's your view about leasing, loaning works of art,

and sending them abroad, when it's not necessaril

a major... an exhibition of a scholarly kind?

>> There is clearly a big pressure in the field

at this moment, because we're seeing

with the developing world the growing prosperit

in Latin America, in the Middle East,

in Eastern Europe and in Asia.

We're seeing an evolving middle class, a growth

of interest in culture in these parts of the world,

and the rapid construction of large numbers of museums

and cultural centers.

And there's an increasing demand from well established

Western museums to send exhibitions

to these institutions, many of which don't have

their own collections to draw on or to lend back.

And so what they're offering is cash.

>> Just to do it for operating costs seems to be

close to an irresponsible act.

>> If you earn some money to pay for the, in my case,

curators' salaries, conservators' salaries,

to make things that have been in store for years

because they're in poor condition, to bring them

into good condition,

that's a great benefit of this sort of program.

Things come out of store, they're studied by scholars

in another country.

>> BOWEN: Finally, something I hadn't thought about

which you brought up last week which was so interesting,

was the issue of contemporary art.

Here before you had the Museum of Fine Arts,

the Getty and the Met, which have great

encyclopedic collections of largely older works,

of masterworks.

What is the place, and should there be a place

for contemporary art in museums like those?

>> Well there always was and always will be

and needs to be a place for contemporary art,

because as one famous line says, "Every art at one point

was contemporary."

But when you look at the developments of museums

right now, you see big wings for contemporary art.

You usually recognize them by giant white walls,

huge panes of glass, and usually a fairly predictable

group of artists represented.

And I do think that there is... there may be a distortion

in the history of museums caused by this new emphasis

on contemporary art.

So you have a giant wing of contemporary art,

and then you have a small corridor for, say,

medieval art.

There is an imbalance.

American museums have fabulous collections

of medieval art, and they're very, ver

hard to see, because they usually aren't on view.

Is that because medieval art is unpopular?

I don't know, but it's contemporary artists

who are teaching us to actually look at medieval art.

And so there's an irony, I think, there.

>> BOWEN: Well, Joseph Koerner, you are presiding over...

you're moderating a really, really important discussion.

Best of luck with the rest of the series,

and it's a pleasure to have you here.

>> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: The recent exhibition Terror of the Soul

at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York Cit

brought together more than 100 items related

to Edgar Allan Poe's poetry, fiction, and literary criticism.

Co-curator Declan Kiely speaks about the author's

writing process and the influence

of his tales and poems, which have frightened

and thrilled readers for over 150 years.

>> Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul is reall

an exploration of Poe as poet, as critic, as teller of tales.

What Poe meant by "terror of the soul"

is the absolute horror of contemplation of reality.

Poe is interested in exploring the realm

of the possible.

And of course he's also tapping into very, very common

fears at the time.

He is heavily influenced by the Gothic tradition,

but he takes that in a new direction.

The manuscripts and books in this exhibition

are largely drawn from the Morgan Library's

permanent collection, but there are some

spectacular items from a private collector,

Susan Tane, as well as from the New York Public Library.

We have two scrolls in this exhibition.

It appears that Poe wrote on small sheets of paper,

which he then subsequently, using sealing wax,

created lengthy scrolls.

Why he did this is subject to a lot of hypothesis.

My feeling is Poe loved the look and the feel of scrolls.

He loved the antiquity.

And it made sure that the page order wasn't disrupted.

Many of the manuscripts in the exhibitions

appear to be fair copies, by which I mean

there's not a lot of revision evident.

It's hard to imagine an author who had

a more disorderly life than Poe had.

But he clearly worked in a very methodical manner,

and expressed his thoughts in a surprisingly clear

and orderly way, and in a very neat, uniform hand.

The daguerreotypes that we're using

in the exhibition really provide the best visual chronicle

of Poe's life.

We know that Poe underwent a great deal of suffering,

and it's really very much there in the daguerreotype

known as the Ultima Thule daguerreotype from 1848.

He had just attempted to take his life

with an overdose of laudanum.

And it's evident in that photograph.

There's a very doctored image by Matthew Brady,

where it allows Brady to create and perpetuate

a legend that he photographed Poe.

He never did.

We also have in the exhibition the last image taken of Poe,

just a few weeks before he died.

This portrait of Poe was commissioned

by the US Postal Service in 2008 in order to produce a stamp

to mark the bicentennial of Poe's birth in 2009.

It's by an artist named Michael Deas,

and it's a sympathetic portrait of Poe.

And he incorporates many of the contemporar

descriptions of Poe's iris color, his eyelashes,

the expression that would move across his face,

that kind of thing.

The striking thing about Edgar Allan Poe

is that he only published nine books in his life.

All his other work appeared in periodicals.

None of those periodicals or books were illustrated,

and yet Poe has become arguably the most illustrated

author of all time.

For example, there have been so many illustrated editions

of The Raven.

Manet obviously the most famous artist that deals with

Le Corbeau, The Raven, in 1875.

