Marc Chagall

Museum of Marc Chagall is a gem of French Riviera. It is one of the best and intimate museums I have ever been to. This museum is the first museum that was dedicated to a living artist, it was opened in 1973 at the bottom of the Cimiez hill in Nice. This museums is unique because artist was curating it himself. So he could display everything exactly how he wanted and he fully realised his artistic potential.

The museum building was executed by Marc’s friend – Andre Malraux and was designed as a house. This is why the museum is rather small yet you can spend hours there. It is full of natural light which compliments the paintings. Marc Chagall was a music lover so he commissioned the auditorium which was build very quickly upon request. This hall has great acoustic and every year it opens to the public so they can enjoy musical concerts. Chagall decorated this auditorium with stained glass wall specially designed for the space.

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Marc Chagall lived across two centuries for almost 100 years, he was born in Liozna, Russian Empire  (present day Belarus) in 1887 and died in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France in 1985. Chagall was a multicultural artist: he was born Russian, died French and almost became American somewhen on the middle of his life. Chagall was born in a Jewish family and attended in a Jewish elementary school. At the age of 19 he enrolled into all-Jewish art school where he started his formal art education. After several months he moved to St Petersburg to study at Imperial Society for the Protection of Fine Arts.

Even though Realism was widely popular at that time Chagall developed his own dreamy-like style using bright colours and fairy-tail like shapes. Marc Chagall evolved into a multimedia artist, largely known for his oil paintings. He understood colour like no one else and it is absolute pleasure to look at his artworks. Apart from paintings he was widely successful in making stained glass windows. Although the technique is completely different, the colours of the glass are as bright and vivid as in his paintings. His stained glass windows can be seen across the globe, in the UK, in Germany, in Switzerland, in France, even in UN building.

His artworks are so special because they combine magnificent painting manner with touching subject matter. His art reflected his thoughts and sufferings. As a Jew he experiences persecution firsthand and it reflected on his paintings. They are extremely moving and personal. You can almost cry by looking at them.. I saw people crying in the museum standing in front of the paintings.

This museum experience was very intimate and personal. Each painting is a story and you stand there in front of it and unravel it layer by layer. His artworks are brilliant on so many levels – emotionally, visually and compositionally.

The heart of the museum is a room with only five paintings displayed in panoramic manner and they were placed by Chagall himself. The paintings are from the “The Song of Songs” series. It is an interpretation of book from the Hebrew Bible that celebrates love and sexual desire between a man and a woman. In this series Chagall illustrates the three motifs of the Song of Songs: the musical, sacred and sensual. The choice of red-pink pallet represents deep sweet love but also blood highlighting the violence in Biblical story. There is a bench where you can seat and spend some time tête–à–tête with these paintings. In this room no one talks, it is awfully quiet, everyone is absorbed by the artworks.

This is an incredible museum, full of intimacy and personality. Chagall’s art is full of colours and worry at the same time. It somehow appeals to everyone and viewers relate to it. If you are traveling in Nice do not miss it!

Clocks and Watches at British Museum

вBritish Museum is one of the most famous visitors attractions in London, it is estimated that each year it opens its doors to 6.7 million people. It is hard to describe how significant and enormous the museums collection is: it covers history of human civilisation, art and culture from the start to the present. The earliest artefact in the museum is a chopping stone with origins from Tanzania which is estimated to be 1.8 – 2 million years old. British museum collection calculates more than 8 million pieces. It is the most comprehensive and multicultural collection in the world. British museum houses part variety of artefacts, sculptures, icons, chronicles, manuscripts, coins,  armoury and many more.

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In November of 2008 a new display was opened – Clocks and Watches. It is sponsored by Sir Harry and Lady Djanogly. Spreading over two rooms 38 and 39 the exhibition explores history of clock making. You can find these galleries on top of the main stairs.

The earliest piece is from 16th century  – Scottish Wall clock. It is one of the few rare pieces that have survived.

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In the middle of the first room there is a giant mechanism explaining how the clock works.

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You can see how technology develops overtime and by the end of 16th century clocks looked similar to what we are used to. In 1620 clocks became even more advanced, on this amazing “Masterpiece Clock” made in Germany by Thomas Starck, not only the time was displayed on the dial but also weekdays. There is also an indicator in dragon shape showing when eclipses are most likely to occur. There are moving dark and light shutters measuring length of day and nigh throughout the year. Unfortunately only the dial has survived but there is a picture of a similar clock from the same period.

Second room is bigger that the first and covers more time periods. The first piece you see in the centre is Automaton in the form of a ship dated around 1585. It was also produced in Germany by another famous clock maker Hans Schottheim.

There are many standing pieces, wall clocks, clocks for fireplaces. The display ends with a retrospective of pocket watches.

It you want to take a break from antique sculptures in British Museum and you want to have a look at something different you should definitely go and check out this clock collection. So many beautiful detailed pieces, I only wish that there were more explanation on how clocks and watches were invented. Otherwise it is a great display with many short video presentations.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Tate

The exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe, famous American female artist of the 20th century, is held in Tate Modern in London until 30 October. Georgia is famous for painting flowers, Mexican landscapes and skulls.

