An Art Spectacular
Opening September 28, 2002
Ellen S. Wilson
going to a party with hundreds of guests.
You can hear the noise as you climb the stairs, the din of talk,
laughter, and argument. At this particular
gathering, with a group of startlingly diverse personalities, the behavior
may turn rambunctious. So much noise
in an art museum? Only
metaphorically. The party guests
happen to be works of art, exhibited in an unusual way.
want you to enjoy the crowd, make a few new friends, and look for them
again when you come back,” says Louise Lippincott, curator of Fine Arts at
Carnegie Museum of Art, in describing the experience of visiting Panopticon: An Art Spectacular. “It’s not a small, carefully selected
guest list. At this party, the
possibilities for conversation are endless.”
renovation of the Scaife galleries, Carnegie Museum of Art is looking at
the permanent collection in a new, yet somewhat old-fashioned, way. Art was hung "salon style,"
floor-to-ceiling, until the early twentieth century, when the dictates of
Modernism insisted that each work be isolated in its own space. Galleries then hung art in a linear way
around the walls. “We are
conditioned to that now,” says Lippincott, which explains why the salon
style of hanging art looks unusual at first.
goal of this salon-style hang is to put as much art into two rooms as
possible, with the result that visitors have not only a new look at the
art, but also a new way to think about it.
“Large-scale Baroque paintings were meant to be hung up high,” says
Lippincott, pleased that for this exhibition, they will be. “Cézanne and Burne-Jones were
contemporaries, and we lose sight of that fact because we have always been
careful to separate impressionist work from representational art.” By looking at them side-by-side, the
visitor can see just how shocking impressionism was when first introduced
in Paris in the 1860s.
Panopticon is defined as “a place where
everything may be seen.” But the world of art defined in this exhibition is
divided into Europe, the United States, and Pittsburgh, since the
collection falls predominately into those categories. During the renovation of the galleries,
most works made after 1945 from the Carnegie Museum of Art collection will
be either on tour or at The Andy Warhol Museum.
What's a Party without Chairs?
is limited, so the chair, versatile and enduring, was selected to represent
decorative arts. (And what is a party without chairs?) “Other furniture
changes according to fashion,” says curator of decorative arts Sarah
Nichols. “Sideboards may go in and
out of style, but the chair is a constant.”
the old ways of mounting exhibitions were set aside, so, too, was the
tradition of setting chairs on the floor. In Panopticon, chairs will be mounted so they spiral up the four
columns in the corners of the room.
“Paintings go floor to ceiling,” Nichols says. “So why not chairs?”
will deal with laminates and plywood, which are generally used to create
curved forms. One will consider the
more geometric chairs in the collection, another the different approaches
to chair legs, and the last will contain art nouveau chairs. There will also be chairs grouped by
style or material on elevated platforms.
never met a chair I didn’t like,” Nichols says. “We have an excellent chair collection,
which people don’t realize because the chairs are generally spread around
in the museum.” Seen together,
however, “The chair tells the story of 19th- and 20th-century
similarly freewheeling approach was used in the selection and placement of
sculpture, which was done by Elisabeth Agro, assistant curator of
decorative arts. “I began by looking
at the different ways that sculptors represent the human figure,” Agro
explains. “I chose what struck me
as provocative or interesting.”
Agro was inspired by
the idea of a sculpture garden, organic and loose, with pieces organized
into groups that complement each other in untraditional ways. She says, “When you put things in a line,
you compare them, as if you were choosing a can of tomatoes in a
supermarket. I didn’t want to line
things up. I didn’t want to invite
value judgments. I wanted to impose
an idea of structure on randomness.”
did away with the idea of chronology, and instead chose five themes: standing male figures; female figures;
two or three figures together; busts; and figures in action. Viewers can find their own themes within
themes, such as how the female figure has been depicted through the
centuries. (Medieval works barely show the body, while in 20th-century
pieces it can be completely exposed.)
“It is interesting to see what different cultures think of the body
and the variety of materials—clay, metal, wood, stone, porcelain,
ivory—that can be used to depict the human form.”
Changing Works on Paper
mood changes when the visitor enters the third room of Panopticon, which is given over to works on paper. This last space will be relatively quiet
after the hubbub next door. In it
are five sections with a constantly changing array of small and more tightly
focused exhibitions, such as 15th- and 16th-century
Italian prints; 17th-century Dutch landscapes or 16th-
and 17th-century Dutch genre prints (including works by
Rembrandt). There will also be
prints and drawings by friends who worked together—Manet, Degas, Cassat and
Pissarro—and French color prints of the 1890s, as well as American realists
such as Edward Hopper, photographs, Japanese prints, and contemporary works
showing just a few things in context, we can provide rich insight into the
subject,” says Linda Batis, associate curator of fine arts. “It is a luxury to show so many
different types of prints, drawings, and photographs, some of which we do
not put on exhibition very often.”
The Opposite of Normal
in the first two rooms, some of the things visitors see may in fact be a
little odd, but then the best parties often include a few eccentrics. Bob,
the Vigilant Fire Company’s Dog is one example.
show relatively few Pittsburgh paintings normally, due to space
constraints,” explains Lippincott in introducing the painting of Bob. Bob was poisoned in 1860 and painted
posthumously by Henry Rebele, a German immigrant. Who poisoned him, why, and how Rebele
managed to paint Bob’s portrait three years after his death is all a
mystery, but there he is, a poodle standing next to a fire hydrant and gazing
balefully at the viewer.
hoping to learn a lot by doing this,” Lippincott adds, although the
circumstances of Bob’s demise are lost to history. There will be interactive stations where
visitors can give feedback or see the comments of other people, including
curators (“like eavesdropping at a party,” Lippincott comments). Several audio tours will be available,
including one for families, and “Director’s Choice,” in which the museum’s
Henry J. Heinz II Director Richard Armstrong takes visitors on a tour of
his personal favorites.
doing the opposite of everything we normally do in the Scaife Galleries,”
Lippincott explains. “We wanted a
theatrical effect, a Victorian feel.”
The decorative archway, the sumptuous drapery, scattered seating,
and colors are orchestrated by Anne Mundel, coordinator of the Design
Option and Drama School at Carnegie Mellon University.
found this assignment different from her normal work. “This really has nothing to do with
theater, it has to do with storytelling and creating an environment in
which the exhibit can happen,” she says.
The project started with a lot of conversation between Mundel and
the curators. “We began with a
premise that we were going to present something that was not necessarily
stylish, but gave everybody license to do different explorations.
are a number of different interests in the rooms, and each piece has its
own personality,” Mundel says. “We
wanted to create a controlled sense of energy, controlled disorder—a place
full of movement that will still allow you to sit and look at one piece if
you choose to.”
a familiar work of art in an unfamiliar context, like meeting an old friend
in a crowd of strangers, broadens one’s acquaintance and shows us our friend
in a new light. This exhibition,
like a good party, should be exciting and even liberating – an opportunity
to reconsider how we look at art, how we visit museums, and how we see both
the familiar and the strange.
Major support for this exhibition has been provided by
The Henry L. Hillman Foundation and The Women’s Committee of Carnegie
Museum of Art.
Additional support has been provided by the R. K. Mellon
General support for the museum’s exhibition program is
provided by The Heinz Endowments and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.