Sunday, November 07, 2004

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Will Baude is grumbly about the lack of signs at the Guggenheim's Aztec art exhibit. He's dead right on this one - without the audio tour, one is totally lost - the objects are presented in only the barest context (there are some 3 paragraph narrative signs at he beginning of each segment of the exhibit). In the next breath, though, he chides other East Coast museums for having too much verbiage. Such criticism is misguided.

While some visitors are well informed, like the wonderful Mr. Baude, for others, a trip to the museum is a cavalcade of new images. Art education in the U.S. being what it is, museum signs provide key clues as to the context for each work. Is a giant canvas smeared with a god-like palette typical of the artist or a one-off experiment? Does the work in question comment or riff on some other work? Is there a reason for all the faces of the Marys in one room of the Fogg to have a distinct green cast? A well placed sign may explain, it may cast the work in a new light and intrigue the viewer, or it may present no useful information - in which case one can simply chalk up an exhibit as poorly curated and view the remainder from your own perspective.

If you aren't interested in reading about the artist's mumbly explanations of how his work relates to postmodern gender and political theory, signs are easy to ignore. However, for every person who may be experiencing an artist, a movement, or even an art museum for the first time, signs are invaluable.
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