Sunday, July 24, 2011

single oil painting seeks art lover for lifelong relationship

I stumbled upon this Boston start-up from an ad on Facebook and was compelled to check it out. Turning Art has been described as "NetFlix for artwork" but I'd argue it is more like an online dating service for art-lovers with commitment issues. You put together your queue and sign up to receive a print in the mail to try out on your wall. If you happen to fall in love you can choose to purchase the actual painting, but if you decide to just be friends, you can take comfort in knowing you'll have another one coming in the mail in a couple months to swap it out with. Folks who are unsure what kind of art they'd like to share their homes with can test-drive paintings with zero risk and it seems like a moderately effective way for artists to gain exposure and sell their work as well. And as incentive to continue using the service and eventually make a purchase, the longer you subscribe the more credits you accumulate toward buying an original painting. I think the "try it before you buy it" approach sounds rather clever.

While most of the artwork is hideously bad, I did manage to compile a queue that I may someday actually use:

I made my list pretty quickly using the site's "sort by color" tool and choosing orange and blue to match my living room furniture. Since I definitely have the mind of a designer rather than an artist I tend to wonder "does this match my couch?" before "does this hold deep meaning for me?" and so this feature was particularly effective for me.

But I am a little skeptical of the idea of buying art when I've only ever seen it as a print. For me it's not just the imagery but the physicality of the piece that resonates with me. It's the dating site equivalent of committing to someone of whom you've only seen photos. But seriously, I get the feeling this method works better for the photography than paintings on the site. For that reason I'm a little surprised that there are so many more paintings than photographs available.

Skepticism aside, I could definitely see myself trying out a service like this some day when I'm feeling a little less broke. The subscription price is actually very affordable but adding to my art collection right now is a luxury I'm postponing for the time being. Maybe I could save up by making some paintings to sell on the site. It appears that the system works much like a gallery: artists offer their work on consignment. Instead of displaying the work in person, Turning Art creates a number of prints. The prints are loaned but not sold; they explain that the prints are actually destroyed when the original is purchased.

I think this sounds like a really accessible way to enter the world of art collecting. I maintain that gallery shows and street fairs are the ideal venues for finding artwork to fall in love with but what if the art in your town really isn't your type? This just might be the way to go. I'd love to know if anyone out there has used this site, especially if it's culminated in a purchase.

Friday, July 15, 2011

all work and plenty of play

So we just opened a big exhibition at the museum and you could say our exhibit department is suffering through the usual post-partum depression that comes with the culmination of any long-term project like this. Plus it's summertime. We're burnt out and distracted. One way we've been staying inspired is by playing. Here in Silicon Valley, the toy that we've become a little obsessed with is this technological marvel: the overhead projector.

Here we're set up in the bubble exhibit with a bucket of soapy water on the deck of the projector. It couldn't be simpler, but for some reason it's irresistible. This two-and-a-half-year-old was utterly captivated- when it was time to go his mother had to literally drag him away.

And it's just as irresistible for the grown-ups upstairs in the offices. Below, exhibit developer Sara DeAngelis has set up her overhead projector, playing patterns of light on a translucent window between her office and the education department's offices.

Each new thing she places on the projector is met with oohs and ahs and "what's that?!"s from the other side of the wall. Everyone has to come peek in and see what's going on and once they see, everyone wants to come play in Sara's office.

We each bring over all sorts of odd materials to experiment with and watch the results. We ask each other, "What do you think this is?" "Why am I getting this effect?" and "I wonder what would happen if..." It's started a playful dialogue between the departments and reminded us all of the value of curiosity and a sense of wonder.

Monday, June 27, 2011

pricey vs. priceless

Do museums have a kind of moral obligation ... to be free?
(NY Times, June 11)

Is it fair that we the public must pay to enter these temples of culture? Museums are supported by government grants after all. And museums make acquisitions with taxpayer dollars so we're basically paying to see stuff we already own anyway. Right?

Well... not really. If you want to play the "this is our public property" game, don't forget that if you want these paintings/sculptures/giant pandas/redwood forests/jelly fish tanks to be "yours", you need to be paying people to take care of them, protect them, and help you learn about why you want them to begin with. And as for the "I already paid for this with my taxes" argument goes, well that doesn't really work either. We subsidize all kinds of things with our tax dollars. You still have to buy cornflakes and gasoline and pay tolls, and yes, even admission fees. All you did was help knock the admission fee down a little for yourself. Your trip to the Met now costs you $25 instead of $25.01.

Because sure, about a couple hundred dollars of your federal income taxes went to "science/education" this year (most of which goes to the space program and Pell grants). But, divide up your remaining sum amongst 17,500 museums in the United States and you'll see just how generous that penny I gave you is. Of course this is really sloppy; I'm only using federal income taxes and neglecting state and sales tax and of course museums don't each get an annual check from the government. But I think you catch my drift. Our taxes get used for a lot of things. There are a lot of museums. Your taxes pay for plenty of things only part way and museums admission fees fall into that category (

But it's not just about dollars and cents. We museum folks seem to have a schizophrenic relationship with the value of our collections as it relates to cost. I don't think it does us much good as museums to simultaneously explain that we are so extraordinary that we need to charge $25 to get in and that our offerings are as essential to the human experience as the very air we breathe. Hard to justify charging that much for air, y'all. Let's get our story straight.

At some point we have to decide whether the museum experience is a fancy luxury, a once-in-a-while treat, a daily expense, a subsidized staple, or a god-given right. Can't have it two ways.