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

Art at the Mercy of the Elements


(left) Lee Boroson, Fixed Haze, 2014. Photo: Lee Stalsworth (middle) Vesna Pavlović, Installation view of Untitled (Annex, Giacometti exhibition, 1963), 2014. Photo: Mica Scalin (right) Jill O’Bryan, one billion breaths in a lifetime, 2015. Photo courtesy The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

While it might not be immediately apparent, I see a similarity in the works by contemporary artists Lee Boroson, Vesna Pavlović, and Jill O’Bryan currently (or recently, in the case of Pavlović) on view at the Phillips. Through very different materials, all three are subject in some way to elements beyond the artist’s control. Boroson’s Fixed Haze (at left above, and on view in Intersections@5) dangles from the ceiling and might spin rapidly or not at all based on wind; Pavlović’s Untitled (Annex, Giacometti exhibition, 1963), a giant curtain which I wrote briefly about while it was on view in 2014, might show a distinct image or appear nearly transparent depending on sunlight; and as O’Bryan says of her work one billion breaths in a lifetime, this piece is best experienced when “activated” by observing the reflection as you move by it. Seeing these works at different points during the day or month has the potential to be a wholly unique experience each time.

Amy Wike, Marketing Manager

ArtGrams: The Laib Wax Room

Laib Wax Room_3_pottergriffin

Via Instagrammer @pottergriffin: “#tbt to my parents visiting the Wolfgang Laib #waxroom at the #phillipscollection this past Sunday. I think my dad is pretending to be a bee. They flew back home this morning and I miss them already.”

The Laib Wax Room has been a visitor favorite since its installment in 2013. In this month’s ArtGrams, we’re highlighting some of your creative shots of the space.

Laib Wax Room_6_grandnostaflash

Via Instagrammer @grandnostaflash

Laib Wax Room_2_ginacrat

Via Instagrammer @ginacrat: “Evan sniffing the beeswax room”

Laib Wax Room_7_thenocallshow

Via Instagrammer @thenocallshow: “Ms. @cecilemouthon in a room made of beeswax.”

Laib Wax Room_1_amperrlee

Via Instagrammer @amperrlee: “Just casually standing in a teeny room, lined with beeswax.”

Laib Wax Room_5_goholmes

Via Instagrammer @goholmes: “room of wax, featuring rashonda harris”