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Author: Pat Summers. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 15, 2000. All rights reserved.

Your Choice: Art on the Wall, or Online?

The claim of "new and entirely redesigned"

may sound ho-hum in regard to breakfast cereals and laundry soap,

but when the Metropolitan Museum of Art announces its website as such,

you better check it out. Last year, in an "art.com" survey

for this paper, I panned the Met’s site; this year, http://www.metmuseum.org

rivals the Museum of Modern Art’s http://www.moma.org for best-of-site

in New York. A welcome page shows a background shot of the Met’s familiar

front steps with people and banners; in the foreground is a featured

"ArtiFact" of the day, in this case a model of a fourth-century

Buddhist shrine with brief descriptive text. The words "5,000

years of art" along the top of the screen say it all.

In the Met’s "collection" section, accessed from the home

page, we learn the collection has been in formation since 1870 and

contains more than 2 million works of art. Online visitors may now

view more than 3,500 of them, drawn from that motherlode. In more

than 20 possible categories, encompassing Islamic Art to American

Decorative Art to Musical Instruments, and using any of four avenues

— director’s choices, my Met gallery, recent acquisitions, and

search the collection — a person could be homebound for months

just moving through this part of the Met’s site.

As only one example of the thoroughness involved here, "musical

instruments" is described as the "only curatorial department

exhibiting objects meant to appeal as much to the ear as to the eye."

This collection includes about 5,000 instruments from six continents

and the Pacific Islands, dating from around 300 B.C. to the present.

Close to our own day, it features two exquisite and well-traveled

guitars, one made in Madrid in 1912, and donated to the collection

by their user, Andres Segovia. To see the lone electric guitar —

which is beautiful, by the way — the online visitor can opt for

an enlargement and alternate views, as usual.

With its recent move to an interim, midtown location to allow for

renovations at headquarters, there’s all the more reason to visit

the Asia Society website — http://www.asiasociety.org. Founded in 1956

by John D. Rockefeller III to foster understanding between Asians

and Americans, the society can boast an Internet site that includes

a colorful and tersely readable "mission and history" section,

and among many other areas, an "arts and culture" section

listing both exhibitions and performing arts. Highlights of past shows,

such as the recent "Bamboo Masterworks: Japanese Baskets in the

Lloyd Cotsen Collection," are available too. The show may be gone,

but it’s not inaccessible.

This site’s links, more than 750 of them in 14 different categories,

are terrific. As might be expected, they encompass education, business

and economics, religions, politics and society, media. And just one

"for instance" from the "decorative arts" category:

solid and detailed information about calligraphy is provided.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, or http://www.philamuseum.org, represents

a fairly local treasure well worth visiting, both in person and via

the Internet. Right now, starting with its newslettery-looking home

page with lots of variety, color, and interest, the focus seems to

be on events and offerings peripheral to the collection itself. ("Images

will soon be available for works from the collection," a note

advises.) Besides the predictable trail of hypertext leading from

one show to a press release to a related tour or class, the museum

offers, under "resources," intriguing information and photographs

about specific conservation efforts it has undertaken. The before

and after photographs of the hand of Rodin’s sculpture "The Thinker"

tell the story best.

The Art Museum, Princeton University, can be found at

http://www.webware.princeton.edu/artmus. (Note that "www" is not

part of this address, alone among the sites in this story.) All brown

ink on lightly-patterned paper, this is a bare-bones site with "just

the facts." Neither search nor collection features are offered,

although special exhibitions (only one of eight is detailed), gallery

and children’s talks, and docent tours are listed, as well as basic

information on days and hours and location. The site moves fast, and

why not?

Two crafts sites offer earnestness if not pizzazz. That for Wheaton

Village, Millville — http://www.wheatonvillage.org — looks like

an elephant assembled by a committee. Some part appear in giant type;

others, in tiny type; there’s no overall cohesion or image. However,

given information about its Museum of American Glass, T.C.Wheaton

Glass Factory, Stained Glass Studio, Crafts and Trades Row, and Gallery

of American Craft, you could learn more about glass than you ever

wanted to know.

From deep South Jersey to its far northwestern reaches, move to Peters

Valley Crafts, a center for craft education in Layton, near the Delaware

Water Gap. On its workmanlike site — http://www.pvcrafts.org

there are no frills, but readable use of blue and black type with

bold sans serif type, and occasional images. Serving both resident

and visiting artists, the Peters Valley site includes a listing of

events — such as its 30th anniversary retrospective show at the

Newark Museum next November and a related T-shirt design contest with

an April 1 deadline. An online interactive magazine with theme issues

is among this site’s offerings, as well as a digital virtual reality

tour of the valley for those with the right hook-ups. Among the disappointments:

the outdated listing for New York’s American Crafts Museum.

