Changing Museum Rituals: Part 2

This is a multi-part blog post. Read Part 1 here, and check back in the following weeks for parts 3 and 4.

Gina Cashia with Red Song_1

Interacting with “Red Song”

Upon first glance, Franz Erhard Walther’s Red Song can be perceived as three red cloth lockers lined up next to one another with three red coats hanging inside. The artist asks the viewer to carefully untie the item hanging in the box and interact with it (visitors to the Phillips are invited to activate this piece between 2–3 pm daily). Although there is nearby text that supports the interaction between art and viewer, people are still hesitant. When I spoke to Museum Assistants about the presence of the interactive piece, their responses, in my opinion, weren’t surprising. They tell me interaction has been limited because people are afraid to touch the work or get in trouble, even with the text offering permission. This fear of art, or fear of interaction, is might come from the rituals that were created and associated with museums. In a world where rules are meant to be followed, how can museums eliminate that sense of fear?

When I first saw Red Song, I thought it was an installation, potentially referencing hazmat tents and suits. I did not realize it was an interactive piece until I spoke with a staff member. To see how others reacted to the piece, I staked out the gallery for a bit. During my first observation, I hoped one of the four people in the space would start participating. Their interaction didn’t extend beyond talking to one another about what it could be. The second experience I had with Red Song was much different; I both observed and interacted. At first I was cautious when I began untying the items and delicately placed them on my body. After I became more acquainted with the piece, though, I found myself being drawn back to my childhood, reliving memories of dressing up and living in an imaginative moment. The next thing I knew, I had spent 20 minutes dressing, undressing, tying, untying. This piece made me wonder what the compositional structure references, and if it’s supposed to have multiple people interacting with it at once or one person at a time.

Gina Cashia, Marketing & Communications Intern

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

January #Phillips95 Challenge: Lightplay

EK installation 2_Lee Stalsworth

Installation view of Ellsworth Kelly’s 2013 exhibition at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

For the first monthly #Phillips95 social media challenge of the year, we’re taking inspiration from Ellsworth Kelly, who passed away at the age of 92 last month. Among his many contributions to the art world, Kelly was known for blurring the lines between painting, drawing, and sculpture, creating irregularly shaped canvases, layered reliefs, and engaging light and shadow as elements in his work.

YOUR CHALLENGE: Take a photo that plays with light and shadow and share it with #Phillips95 for a chance to win two tickets (+ two free drinks!) to Phillips after 5: Opposites Attract on February 4. We’ll announce winners Jan. 19. NOTE: we can only see your submissions if your account is public.

Kelly sculpture comparions_Lee Stalsworth_bedspring

Depending on the time of day it’s viewed, Kelly’s Untitled (EK927) can be a completely different visual experience. (left: Lee Stalsworth; right: Instagrammer @bedspring)


Visitors @papershadow and @riotmary found moments of lightplay in and around the Phillips on their trips to the museum.