Explaining the art of presenting art; Glenn Lowry visits

Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 11:23 p.m.
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This vase featuring trees, birds and flowers was made in Japan in the Meiji period (1900-1905). The vase, a gift from Dr. and Mrs. David A. Cofrin, is on display at the Harn Museum of Art.

Courtesy of Harn Museum
You're walking through a gallery, appreciating a fine collection of contemporary masterpieces, when suddenly, you stop dead in your tracks - "What the heck is that thing doing here?"
In the midst of all that beauty sits a piece as out of place as a roller-skating bear at the ballet. Something is not right in Denmark.
The University of Florida's Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art is making an attempt to demystify the art of the curator. "A Closer Look: Art and Museums" is the Harn's way of showing us the man behind the curtain.
The exhibition is broken into five thematic sections that include defining, collecting, displaying, interpreting and preserving art. Unfortunately the exhibit does not explain why the Harn seems to always divide its exhibits into five portions. It must be a magic number.
Each section deals with a few of the challenges today's museums face. The preservation section explains the balancing act between making art accessible and "resting" the works. Resting is when art is stored in controlled conditions to prevent accelerated deterioration.
Collecting art presents some of the problems, protocols and choices that surround the acquisition of each new piece. While you wander through, take a good look at "Vase with Trees, Birds and Flowers," a fine example of Cloisonné. The black background gives the inlaid grouse and soaring birds vivid colors and three-dimensionality.
And then there is the question of what defines art as art?
The "craft-versus-art" argument is beautifully presented through the blown-glass vase by renowned artist Dale Chihuly. The artistically twisted container demonstrates how blurred the line can be. Crafts are created for function while art usually - but not always - exists for aesthetic reasons. Chihuly's "Chancellor Park Seaform Persian No. 16" vase lives on both sides of the line.
The whole presentation is only an overview of the challenges facing modern museums. The Harn plans other events to help flesh out the behind-the-scenes theme offered this season. The exhibit will be in the Rotunda Gallery through May 28.
On Tuesday, the Harn continues to explain the Dogma of museums with a lecture by New York City Museum of Modern Art director Glenn Lowry at 6 p.m. The lecture, "Rethinking the Modern," will address how modern art can be made more accessible and intelligible for large, diverse audiences.
Lowry has just led MoMA through its own $858 million expansion in which the museum added nearly twice its existing square footage. The Harn has recently gone through a similar expansion with the addition of the Mary Ann Cofrin Pavilion.
The lecture is the first of a series of eight the Harn has scheduled for the coming year.
If you appreciate all the art that comes out of UF's Cultural Plaza, and have a chunk of spare change handy, you can show your support at the MOTOWN fund-raiser on Jan. 21. The Detroit City-themed event kicks off with a black-tie-optional cocktail hour at the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Harn, followed by a dinner buffet.
The night finishes with a performance at the Phillips Center by the Funk Brothers. Many may not recognize the name, but the Funk Brothers are the unheralded studio musicians that gave Motown its unique sound. They have played on more No. 1 records than The Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley combined.
Proceeds from the event will be split between the three plaza institutions. Information: www.plazaparty.uff.ufl.edu.
Speaking of the Florida Museum of Natural History, it recently extended John Moran's "Journal of Light: A Photographer's Search for the Soul of Florida" exhibit through Wednesday. If you haven't gone yet, trust me, it is worth the trip. Word has it, FMNH will reinstall the exhibit - after MOTOWN - and keep it on display well into spring. Seeing Moran's photography on this scale adds some serious impact to the already impressive portfolio.
David Hackett can be reached at Davidmhackett@cox.net.

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