Corrections or additions?
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
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)
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
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
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
Corrections or additions?
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