New York City museum director gives lesson on modern art


Glenn Lowry, director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, was the featured guest at the Harn Eminent Scholar Lecture during a trip to Gainesville this week.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 11:18 p.m.
Glenn Lowry likens understanding modern art to learning a language, and as the director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, he speaks it fluently.
Lowry was in Gainesville this week on the University of Florida campus, where Tuesday night he was the featured guest at the Harn Eminent Scholar Lecture and Wednesday he got a chance to meet and speak with art and art history students.
"People who simply dismiss modern or contemporary art because 'it doesn't make any sense' or 'my child could do it,' or whatever excuse they might come up with, really dismiss it because they don't understand it and they don't accept that an intelligent, thoughtful dialogue is unfolding that they can be part of," he said.
He explained that if those same people walked into a room of Chinese or Brazilians who were engaged in conversation and asked if those people were communicating, they'd certainly agree, even if they didn't speak Chinese or Portuguese.
"Part of what we do at museums is try to explain to people that modern art is a language, and it's a language you can understand and learn if you put the time into looking. But you have to accept that there's a language being used," he said.
The visit also allowed Lowry to see the newly expanded Harn Museum of Art and the Mary Ann Harn Cofrin Pavilion, with its focus on modern and contemporary art. He said he liked what he saw, and especially liked that the museum was part of an educational institution.
"To have a strong contemporary and modern component means that you have a really clear way of engaging students way beyond those who may be specifically interested in careers in museums or art history, but might just have a general interest in visual culture," he said.
As he stood in the pavilion, there were visitors who seemed to be speed walking from piece to piece, while others stopped and carefully inspected the exhibits. He sees nothing wrong with those blitzing through.
"The great thing about museums is that, by and large, they are places you can come to and graze, and spend 10 minutes and see everything, if that's how fast you want to go. And maybe in doing that you see something that sparks your imagination and makes you go back and look more carefully next time. But they are also places you can go and spend several hours very comfortably focusing," he said.
He especially enjoyed the face time with students during his visit.
"They are the ones that ask the most challenging questions, (the ones) who are most focused on what they are doing and what other people are doing. You learn an awful lot," he said. "I was quite serious when I said to many of them, 'I'm going to learn more from you than you're probably going to learn from me.'"
Gary Kirkland can be reached at (352) 338-3104 or kirklag@gvillesun.com.

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