Personally, I found it very calm and soothing, walking through rooms with Georgia’s paintings, mostly because of the pallets she used. Sky blues, baby pinks, light green – pastel colours that work very good for the eye. Using these colours for flower paintings is the obvious choice, what surprised me was that she used the same colour for skulls.

Georgia painted a lot of flowers in a details so people can really see it. On the walls there were some quotes from the artist herself and she said –

Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

From curatorial point of view there is nothing special about settings, there is a logical order of 11 rooms dedicated to different periods or themes. Apart from paintings there are sketchbooks with watercolours, showing the preliminary paintings.

New Tate’s Modern Switch House

Today was unofficial new wing opening at Tate Modern – Switch House. Everyone in the neighbourhood was invited to be the first visitors, which is a really nice touch, since we were experiencing the construction firsthand.

New building is in a shape of conus and 10 floors high. Only 4 floors are exhibition spaces, other floors are for entertainment – shop, restaurant, members room and events hall. Connections to the old building are on the first and forth floors.

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There is a viewing level on the top floor with 360-view on London. The views are amazing, you can see London’s beautiful skyline. There is a printed guide available describing every significant building you can see from the viewing terrace.

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The building itself is executed in cutting edge industrial style. Some people said that the design “captured the essence of the building”, however, for my taste it is a bit over the edge. It look like a space before renovation, there were some leakages, some lamps were not working, sign “restaurant” was missing three letters. Brick structure was a bit disturbing in some places, especially in the cafe when you have tables right across from it.

Art-wise… A lot of video installations, large scale artworks, many interactive artworks where you can go inside or walk over it. I am not the one to judge, so I’d rather not comment on the art itself. However, there was one installation that was particularly disturbing – Tropicália, Penetrables PN 2 ‘Purity is a myth’ and PN 3 ‘Imagetical’ by Hélio Oiticica. The installation is a cage with two large African parrots inside. I think that is completely inappropriate to trap wild birds in a small room with one window for three months (parrots are changed every three months). 

Overall impression from todays visit is that building still needs a lot of work. Right now it is a bit sloppy and unfinished.. It is still not THE opening, so maybe some things like lighting will be changed and signs repaired. A great three days celebration is about to begin with a lot of special events and plenty of fun! So you should join and see for yourself, the admission is free.

 

What are the key challenges that museums face?

The art world is constantly changing and so are art museums. The nature and purpose of museums have been changing from purely cultural involvement towards a social experience. Different types of museums face different challenges when trying to adapt. Contemporary art museums have to accommodate large-scale multimedia pieces, which require new spaces, whereas traditional art museums face problems with maintenance of an old building. Regional museums close because of low visitors number; on the other hands big city museums are trying to manage large number of tourists. This essay will discuss the challenges that museums face in economic, social, technical and ethical fields and analyse possible solutions.

The main challenge that the majority of museums have is a funds deficit. It has been announced that in 2015/2016 museums in the UK will experience a further reduction of 5% of government funding (BBC news, 2012) on top of 10-25% reduction in previous years. In the USA museums experienced 20-40% cuts due to the 2008/2009 economic crisis (Black, 2012). Museum Association “Cuts survey” (2013) indicates, that from 2011 to 2013 the majority of museums experienced more than 10% reduction in overall income. Decrease in income may have adverse consequences such as poorer maintenance of the building, redundancies, failure to fund new projects and update collections. Lack of resources may also lead to dusty displays at museums with art objects sitting on the shelves in an old-fashioned manner. Lack of dynamic change in the museums eventually results in decreasing number of visitors, reduction in opening hours and possible closure. In 2012 according to BBC News 22% of museums have closed during the year.

There are two ways to adjust to budget restraints: to cut costs or to increase profits. Cutting costs does not necessarily mean reducing staff or opening hours: museums can benefit from shared storage and shared transportation costs. Museums from “Cultural districts” can have joint storage and, hence, split transportation costs. Another possible way to attract more visitors and split costs is through creating alliances: multiparty membership can cut advertisement costs, printing costs etc. Museums can increase their profits in many ways: “gift shops”, libraries, online shop, publishing, commercial filming, licencing, brand and product development. The strategy of increasing profitability depends on brand name, available funds and creativity. Many museums still have free admission entrance to their main collections, but charge for exhibitions. The debate about if the museums should be free of charge for educational purposes and how admission charges endorse inequalities, because only those who can afford to pay can go to the special exhibitions. In theory, the best way from a social perspective is to make entrance fees to temporary exhibitions optional: however, this might be possible only when museums generate enough profit to compensate the absence of income from these exhibitions.

