Changing Museum Rituals: Part 1

Franz Erhard Walther Red Song

Installation view of Franz Erhard Walther’s “Red Song.” Photo: Gina Cashia

As a grad student seeking a Master’s Degree in Arts Management at George Mason University, “Arts and Society” is one of my core classes this semester. Required reading includes Civilizing Rituals, which examines the ritual practices that occur in art museums. Author Carol Duncan explains how when entering a museum, a visitor goes through a social transformation. According to Duncan, museums often unwittingly provide a scripted experience for a visitor; although all museums possess different aesthetics, they have the same goal to “construct visitors as enlightenment seeking citizens, and lead them on a tour through history.”

Growing up, I saw museums as entities with a set of of rules to follow, such as talk quietly, dress nicely, and refrain from touching artwork or taking pictures, which can be at odds with creating a welcoming environment for all audiences. However, one work at the Phillips caught my attention as a good example of how present-day museums and artists are attempting to break this standardization of rituals by having visitors create their own aesthetic experience through interactive art: Red Song by Franz Erhard Walther.

Walther produces works, often in primary colors and out of ordinary heavy canvas, that are reminiscent of minimalist compositions, and is recognized for his early investigation of participatory art. Using fabric forms (which he first developed in the 1960s), the artist invites visitors to engage with his work, emphasizing the temporal and experimental aspects of art. This is the case for his piece Red Song, currently on view in a gallery showcasing recent acquisitions.

This is a multi-part blog post; check back in the following weeks for parts 2, 3, and 4.

Gina Cashia, Marketing & Communications Intern

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