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Sunday, 08 March 2009


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The biggest obstacle these days to viewing photographs in museum settings would seem to be the #$#%# lighting, or rather the lack of it.
A few years ago I went to Chicago expressly to see an Edward Weston Exhibit at the AIC, and the prints were so dark that they were actually hard to see. Likewise a show of Alfred Stieglitz platinums at the National Gallery a few years ago.

Yesterday we took our rugrats, grandchildren aged 4 and 6 to the Tacoma Art Museum. Afterward we too wondered what we were thinking! It was all lost on the kids. The irony is that just 2 blocks from our home there is a hands on childrens museum that at least keeps then occupied in a safe environment for a couple of hours. Watching a print come up in grandpa's darkroom doesn't impress them either, they expect to see the picture on the back of the camera.

John, thanks for the words and reminder about the Getty. Of course what's on display is important but you can spend a wonderful weekend day photographing the buildings, LA basin and visitors.
Definitely a favorite place.

I've only been to the Getty once, but I'd love to go back and spend more time just wandering around appreciating the architecture of the place. (It was surprisingly non-crowded when I went, but of course I can't remember any details as to time of day, week, or year.)

I don't think all kids under the age of 11 should be written off when it comes to museums -- I remember my younger brother insisted on dragging my entire family to a Picasso exhibit at our local art museum. When he was eight. It can be done, but maybe not in a group.


I must disagree about keeping children out of museums. My mother was a fine art artist, art teacher, sculptor and potter. I was raised in Museums from when I could walk. But I was also instructed and taught how to act and how to look at the art. By time I was 14 I could walk in to museum gallery and just by looking at style, brush strokes, etc name must of the painter without looking at label.

It's the parents who need to stay out of museums if they aren't going to take the time and make the effort to teach the child before they go what's expected of them and what they are seeing.

I totally disagree with you on Getty.

Getty Museum is the EASIEST Museum in LA to get to. Excellent Freeway access and parking, with Free Admission.

The Getty is a fantastic Museum experience. The grounds are breathtakingly beautiful. You just have to take some time and take it all in.

I also went there last week to view the photographs. Excellent work, but really bad lighting ;-(

Here is a recent image: http://tinyurl.com/detzhn

The last trip I took to the Getty was about 2 years ago and saw some literally breathtaking Eliot Porter prints (I mean it. I gasped several times at the beauty of both artistic vision and craftsmanship of the prints).

As far as youngsters and museums go, I was on vacation in Paris in 2004 and visited the Rodin museum. Outside in the gardens I saw some English art students (senior high) sketching one of the sculptures. Most had pretty good technique except for one poor kid. I wanted to speak up and say to him 'There isn't a single line on that statue'.

Art is funny. You can be ready for it at any age.


ShadZee said, in disagreeing with me about the Getty:

"Getty Museum is the EASIEST Museum in LA to get to. Excellent Freeway access and parking, with Free Admission."

You obviously haven't been to the Norton Simon, in which you park, free, in the parking lot, a hundred feet or so from the front entrance, which has probably the best Degas sculpture collection in the world, and three glorious Van Goghs, two glorious Cezannes, dozens of other impressionists and post impressionists, and excellent collection of Baroque art, including one painting by Rembrandt and another painting they claim is by Rembrandt ("Titus") but isn't, plus a fantastic Jan Breughel floral painting, one of the best Diego Rivera's the man ever did...and so on. In simple intensity, a better collection than the Getty, though without the Getty's breadth...

The Getty is only free if you get there by public transport; parking is a mandatory $10.

When I spoke of "shoals of rugrats," I wasn't really referring to the one fascinated kid -- who is more than welcome, in my eyes -- but that to the school-bus loads deposited with a teacher in the hope that culture will rub off. It doesn't. Kids *should* run, scream, fight, flirt, whatever, which is why they have playgrounds and parks, but they shouldn't do it where some kid could go crashing into a unique art treasure.

The Getty architecture did not impress itself upon me, because architecture, even of the most amazing kind, doesn't. I'm simply somewhat architecture-blind, though one of my close friends, with whom I've co-written a book, is a professional architecture writer : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Millett


The Frick Collection in NY doesn't allow children under 11. And the playground at the north end of the UN doesn't admit adults unless they're accompanied by a child under 12.

Regarding all the comments here about art at a young age, my parents brought me everywhere they went and they were museum fiends, and I came out with a love of art. The responsibility lands on the parents to do what they can to make it more enjoyable for the kid and for the other museum-goers, but it'd be a shame not to go at all because of a fear they might not enjoy it.

That was a nice little comparison of Watkins and Adams; I'd never really heard of Watkins before but I'll definitely go check out his work.

The Louvre is also afflicted by school and coach parties mainly there to tick the box and buy the postcard.
There are stll places there to get away from the crowds.

I saw the "Carleton Watkins: The Art of Perception" show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1999. It seems to have traveled all over the place including the National Gallery in D.C. I thought the prints were some of the most amazing things I had ever seen, especially considering their context.
When Carleton Watkins photographed Yosemite not only was there no established iconography of Yosemite, but the public mostly treated descriptions of Yosemite as fabrications. Ansel Adams was photographing a scene that was well known, never mind that he could just go out and buy a camera and film then drive to Yosemite.

