On Viewing Art

Georgia O'Keefe and Orville Cox
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1937
Ansel Adams

Saturday I managed to visit a museum in spite of having my 2 daughters with me. Museums are uncool and boring, saith the preteen. We were in Kalamazoo, MI, where my wife was jurying an art fair. The Kalamazoo Institute of Art, has a nice Georgia O'Keefe exhibition, organized by the MFA of Boston. They also have an adjunct exhibition of Photos of her and some of her colleagues and contemporaries, which the photo above, scanned from the cover of the book "400 Photographs", Ansel Adams, included for illustrative purpose, is from.

The above photo I'm familar with from reproduction, but I've never seen an Ansel print of it. I was struck at how strong the real thing can be. For me, it's a given that paintings need to be seen in person; no reproductive technique truly does them justice. There are a few exceptions, but if you would know art, take every opportunity to see the real thing, in person.

This is apropos, due to a recent blurb in Art Journal, mentioning that art students don't attend museums, as they get all of the images from books, or the interwebs. Art is not just an image, but an entity that transcends the visual, and reproduction is fallible. Art also needs context; most mere images have no frame, no wall, no viewers; lifeless. I find this very difficult to comprehend.

For a picture framer, who has so few opportunities, even in reproduction, to look at frames, where else but museums? It is more than just crafting a frame; as context, the interplay of frame and art are essential. About 25 years ago, when I worked at the Terra Museum of American Art, there was a painting from, I believe the Met, in NY. An unusual Jackson Pollack; some calligraphic strokes on a raw linen canvas, soft black on brownish gray. It was framed in a gold leaf, renaissance, sgraffito frame. (On frames, sgraffito is a scratched, incised and punched form of decoration). I doubt there is a photo, and the combination may not even be together any more, due to the vagaries of curators. It was, however a beautiful symbiosis, balanced, powerful, and elegant.

Go forth, look at real art. ( I skipped the Art Fair, too crowded.)