The sleeper on our list of websites to check out: the University of

Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology — and don’t

be fooled by the name. Forget that it’s not strictly art — it’s

worth a visit, starting online. Colorful, with-it, catchy: these are

some of the words jotted down during a surfing session. It’s the old,

"A good website doesn’t have to be dull" (or even just dignified)

thing.

The home page for http://www.upenn.edu/museum includes changing images

and moving titles — and the day’s date, which suggests currency

right there. The visitor can choose from menus for both the museum

itself or the "E-museum," which includes on-line exhibitions

based on the permanent exhibitions. And, with psychedelic colors,

accompanying images, and information presented in feature-writing

style, they’re just great. In "Bodies of Cultures: A World Tour

of Body Modification," these are among the teaser questions that

invite entry to areas on body piercing, tattooing, and body painting:

"Is Madonna a mehndi wannabe?" "Pierced ears — before

there were malls?" And "What’s the big stink over a little

ink?" In case you wonder whether all this is just too enjoyable

to be credible, don’t worry: the fun is firmly supported by solid

scholarship.

It must be said that surfing the Internet for art, even the most promising

sites on the least clement day, has its drawbacks. One of them is

just sitting still by the hour, exercising only your mouse hand, your

eye muscles, and, with luck, your brain. (You know you’re stir-crazy

when you leap up suddenly and start vacuuming the house.) Worse yet:

you decide to exercise other body parts, like your mouth. It is too,

too easy to eat salted peanuts right from the can while you surf.

Then the peanuts lead to water, or worse, and then you try to nullify

all that with an apple or orange. By this time, you’ve lost all semblance

of serious surfing. (In fact, you’re now looking for a cookie. Or

two.)

Eating or not, the malady worsens the longer you sit.

It’s you and the big screen, you and the mouse, you and the flat art

images of indeterminate size and texture. Pardon the pun, but what’s

wrong with this picture? The element omitted from all these websites

is people: the excitement of contact with real, live people, themselves

excited about art, often their own.

Yes, Philippe de Montebello may say incisive things about the Met’s

new website and the wonders it brings to us. But try matching that

against Hopewell artist Ken McIndoe talking to Chapin School students

about how he paints vivid New York City street scenes with his palette

knife — while 20 or 30 of his pictures hang nearby, swirled with

thick oil paint, and almost conveying the street sounds and smells

that accompanied his on-site painting. McIndoe works in myriad artistic

mediums, and speaks about his work with a joie de vivre unrivaled

by any website.

Also impossible for a website to beat: the excitement of seeing, and

then talking about, new work by the two newest members of the Princeton

Artists Alliance, whose group show, "Regeneration," is on

view at Stuart Country Day School. In her "Windows and Mirrors,"

Skillman-based potter Schellie Jacobson shows 11 figures that for

her represent the ways we grow: We look in at ourselves, though we

can’t concentrate on looking in; we also look out at ourselves, she

says. Her figures refer back to goddess figures from prehistory, and

their greenish hue results from a copper stain and matte glaze. Jacobson,

who calls herself "a process person" and "very tactile,"

regards PAA itself as yet another means of her own regeneration. "As

a potter, I didn’t want to talk only to potters. That’s too circular."

Ruane Miller (pronounced Roo-ane), lately a digital artist and now

a painter once again, also involves the concept of a mirror in her

gouache landscape, "From the Window of My Mind, An Arizona View:

The Little Colorado River, Painted Desert Environs." The Titusville

resident, who teaches art at the College of New Jersey, was impressed

by the range and quality of PAA’s "Odyssey" show last year

at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and joined the group last fall. On sabbatical

a few years ago, she drove across the country without her computer.

What she saw on that trip and later, in Hawaii, prompted her return

to painting, her first medium. She describes her work in the "Regeneration"

show as "surreal, with some contrasting realism."

Clearly a judicious mix of both art worlds — real life and the

Internet — is what it’s all about. The trick is to know the difference,

and not confuse electronically-received wisdom with a slowly cultivated

personal point of view. Most important is the need to get up and get

out, however easy it may be to sit, and look, and eat peanuts.

— Pat Summers


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