Another financial problem is that museums are very dependant on donations and sponsorship. Donations are not predictable and may vary from year to year. Whereas sponsorship is more reliable, but it might raise some ethical issues: how appropriate the business of the company is – is it acceptable to sponsor art with the profits of tobacco companies. Moreover sponsorship may involve bias and excessive control of the exhibition (Kirby, 1988). For example, BP’s long-lasting sponsorship of the British Museum (according to its website), provoked various protests and performances (eg Viking exhibition). John Sauven (2010) in “The Guardian” on the topic of BP sponsoring Tate Britain raised an ethical question of how a respectable museum can associate itself with the biggest source of pollution in the world. Many people suggest that museums should refuse such sponsorship, Jonathan Jones (2010) art critic and journalist presents a different opinion. He argues that usually the public is not even aware of which company contributes to exhibitions and “If they [museums] can get money from Satan himself, they should take it” to stay free and open for the public.

The nature of museums has been changing over the last decades: from being purely educational and cultural to becoming more of a “social hub” (Black, 2012) involving all sorts of activities. Gift shops, libraries, restaurants and cafés, lectures and debates are very common in modern museums. The question is if these changes are driven by severe competition with media, the entertainment industry and technological progress. It was argued more than 2 decades ago (ed. Lumley, 1988), that television gives people better access to cultural places and museums are becoming redundant. Recent technological development might have worsened the situation, because Internet and TV offer high quality documentaries and museums’ virtual tours are accessible at home. However, media and museums have found a way to co-exist in modern environment. More and more museums have audio-guides, mobile apps, Wi-Fi and virtual tours. Multiple surveys confirm that people are still very interested in actual face-to-face experiences with art, as well as the opportunity to socialise and be physically involved.

It might be argued that museums can benefit from further cooperation with the TV and the entertainment industry. A costume exhibition from the TV series Downton Abbey attracted almost 20,000 visitors in Nuneaton Museum according to “The Country Telegraph”. This type of project can be very beneficial, especially for regional museums: they can increase profit by attracting more visitors as well as increase brand awareness through associating themselves with popular cultural media.

Apart from financial and social issues, museums can suffer from a technical problem – lack of display space. Only 5-10% of collection is shown in the museums, the rest stays in storage and some pieces might not be on display for years. This raises an issue of “unusable” heritage that stays outside publics’ knowledge. Lack of funds makes it difficult to change displays, because of the high costs of transportation, insurance, hiring a curator and setting up the exhibition.

However, emerging markets and globalisation offer some solutions, such as franchising. Major museums are expanding nationally (Tate Liverpool) and internationally (Louvre Abu Dhabi), creating an opportunity for more parts of the collection to be presented to the public.

Another possible solution is to sell part of the collection, which gives stored art a fresh audience. It will also partially solve financial problems in museums: however it undermines public trust (Kirby, 1998) and provokes issues such as selecting the pieces for sale, deciding on which subjects are less important than others and predicting future tastes. On the one hand, there are parts of the collections that were donated to museums and might be unwanted; on the other hand if the piece is sold and in twenty years there is increasing demand for such art, the museum is unable to satisfy publics’ interest because of the decision made years ago. Even though the Museum Association has strict guidelines of selling collections it is still subject to debate. For example, Northampton Museum and Art gallery sold a 4000 years old sculpture,which was covenanted never to sell. This sale raised a large amount of money (Apollo, 2014), but undermined Art Council accreditation and provoked differing public opinions.

Unlike old museums, modern museums have already adapted to a changing nature of art and were built considering the scope and scale of art works. Contemporary museums may have a semi-permanent collection or not have a collection at all. For example, in China museums like the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai or the Times Museum in Guangzhou provide large spaces for exhibiting collections of international museums (Jouanno, 2013). Such international cooperation can benefit both emerging and established museums.

The survey carried out by “Britainthinks” for the Museum Association (2013) revealed that the three main purposes of museums are caring and preserving heritage, educating the public, especially children, and improving the economy by attracting tourists. In order to “care and preserve heritage” art should be looked after in certain ways – maintaining temperature, level of humidity etc. As the number of visitors increases, the risk of damaging the art works increases as well; hence, to fulfil the main purpose of preserving heritage, museums will have to limit the number of people visiting museums in the future.

Increasing number of visitors raises a lot of different maintenance issues, because buildings wear out, walls get soiled, and floors deteriorate. If the flooring is original from the XVIII-XIX centuries it becomes a part of history and heritage, which gets damaged over time. In 1987 the Louvre separated the stream of visitors by opening additional entrances, however, this might not be a viable option for other museums. Extended hours may be a solution to disperse visitors, but it significantly increases running costs (eg security, electricity, extra staff).

Museums in the XXI century are in transition; they face different financial, social and ethical challenges across the world. Museums have to become more self-sufficient and operate more like a business. In order to do that they have to define objectives such as increasing customer base, increasing brand awareness etc. and creating a business case around it. Advertisement, loyalty schemes and membership cards will help to increase interest in permanent collections rather than one-off exhibition. Some problems may be regarded as “positive challenges”, as they provoke change and stimulate the progress of museums. Solving those problems means that the public will receive independent, modern, educating institutions with updated technology, accessible to everyone and appealing to different social groups.

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