Every other week we’ll be posting information about pieces in the Beach Museum’s permanent collection from …to build up a rich collection.. Selected works from The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art.
All pieces in this series are on display now at the museum. We hope you will join in the discussion and enjoy learning in-depth about the heart of the museum, our permanent collection. Beginning with one of the pieces that welcome you to the Beach Museum, Chandelier by Dale Chihuly. What does this piece make you wonder?
Dale Chihuly, born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, is considered on of the world’s foremost artists working in glass. Chihuly has become famous for liberating glassblowing from the confines of craft and placing it firmly in the sphere of fine art.1 In 1992 he made his first chandelier, which was created in conjunction with an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. At Seattle Chihuly become discontent with a vacant space within the exhibition. His solution was to create a hanging sculpture composed of a multitude of glass spheres. The main appeal of this first piece was not primarily derived from the simple shape of the individual components but from the grouping of these elements into a new structure.2The sheer size and volume of this first chandelier is only half of its attraction. The uniform and vibrant color makes the piece even more dramatic. This first chandelier led to a series of hanging pieces that are now considered among Chihuly’s signature forms.
This post by Kathrine Schlageck, Senior Educator, explores the lessons gained from the recent “Museum of Wonder“ exhibition which celebrated the 150th Anniversary of Kansas State University.
The “Museum of Wonder” exhibition, with its accompanying “Library of Wonder”, was an experiment for the Beach Museum of Art. The collection of objects drawn from the K-State campus was presented in a manner designed to challenge regular museum categories and to focus on the visual or aesthetic qualities of objects rather than purpose or discipline. One notable characteristic of this exhibition was the lack of traditional museum labels.
What did we learn?
The myriad objects engaged visitors and alumni were especially excited to see “old friends.” Countless faculty and graduates recognized objects from their departments. One alumnus even recognized his handwriting on the label of the Oreodon skull.
The Library of Wonder, with the opportunities it provided to observe closely, touch objects, and do one’s own research, drew a lot of praise, especially from families. Visitors appreciated the chance to be interactive in a museum setting and the microscope was well-used.
But judging by the comment cards, about half of our audience was frustrated, even though they liked the exhibition itself and were engaged with the objects. Comments ranged from wishing for simple identifying labels to more extended labels that explained the purpose or told the stories of the objects. These visitors wanted more information than the list of objects available in the gallery–for example where was the mammoth molar found?–and were apparently unaware of the extensive information provided in the Library of Wonder. One visitor commented, “…loved the objects, but it was like visiting an antique store. We wanted labels to help us understand more about context, age, etc.” Another visitor said, “…there should have been information on everything so that a guest might learn something, which is what museums are meant for.”
On the other hand, many visitors seemed unfazed by the lack of labels. “Bravo,” says one comment card, “you encourage deeper contemplation and critical analysis by presenting the artifacts and allowing the viewer to interpret them.” Said another, “A genius theme and beautiful ideas. My mind had a chance to work.”
These diverse reactions provided the museum staff with some important information about visitor preferences. The exhibition was organized to emphasize non-traditional and visual relationships between objects and to challenge the visitor to proactively discover relationships. For example there were a number of aesthetic groupings: The hat with the green bow and the brain coral were similar in shape and texture. The shells of the beetles displayed similar colors to the Marjorie Shick sculpture. The white bones of the cow echoed the white-on-white play of shadows in the plaster relief sculptures from the Department of Architecture.
The Library of Wonder invited visitors to follow their own interests. Howard Gardner, an educational psychologist at Harvard University, has written about multiple intellgences related to the way we seek and assimilate information. Some people are interested in how something is made, while others are more interested in the story behind an object. The Library of Wonder allowed visitors to pursue different avenues of research and, hopefully, encouraged new ways of seeing and thinking.
Today’s post by Sarah Caldwell Hancock is inspired by the upcoming Night of Wonder fundraising gala for the Beach Museum of Art. Sarah grew up in Western Kansas, graduated from K-State in 1994 (B.A., English and Economics) and 1996 (M.A., English), spent a few years on the West Coast, then returned to the Manhattan area in 2004. She works as a technical editor in the Department of Communications and Agricultural Education and lives in the wilds of Pottawatomie County with her husband and two sons. She served the Friends of the Beach Museum of Art as vice president. She enjoys reading, gardening, knitting, cooking, basketball, playing piano, and, of course, the visual and performing arts.
In February of this year, the Beach Museum of Art unveiled an exhibition called “Museum of Wonder” to celebrate K-State’s sesquicentennial. Odd and ends, some beautiful, some just weird, were culled from classrooms, offices, and musty storage closets all around campus, each one a witness to a moment of campus life over the span of 150 years.
The collection was inspired by cabinets of curiosities, or “curios,” amassed by wealthy Europeans beginning in the 16th century. I hope you saw it and that the exhibition did more than just pique your curiosity: To move beyond mere curiosity is to enter the magical realm of wonder.
Lawrence Weschler, author of Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, an odd book about the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a peculiar collection in East L.A., writes of something called the “Wunderkammer sensibility.” He describes it as “wonder or marvel as upon one of the essential components of the study of nature and the unraveling of its secrets … wonder defined [as it was up to the end of the eighteenth century] as a form of learning—an intermediate, highly particular state akin to a sort of suspension of the mind between ignorance and enlightenment that marks the end of unknowing and the beginning of knowing.”
I can put Wunderkammer in simpler terms. For me, art is a great source of wonder. Art is a beacon that helps me navigate the sometimes-dark passages between unknowing and knowing.
After blue-sky sessions to discuss the type of event we wanted to attend (formal or informal? sit-down or buffet? serious or comic? what type of entertainment? what location?), we settled on a magical circus theme. But when we listened to museum staff discuss the upcoming “Museum of Wonder” exhibition, the Night of Wonder emerged.
We planned an evening that’s a live Wunderkammer: a new curiosity around every corner.
We also found inspiration in local artist Jim Munce’s piece, “The Queen of the Night Makes a Formal Appearance,” which conveys the mysterious rhythm of wonder through its hazy view of a queen, her sceptre, her gazing owl, and references to the wonders of the moon and nature. The Queen watches you from inside our Night of Wonder invitations, and we are so grateful to Jim for his permission to reproduce her.
We knew we needed to look no further than our own campus to find entertainment to provide wonder and sophistication. Kurt Gartner and Laura Donnelly from the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance were enthusiastic collaborators; when we came together, ideas flowed. After 45 minutes of energetic brainstorming, Kurt said, “We have talked all this time and no one has said what we can’t do.”
Kurt and Laura recruited musicians and dancers. Laura then mentioned our project to Vibha Jani in the College of Architecture, Planning & Design. Vibha caught the inspiration and offered her class to provide a signature sculpture for the event. Spark led to spark, and students presented ideas to a subset of our fundraising committee, and we told them what moved us. They refined the project and the results will be on display as an interactive sculpture outdoors on the north side of the museum.
More is in store, but you will need to attend to see.
As I write, my email folder for this event contains 911 messages, and I have spent many hours working on details both alone and with the indefatigable members of the fundraising committee. Details are falling into place. Around every corner will be a new curiosity, a refreshing experience, something to see or hear and plant a seed of wonder. We will have drinks and conversation and fine dining and surprises. We’ll think about art and about the Beach Museum, a gem of our campus and community.
We hope you feel wonder.
The Night of Wonder is September 20, 2013. To purchase tickets call 785-532-7718 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art furthers the teaching, research, and service missions of Kansas State University by collecting, studying, caring for, and presenting the visual art of Kansas and the region.