And some of the very famous illustrators of Poe's work

are Beardsley, who did his very characteristic

line drawings.

We've got the great Irish artist Harry Clark.

So this is a testimony to the diversity of artists

that have become absolutely fascinated

by the kinds of imagery that Poe uses in his work,

because Poe is actually trying to explore something much deeper

psychologically.

Poe was very influential on a surprising number

of different authors, authors that you on the surface

wouldn't think have very much in common

either with Poe or with each other.

George Bernard Shaw admired Poe's work as a poet,

as a storyteller, and as a journalist.

Poe was at the very forefront of science fiction writing,

at the forefront of the detective novel.

Poe's notion of the double clearly influenced

Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

And of course in the case of Arthur Conan Doyle,

you see him in all of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

I think there's no closer reader of Poe then Nabokov.

Certainly Lolita is an engagement

with Poe's life and work.

Nabokov originally titled his novel

The Kingdom by the Sea, a line that directly from

the poem Annabel Lee.

I think the critic that said, during Poe's lifetime,

that Poe's work would not really be understood

until after his death, was absolutely right.

And I think it's taken us 150 years to really catch up

with Poe and fully catch on to what Poe was trying to do.

>> BOWEN: From our Texas outpost now, a fine arts fair in Houston

highlights the contemporary arts scene in Korea.

Many of the artists represented there

experiment with traditional themes, but bringing them

into a contemporary context.

>> (translated): The new Korean government has really tried

to support Korean culture and art.

At this fair, we're delighted to have the opportunit

to introduce the American public to a glimpse of Korean art.

Korean artists are some of the most highly educated

in the world.

This, combined with their excellent craftsmanship,

gives great depth to their pieces.

A theme that comes up often in Korean art

is not just the fusion of Eastern and Western art,

but also the mixing of traditional and modern.

>> That mixture of Eastern philosoph

with the Western visual means has created something

very unique.

What comes very often in all this art is the time,

the history, what lies behind.

For example, we have a U-Fan Lee's Wind series.

U-Fan Lee is one of the best known Korean artists

in the US or in Europe.

He is from an earlier generation that studied in Japan

and started this whole movement called Mono-ha.

>> Right now, contemporary art, there's no boundary.

You know, all of these are the same, you know?

everybody using every material, especially contemporary art,

Internet, all that kind of things.

So I don't think there's a difference

between Korean art and Western art.

>> I think what Korean artist has tried was that

when they start coming out with the traditional medium

and images, they couldn't get away from people saying

that, "Oh I've seen that image somewhere before."

It was just a very hard barrier for them to break.

So what began to happen in Korea was that they start using

a lot of new medium.

>> (translated) Park Seung-Mo layers a number

of aluminum steel screens to create human forms

and animal movements.

Park has an excellent grasp of the material, and he can even

describe facial movements in his sculpture.

>> Hwang Ran works actively in New York as well as Korea.

And her image also cherry blossom, which is

very Asian image, traditional image.

But what makes it very different is that she uses buttons

and pins in a certain angle that actually creates

such a three dimensional, beautiful image, and the shadows

create even more dimensions to the piece.

>> (translated): I use a traditional Korean

traditional paper, and the colors are stone powder

mixed with a very old-style glue.

That's why the texture is so unique.

The main point is the sky and the ivy that's flowing

up to the wall.

And what I'm trying to do is the ivy, whenever there's

a space for it to go, it keeps going up,

no matter what happens.

But once it reaches the highest point

and has no more place to go, it falls down.

But it's the same with people.

>> Yong-Duck Lee has studied in Germany.

He has always been very interested in negative

and positive space as well as what makes a sculpture,

what makes a painting.

When you stand far away from the piece, it looks like

the person is almost coming out.

And his whole idea was that there used to be a person.

That person leaves, and there's only the remains

of the person in that space.

Park Sung-Tae has created a whole sculptural images

with aluminum screens.

And from the flat screen he cuts in a general shape

and he sculpts them all individually by hand,

so they're individual pieces.

>> (translated): I drew pictures of different faces,

and the drawings on the faces describe different peoples'

memories; what they've been going through in the past.

This is the face of a mother.

It's a very traditional Korean picture,

and the little drawings on the face being the memories

that she'd had.

In the last few years, Chinese contemporary art

came in the European market and the American market,

they did a very big success.

Now Japan and Korea and even India or Taiwan

Hong Kong, they want to come to New York, and Houston,

Los Angeles, Chicago, even in European countries a lot.

So we are expecting more booming in Korean art.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition of Open Studio.

Next week, Diane Paulus follows up her Tony-winning turn

directing Pippin with the new musical Witness Uganda.

Its creators join us.

We'll have that and much more next week.

Before we go now, I just want to mention

that this marks our first anniversary on the air.

Thank you for joining us over the last year,

and we hope you've enjoyed watching the arts

as much as we've loved covering them.

For all of us on Open Studio, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for watching.

As always, you can visit us online at wgbh.org/Open Studio.

And you can follow us on Twitter, @OpenStudioWGBH.

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