Sara Bremen

My mom tells a story that when I was very little, she took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While in the Impressionist Wing, for reasons I won’t question, she put me on the floor. All of a sudden, I zoomed off, crawling for the first time. She was so surprised that I was halfway to the Water Lillies before she finally caught me. This visit was the first in what became a tradition of museum visits with my mom.  She would always shun the audio tours, preferring instead to give me her own.  She taught me about color looking at Henri Matisse, composition looking at Edward Weston, and the power of image by refusing to let me see a Francis Bacon exhibit (I later snuck in, got scared, and ran out).  I go to museums today and remember her lessons about how to look at a painting or photograph or a sculpture.  I am struck by how eager I am to read all the wall descriptions, how curious I am about the connection between the art on the wall and the history of various countries, people, and cultures, and how emotionally floored I can be by an image of sunflowers in a vase or a milkmaid by a window.

But I also know what an old fogey I can be. How can we help provide opportunities for these kinds of experiential, emotional, and thrilling experiences in museums today? What does the New Visitor, the New Curator, and the New Exhibit look like? And how can museums, exemplified by the Brooklyn Museum of Art, grow not into a repository for old oil paint, but a thriving community center where visitors come to listen, to learn, and to share?

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010