The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement recently closed and staff and visitors alike are still thinking about the continuing impact of the artwork. Museum Assistant Jeff Whitelow reflects on his experience in the exhibition and his observations of visitors, and we share some messages from our visitors. Thank you to every that visited this important exhibition.
Effective art, exhibits, curating, and programming get a response. It encourages discussion, thinking, and contemplation. It can influence how you see things, and that’s something you can take with you after you leave. “How is that art? Why is that here? Where is the label? What does it mean?” These were some of the questions visitors were asking in the galleries of The Warmth Of Other Suns. It was unique in that it encompassed three floors of gallery space and also displayed a lot of video work. The exhibit didn’t just take viewers to other suns, other worlds as an escape, but helped people take a better look at the one world we live in and also to look at ourselves—where we have come from as well as where we are going.
As the grandson of those who participated in the Great Migration from the north to the south I felt a sense of inclusion that was unique to this experience. The exhibit caused people to respond to it during their visit but also raised questions with no easy answers that made people think after they left the building. One visitor from Ukraine, when informed about migrants drowning at sea, asked when this happened as if it was one isolated event. I told her this is an ongoing situation happening right now. She was shocked. During a panel discussion, I found out that an acquaintance was a refugee when she spoke from the stage in the auditorium and told her story.
Some patrons said, “Where is Rothko? We only want to see Rothko.” or “Direct me to the Boating Party/the Impressionists please.” But out of curiosity and because some works in the collection were included in the exhibition, some visitors who did not initially intend to see the show did so anyway, and were moved by the experience. It wasn’t unusual for visitors who liked the show to come see it more than once. A number of visitors commented on how those in government who make policy should definitely see this one. Several people were moved to tears in seeing the works. But at the same time, during a question and answer session of a panel discussion, someone called the show “refugee porn.” From my observation, there was more diversity in attendees as well as a slightly younger demographic than usual in our galleries. Some coworkers experienced sensory overload in the exhibition. Others, including myself, came back for the last day of the exhibit on their day off. Art can truly influence how you see things, and you can take it home with you sometimes without even realizing it.
—Jeff Whitelow, Museum Assistant
Next to The Warmth of Other Suns galleries, visitors had the opportunity to share their thoughts about the exhibition. Here are some of their messages.