Maurice Prendergast (American, 1858-1924); Grand Canal, Venice, ca. 1898-99; watercolor and pencil on paper. Gift of Mrs. Charles Prendergast. (91.18.6) x1200
WCMA Blog

Decorating the Director’s Office

Yesterday I helped our new Interim Director Katy Kline explore ideas for decorating the Director’s Office. Her idea was to put together an eclectic mix of objects. In an art museum, objects are usually organized according to what makes sense in terms of geography or time period. So when she got the idea of mixing up vases of all different areas and time periods because they share the same shape and function things started to get interesting. To have an ornately decorated pink and green vase from China in the Yung Chêng Dynasty (1723-1735) next to a vase with palmetto decoration from Greece in 500-400 BC, with objects in similar shape and function from 19th century Salem, MA, and 12th century Iran can be interesting. It seems to convey something about the universal similarities in the human condition or at least in the breadth of our collection.

When I am in art storage and I encounter objects that were actually used by real people, I always think about the people who used the object. What did the person in 12th century Iran do with this dagger? What was the Egyptian person thinking while they were applying their eyeliner with this container? While we keep the object in climatized storage and carefully use white cotton gloves to transport it, someone once put water and flowers in that vase and placed it on their dining room table. I once saw an interesting film, Summer Hours about this subject. It is important to think that while objects in an art museum have an aesthetic attraction for viewers, they once also had a function for real people, and grouping together vases from many different cultures and time periods conveys this. In the end however, Katy Kline decided to go in a different direction because of fragility and safety concerns she decided to display a selection of empty, antique frames on the wall in the Director’s office.

 

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