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Art for Our Sake

Art can be selfish. I definitely have times when I’m writing “just for me” because performing your art without an audience can be extremely therapeutic. I think that’s why so many people are silent in galleries—they don’t want to disturb anyone so everyone can have their own experience; effectively making each piece you pass “just for you.”

I don’t think Julianne Swartz had me in mind when she constructed Terrain, but maybe I was more in the process than one would think. Terrain is a contemporary work that was originally in the Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion but has been re-strategized to spider web the Caroline Marmon Fesler Gallery in the Contemporary Art Collection. It has a network of speakers that hang over head from a rainbow of wire.

The speakers play the voices of 37 different volunteers whispering. They start and end on their own accord and echo thorough out the space. As you move through the room and pick-up on varying voices it’s like you’re the conductor of 37 hushed ghosts. Basically, it’s really creepy. Logging time in the gallery, I watched quite a few people enter, get freaked out and leave. However, those who stay just long enough to read the label are rewarded.

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First Impressions

First Impressions is a social tagging experiment that allows us to see what you see, or rather, where you see. Individuals were able to go through a selection of artwork and click on where their eye was drawn first. By doing this, we were able to document exactly what people looked at first.

Kyle Jaebker is the applications developer behind First Impressions. “Coming from a non-art background, it’s interesting to see if I’m looking at what everyone else is . . . and any art interaction is valuable.”

So what do people see? Well here is one of the presented images –

Lozowick, Louis (American, 1892-1973), "Winter Fun."

and here is where everyone clicked (the warmer the color, the more clicks received).

The viewer did bounce around a little but mostly kept to the figures in the foreground and the center of the painting. But are these people looking at the right things? Or are there even right things to look at?

Marty Krause, Curator of Print, Drawings and Photographs, weighs in on this idea, “There aren’t wrong answers. People’s eyes tend to go to the middle—that’s how eyes work.” The artist knows this and builds their composition around it. You’ll look at what the artist intended you to look at first; it’s part of their job as a visual expresser.”

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Richard B. Gruelle, The Canal-Morning Effect, 1894 (detail).

So far, I’ve tried to be engaging. My blog posts were all a stab at that and I think I’ve done well. Largely, I’ve written on how you don’t need a degree to enjoy art. However, one can’t deny that knowing background information surrounding a piece does enhance its story. When you don’t know anything about the work or the artist the only context you have is the nail it’s hanging on. Personally, I feel this should be enough and museums spend countless hours developing ways to make “you are in a museum” the only context one needs – but it is nice to know more. So. I’ve posted a handful of images from our permanent collection on the IMA’s Flickr account. I cropped the images into detail shots and gave a little background information. One of the best things about my internship is that I get to learn a lot “fun facts” about our works, so I shared a few. My goal was to provide context, be engaged and (as always) have a little fun with art.



“Life has been rough with me, how it been with you?” Thornton Dial questions me through headphones as I enter the first room of Hard Truths. “Well, pretty rough too.” I think to myself, hoping Mr. Dial and myself can find more things in common. “Life is rough with everybody,” he says. “We all have had a hard time. If you got a million dollars you still got a hard time in life because it ain’t nothing easy.” I agree with Dial, but I still want a million dollars.

A visitor to "Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial" using the TAP tour.

Today I’m trying out our hand-held TAP tour. The TAP tour is a mix of audio, video and picture content on an iPod Touch. It guides patrons through the exhibition, giving them additional information to enhance the experience. I did my best to read every label, give every painting a sufficient amount of time, and listen to each sound bite, but that’s not necessary. If the exhibition is laid out well (just as this one was) then you flow through it, feeling a slight current supporting you the entire way.

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You Light Up My Life

“The pieces are dense,” Carol Cody, the IMA’s Lighting Designer, and I look down at her lighting plan for Hard Truths. “Visually, physically, conceptually—they’re dense.”

And it’s true. All of Dial’s paintings are 3-D so they present lighting challenges your average still life wouldn’t; but this exhibition makes no claims of being average and Carol has been doing lighting for 13 years. In fact, nearly every single light throughout the IMA galleries has been personally screwed-in by Carol Cody—that’s a lot of bulbs.

Dial’s show alone has around 500 fixtures. These lamps are chosen and adjusted after the pieces have been installed, giving it a final touch. Every light has a filter and Carol layers screens over lamps to dim them. She is part of the process from the beginning. The Lighting Designer has to collaborate with everyone else on the exhibition to “tell the story” as best as possible.

Carol took expert care in washing warm light into the room filled with work depicting the Southern Past. Bright light further excites Dial’s tributes to African American Yard Art and the creative spirit. Dimmer lamps kept the mood of the drawings room more restful. “I angled the light at the floor, with the light wood you get a lot of bounce and that way it doesn’t affect the art as much.”

Light exposure can degrade a piece of art, that’s why it’s regulated so closely and why you can’t take flash photography in a museum. Part of Carol’s job is understanding the conservation issues surrounding a work. The most difficult things to light are textiles and paper, because they’re more delicate and can fade. The easiest things to light are objects, especially stone or metal, which are hardier.

The role of lighting, as I understand, is to best display the message that is already being communicated. It takes care, precision and an aerial lift. Carol designs the lighting, as well as maintains it. With 10,000 square feet in the special exhibitions space alone, it’s a big job. But she keeps us out of the dark one bulb at a time.


About Joe Wadlington

Title: Publications and Media Intern

Interests: I’m interested in people, writing, art and the “random article” button on Wikipedia.

Favorite Movies: I like dramas, disguised as comedies; grief or inter-family trouble is always good. Put me somewhere in between “Airplane” and “Stepmom”.

Favorite Music: Being from Tennessee has given me unshakeable folksy roots. I just wish there were more hip hop songs with banjos.

Favorite Food: I’m a tenacious food explorer, especially if there’s cheese involved.

Pets: About six dead goldfish into childhood I cut my losses and stopped getting pets.

Something Extra: I’m studying creative writing and graphic design at Butler University where I am Senior Class VP, Homecoming King and a former Fraternity President.

Joe has written 8 articles for us.