I found this at http://www.culturevulture.net/ArtandArch/Watkins.htm
Whites had found their way into Yosemite Valley only a few years before Watkins arrived in California, and descriptions of its ethereal beauty and vast spaces were greeted with derision and disbelief back East. Watkins was well aware of this skepticism, so he caused to be constructed a mammoth-plate camera capable of taking 18" x 22" plates – large enough to render the size of the valley’s mountains and trees – and in 1861 he set off on the 24-hour journey to Yosemite with the intention, as it were, of proving that such a place existed.
The ensuing photos created a sensation when they were exhibited in New York (Emerson said that Watkins’ photo of a giant sequoia "made the tree possible" for him), and they even contributed to some important environmental legislation. Lumber companies were already chipping away at the valley’s edges, so Senator John Conness used Watkins’ photographs to convince Congress and then Abraham Lincoln to enact the Yosemite Bill in 1864, securing the area from the encroachments of developers.

On the theme of Watkins: Don't miss "Wild Beauty," by Terry Toedtemeier (the late curator of photography at the Portland Art Museum) & John Laursen. Beautiful reproductions of Watkins' & later photographers' work in Oregon's Columbia Gorge.

"On Friday, I visited a dozen or so paintings..."
A very nice way to go to a museum, to visit with old friends.
It's the herd of kids far more than their age; groups tend to be obnoxious.


Re. Watkins vs Adams, it was much harder to get the weather into the shots in the days of glass plates. Just a thought.

It should have been put into British law that Turner not be allowed to name his paintings.

I remember when I was 12, and my parents took me to the Guggenheim. We took the elevator to the top of the spiral. I just ran down to the lobby. Now of course, it's a different story.

Please touch museums are the way to go. Except for teenagers and Helmut Newton.

"It should have been put into British law that Turner not be allowed to name his paintings."

It's actually a good title, just a bit difficult to parse. What it means is that a subaltern named Van Tromp is tacking the ship under the watchful eyes of his superiors, who are observing his seamanship. In the course of coming about he "ships a sea," meaning that a wave smacks him broadside and comes over the side, and most everybody on deck ends up getting wet. This would most likely be an embarrassment to Van Tromp, because it means he didn't quite time his maneuver correctly or pick quite the right spot relative to the waves to execute it.


As mulligrub'y as I am regarding the little darlings, I have to say that, on a recent trip to the Louvre, the loudest noise made by a group of just-teens was the furrowing of brows and scratching of their pencils as they tried to do artistic justice to some dead white chaps. It was the hordes of adult termite tourists (ie, never seen in groups of less than a million), banging off their flashes with blithe disregard of strict museum ordinances, that made me wish for ordnance.



Generalisations are not in order. Not long ago we were in Los Angeles but could not find time for The Getty but last week I was in London for three days with my 9 year old daughter, who loves Museums. She is the one who reads everything when going round and observes the paintings and exhibits carefully, asks questions and makes sensible comments, like 'Why in the older portraits is everything so dark and nobody smiles?'. She loved the National Portrait Gallery and the Babylon exhibtion in The British Museum. She was appalled at the school parties in The Science Museum but we quickly found that the height of their aspirations were the dumbed down 'You too can be a scientist experiements'.
While these comments may appear elitist I really do believe in 'art for all' and its inspirational effect even on the least demanding of empty heads.



Mike - A mulligrub: someone disposed to ill-temper about something or someone (or, more usually, everything and everyone). More colloquially, a miserable bastard. Now archaic, but I like the word.

Wow John, sorry you had such a bad day in LA. If one can have a good day in LA, But perhaps you were a bit harsh on poor old Carleton Watkins. I cannot even begin to understand how any one could go out into the field in the 1800’s with a horse and wagon and take any kind of photographs. Not to mention the photography equipment he had to contend with. I think that we should be grateful to Carleton for documenting those very hard times. I believe that photography was mostly about documenting than pure art in those times than what it is has become today.

We all have become to spoiled with life. I go out and shoot 100’s of photos and then come home sit down at my computer dark room with a cold beer or fresh coffee and play with the days takes. Along with all the really cool cameras and photo editing programs at hand, perhaps we have become a bit uppity about photography today. Also an artist is an artist is an artist. I for one just take pictures for the hell of it.

Hehe, if you let your kids go to a Newton exhibit, the next exhibit they go to will be Maplethorpe, and we all know the exhibit after that is hell.

"The biggest obstacle these days to viewing photographs in museum settings would seem to be the #$#%# lighting, or rather the lack of it.
A few years ago I went to Chicago expressly to see an Edward Weston Exhibit at the AIC, and the prints were so dark that they were actually hard to see. Likewise a show of Alfred Stieglitz platinums at the National Gallery a few years ago."

Wilhelm, you're right on. Recently
those same procedures are taking place at Brazilian galleries.

Exposing a picture to controlled light does not affect it more than environmental issues.

David Vestal addressed this hysteria very well: "If a picture was poorly processed, dim light will not save it."

Bauru - BR

Reprints of a number of Watkin's early Oregon photographs can be purchased from the Oregon Historical Society store at http://ohs.org/.

If you're interested in Muybridge and the photographic developments of his era, you might enjoy Rebecca Solnit's book River of Shadows which looks at Muybridge's evolution as a photographer in the context of the changes happening in the American West while he was there. I found the earlier section more interesting - it was focused on his landscape and panoramic photography - than the latter - which addressed his stop-motion studies - but the whole book is an engaging look at this period and this eccentric man.


Looking at the photos on the WSJ pix of the day page today, I noticed this shot (http://s.wsj.net/media/0309pod02.jpg) of two seagulls. However the bokeh is fascinating, irritating and confusing.

The foliage is exhibiting donuts shapes like a mirror lens of the 70s and the morter lines between the bricks seem to be refusing to drop out of focus! It is a clasic example of bokeh spoiling the picture, yet I have never seen such odd look. Maybe it is poor post processing, any idea?



PS. great post, I love Turner's work...

WSJ number 7 - http://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2009/03/09/pictures-of-the-day-129/

Getty link - http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/85309419/AFP

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