August 31, 2010

Spencer Museum of Art - Lawrence, KS

Recently, my best friend and traveling buddy Anna came to visit me in Lawrence. She'd never been to my new home but she had certainly heard stories about it. We spent a few days going to restaurants, window shopping on Massachusetts Street, and catching up on our bad horror movies (this time it was Jason Goes to Hell and Hatchet, last time we got together it was Jennifer's Body).

But despite what our taste in films might suggest, Anna and I love to go to new museums whenever we get together. Some are bizarre (like our visit to the Gore Psychiatric Museum) and some are more traditional (like the Chicago Natural History Museum). So this trip we decided to take in some of the fine works at the Spencer Museum of Art on the University of Kansas campus.

The actual museum is only two floors of the building - the third and the fourth - while the rest are offices and classrooms. The museum is not just a pretty place to look at pictures but it also integrates art history theories and educational opportunities. For example, for many years there has been a debate about the placards placed next to works of art. How much information should the viewer be given? When you read the name and the artist next to a painting, it could change your opinion and how you view it. Say you're looking at a painting. Then you find out it is a Picasso. Do you look at the picture differently? Now you find out it is from his Blue period and what the Blue period means. Do you look at the picture differently, now?

The debate of how much information should be given on a placard is played out throughout the galleries of the Spencer. Galleries like the 17th and 18th Century Europe and the Renaissance had placards that gave the artist, period, location and more details about the subject or method used to create the art. Another gallery had works that had been damaged or partially restored with information and questions for the viewer, challenging them to question aspects of each piece.

My favorite was the 20/21 Gallery, the modern art gallery. These did not have any placards. The pieces stood by themselves. To find out the name of the piece and the artist, you had to check one of the binders placed at the entrances to the gallery. There were placards about some of the pieces, but they did not give information about the pieces. Rather, they posed questions to the viewers about the pieces. I liked the works of art I saw in the gallery, but I thought the lack of placards was annoying. When I see a sculpture or painting - especially as original and intriguing as some I saw in the 20/21 Gallery - I want to know who made it, what it is called and what it is made of. But, of course, I didn't know I wanted that before I went into the gallery. So in that case, I think the playout of the placard debate in the Spencer is really effective.

Total Trip Time: 12 minutes
Total Trip Distance: 6 miles
Soundtrack: "Bring It On Home" Horrorpops


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