by Brian Sholis
When I travel I always visit museums, and the National Gallery in London is a perennial favorite. Although I’m a curator of photography and most knowledgeable about modern and contemporary art, my favorite room in the National Gallery contains what I call “old and gold” material—artworks from the transitional moment between late Medieval painting, with its use of gold leaf for backgrounds and flattened spatial designs, and early Renaissance painting, with increased adherence to the rules of perspective. If you enter the Sainsbury Wing, it just so happens that Room 52, which houses Italian paintings made between 1350 and 1400, is the first one you encounter after ascending the grand staircase. Turn left at the top of the stairs and enjoy.
Many such public galleries—as well as offices, storage spaces, and other normally off-limits areas—appear in documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s new feature,National Gallery (2014). We’ll be screening this three-hour film in Fath Auditorium on Sunday, January 25, beginning at 1:00 p.m. Manohla Dargis, writing in the New York Times, says the film “is at once specific and general, fascinating in its pinpoint detail and transporting in its cosmic reach. It’s about art and process, money and mystery, and all the many, many people gazing and gawping and, at times, lining up to see a blockbuster show. […] With cool intelligence and a steady camera, Mr. Wiseman guides you through the museum and past its masters, pausing to look but also to listen to what becomes a museum-wide conversation on form, content, and context.”
For another insight into the National Gallery, as well as the minds and routines of art museum security guards, I recommend Chloe Aridjis’s 2013 novel Asunder. The book follows the inner life of Marie, a young guard who works at the National Gallery and who becomes fascinated by the early-twentieth-century suffragette movement. The book is about, in part, the power dynamics of gazing—whether at a painting or at a person. In an interview published online at Granta, Aridjis said of her research visits to the National Gallery, “I really enjoyed just sitting there on a bench and watching, because I do feel that museums have strange effects on people psychologically—one does enter into a different mental atmosphere, regardless of how interested in art you happen to be.”
Come be transported by Wiseman’s vision of the National Gallery,and learn more about how institutions like the Cincinnati Art Museum work, at this Cincinnati premiere screening.
– Brian Sholis, Associate Curator of Photography