As I was perusing the Walker’s weekly press clippings (conveniently compiled for us every week by our PR and Marketing folk) I came across an article written by Heidi Clausen who writes a column for The Country Today, a newspaper out of Western Wisconsin. Her column was dedicated to a recent visit to the Walker and expressed alot of doubt and frustration with what she saw during her visit. Specifically:
“One person’s junk might be another person’s masterpiece, but I can’t imagine too many people would find beauty in a hulled out aircraft filled with mummified bats…”
“In the galleries to follow we saw quite a number of canvases splashed haphazardly with paint and framed for our viewing pleasure.”
She clearly had visited during the run of House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective, and exhibition which showcased the conceptual and often challenging work of a Chinese contemporary artists, (one example is Bat Project IV). However, it also appeared as though she struggled with some of what we might view our most “traditional” work, that of the Abstract Expressionists whose work is on view in a gallery dedicated to artists who worked during the 50s and 60s.
The article interested me to a great degree because we had just finished discussing this very issue with a group of tour guides in training. That is, what do you do on a tour when people just have a negative reaction to the art? I think we can do as much as possible to educate and engage, through tours, interpretive pieces, etc. Perhaps its enough that this person is thinking about the art, and was clearly affected in some way by it. But how much do we need to do, and how can we reach, those visitors who go through the galleries on their own and never voice these opinions, or seek out information, until well after the visit is over, if ever?
One of her last comments made me think that perhaps the visit hadn’t been a total failure. About the work of Bruce Nauman she wrote:
“I was fascinated and perplexed all at once with a series of three TVs playing black and white footage of a really bored looking man engaged in various activities–walking along a line drawn in making tape around a square and repeatedly falling back into a corner. It was mesmerizing, but I guess I wouldn’t call it art.”
That she was fascinated and mesmerized and was thinking about what she would or wouldn’t call art is enough for me.