Saturday, July 3, 2010

Travel and Transformation: The Ultimate Tour

After our first couple of weeks of training, David and I had to rack our brains to put together a tour worthy of kings - or maybe a tour that really highlights some of the incredible assets of our collection. Writing a tour isn't easy, but once you get into the swing of things, know your way around the museum, and understand the breadth of our collection it begins to feel like second nature.

But how about I walk you through the steps for writing a tour? Sound good?

1)THEME: Theme is key here. Especially with student tours. Themes help you to narrow down the pool of object choices for your tour and keeps things streamlined. We tried and tried and tried some more to think of the best tour theme, and after running ourselves into a wall, we consulted Robin for some ideas, settling upon the theme of Travel and Transformation. T&T, is a tour that ventures into the stories of the art, artists, and cultures of the works we've selected, which leads me to my next point...

2)OBJECTS: Picking objects!! The Art Institute has around a quarter of a million objects in the permanent collection, of which 140,000 are architectural drawings; 70,000 works on paper; 12,000 textiles; 16,000 photographs; 3,900 paintings; 3,000 sculptures; and 15,000 decorative arts (YOWZA!).* Of course it is not possible for all of our collection to be on display, but there are quite a few objects to pick from, hence having a theme to work with narrows down the selection considerable. 

The objects David and I picked include:
Cartonnage Case of Paankhenamun
Third Intermediate Period, Dynasty 22 c. 945-715 BCE
Cartonnage, Gold Leaf, Pigment, Human Remains
Gallery: 154A
We chose this work for the story it tells, of the transformation of a body and materials in the process of mummification, as well as the travel/transport that the spirit goes through in search of the eternal afterlife. Plus, the kids LOVE MUMMIES! And the x-ray is amazing! 

End of The Trail
James Earl Fraser (American)
Gallery: 163
This sculpture tells the story of American Indians traveling across the transforming American landscape with the introduction of modern technology and transformation - the train symbolizing the beginning of a trail, and the horse and rider being the end of the trail for this culture in the American landscape.
Eight Armed Dancing Ganesha
India, Uttar Pradesh
10th Century CE
Sandstone Relief Sculpture
Gallery: Alsdorf/Bridge Gallery
Ganesha underwent a series of transformations - from losing his head, to gaining the elephant head we see here, as well as the addition of the snake belt, and rat face on the left knee, we have tales of great transformation all wrapped up into one fantastic sculpture!
Still-life With Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables In A Market
Frans Snyders (Dutch)
Oil on Canvas
Gallery: 208
David and I love this work dearly, and we had to stretch to get it into our tour so here's our spiel: Supermarkets have gone through many transformations over the years - here we a supermarket from the Baroque period in the Netherlands. We have the students think about the transformation food goes through as it comes from the initial source (milk/cow) to the food we dine on at home and at restaurants. Basically we love love love this piece... 
Arrival of The Normandy Train at Gare Saint-Lazare
Claude Monet (French)
Oil on Canvas
Gallery: 201
With this painting, I usually discuss the ways in which technology transform our everyday life by examining how the beginning of the modern era in France (Paris in particular) was transformed by the introduction of technology. Here we have the steam engine, large single panes of glass, architectural steel framework, and the incredible mass of people coming in and out of Paris at this specific train station.

FUN FACT: The Caillebotte Paris Street: Rainy Day portrays a couple looking towards the left of the painting, which is the geographic location of this Monet painting the Gare Saint-Lazare train station. The way this painting is curated in the space aligns their pictoral view with the actual train station.

Charles Ray (American)
Wood Carving in Japanese Cyprus
Gallery: 292B
And then there's the intern favorite: HINOKI! We love this piece. Seriously. With Hinoki, we talk about the kind of transformation the tree featured underwent, as well the transformation that occurred as the tree was remade in the wood sculptural format. It's big, it's awesome, and it's a great way to go out with a bang!

3) ORDER: The order of the tour is also extremely important. We don't want to be running the visitors around the museum in a nonsensical order. We must structure our tours to flow well, in addition to thinking about the logistics of the tour in terms of the location of each work selected within the space of the museum. Plus, having a good transition between works helps the flow of the tour.

4) PRACTICE: Practice makes perfect. Know your work. Know how to talk about it. But be flexible! Tours don't always go in the direction you expect.

5) DOUBLE CHECK THE MUSEUM: Live by this. Always check the museum before you give your tour to make sure the works you plan on discussing are still on display. It's been known that some objects grow legs and walk away overnight - so beware of gallery changes!

6) HAVE FUN!!: This is probably the most important rule to live by. Be yourself. Be comfortable. And have fun. If you are passionate and excited about what you are doing, the visitors will also become excited about their trip to the museum!!
telling the stories of Ganesha in front of the Eight Armed Dancing Ganesha sculpture
leading a discussion in front of the cartonnage case

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