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November 12, 2005

Life as Art
Posted by John M. Ford at 06:56 PM * 43 comments

I’ve seen Unique Form of Continuity in Space, at the Tate Modern in London, my home.*

I’d find it hard to live there — while Duchamp’s coffee mill would be nice of a morning, one would always have the sense of people staring through the Large Glass, doubtless trying to find the lady I had just undressed, even. I suppose I could sit still and pretend to be a George Segal until they moved on.

On the other hand, there are parts of the V&A where I could be pretty comfortable, though for the long term it would have to be the London Transport Museum. Then, too, more than one of the reconstructed rooms in the Art Institute just down the street from me now would be quite comfortable, notably the Studio of Gratifying Discourse, a Ch’ing library and study with a rock garden.

There’s a story in this, but as is so often true, John Collier already wrote it.

Question for the audience: which museum exhibit could you imagine calling home?

*SeanH, on the “Ghosts” thread, moved here to avoid both serious thematic dissonance and topic drift.

Comments on Life as Art:
#1 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 07:32 PM:

which museum exhibit could you imagine calling home?

It has to be the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford:

It's just cluttered enough to feel like home. I've visited it more times than any other museum (except the Manx Museum, but that's only because of where I live). And I've grown very attached to the collection there: a witch-in-a-bottle; dolls stuck full of great big nails; miniature huskie team; earliest example of a gun; currency as big as a table; a bracelet made of beetles' legs. If my house was big enough, that's the kind of junk I'd fill it with.

#2 ::: Aboulic ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 07:53 PM:

I'm not sure about living in a museum, but I think my local Castle, Guildford Castle, would be an excellent place to haunt, especially if that could include it's public gardens (highlights include a great statue of Alice through the looking glass, and a picturesque bowls green right by the impressive War Memorial (bringing us almost back to the original thread).

Though if I had to live in museum, I'd be tempted by the British Museum for sheer variety and scale. Impressive building too.

Or maybe the Natural History Museum. If I was feeling lonely I could always have a chat with the brontosuarus (or what ever it is).

#3 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 08:05 PM:

The New York State Museum is home to the remains of a local mastodon. They have the skeleton, and they've made a couple of dioramas of life here during the last Ice Age. There's a particualrly poignant diorama of a family band of Paleo-Indians regarding the howling winter wilderness that was Ice Age Albany.

It apparently has not changed all that much in 8,000 years - going from the diorama to back outside, you immediately notice that the place is still a howling, barren wilderness.

So that's the exhibit that feels most like home.

#4 ::: Maggie Brinkley ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 08:14 PM:

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. They have a shrine in the Egyptian gallery that contains a wall-painting of two of Akhenaton's young daughters, who are obviously gossiping. Alas, when I revisited the place a couple of years ago, the shrine was locked. That wall-painting annihilated space and time for me: I understood that people living 3000 years ago were as human then as I am now.

#5 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 09:33 PM:

I'd have to say for museum, the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin...though the V&A runs a close second.

The Thorne Miniature Rooms group in the Art Institute of Chicago (with approppriate scaling, of course) is the one exhibit where I could happily live.

#6 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 10:04 PM:

If anywhere, it'd have to be the Smithsonian - if there's room for me anywhere, it'd have to be there!

#7 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 10:05 PM:

If scaling is allowed (and it certainly is) then Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle, at Science & Industry in Chicago, would no doubt be on some people's lists.

Now I'm imagining a crowd of eensy castle-dwellers scrabbling up the stairwell to get on the model train exhibit. Of course, since the Chicago Tribune was the home of William Donahey's Teenie Weenies, maybe that's not a strange idea at all.

(And Don Markstein's fine article misses a remarkable fact about the comic: when Donahey had his little people construct some kind of engineering project -- once they had to right a model boat -- he'd mock up the device to make sure they could actually do it.)

#8 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 10:20 PM:

There’s a story in this, but as is so often true, John Collier already wrote it.

I beg to differ. It was E.L Konisberg.

#9 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 10:42 PM:

This is a nitpick but "Evening Primrose" has people living in a department store. However, I only know it through the Stephen Sondheim musicalization. (This isn't to say that there couldn't also be a John Collier story about living in a museum.)

#10 ::: Gigi Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 10:56 PM:

I'd have to stay close to home. In the Speed Museum in Louisville there is a circa 1608 room brought piece by piece from England. To quote from the website "Welcome to a room that is a time machine – one that can carry us back four hundred years to the early years of the 1600s (17th century), the era of King James I of England. During that time England was rebuilt, and the upper classes of society grew in power and influence." I've spent many an hour in that room.

I volunteer at the interpretive center at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Indiana, and that center and the Clark Cabin which is connected with it often seem like home already.

I could also live in the "Small Mexico Village" rooms at the Children's Museum of Houston, the exhibit very realistic and it's a fun place to play. Among the many things to do you can write in Spanish at school, make sandals, drive the VW bus, or pretend to make tortillas.

I think I'm only attached to those places because I have been there often. Other museums haven't imprinted on me enough yet to call “home”.

#11 ::: Gigi Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 11:10 PM:

Eek! I apologize for the faux pas in my writing above. I forgot where I was. My grammatical blunders are fine for LJ & Blogger, but not seemly for this forum.

Oh, those pesky quotes, I just can’t seem to shake them.

#12 ::: Laurel ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 01:57 AM:

For me, the Musical Museum in Deansboro, New York. It closed a few years back but lives vividly in my memory - rooms full of old pianos and music boxes and record players and jukeboxes and bizarre musical inventions. The organ room, where you could actually play old pump organs with cracked keyboards and yellowing stops - some of them sounded like asthmatic giants, some were unexpectedly sweet and full. The room lined with nickelodeons, where for a handful of change you could dance to tunes popular a century ago, and watch the keys ripple and the bellows puff and the little figurines inside swing around in circles. The Mississippi riverboat organ that would deafen you if you didn't put earplugs in before turning the crank. The little mechanical bird with ancient faded feathers that whistled a song and flipped its tail. All of those intricate and carefully fashioned instruments and musical machines, old and worn, but still making the most beautiful music. I would have lived at the Musical Museum gladly - I could hardly be convinced to leave when we visited. I miss it very much.

#13 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 03:50 AM:

The British Museum -- but I doubt I'd ever leave the reading room. I know that's cheating. But -- really -- could there be any other choice? Everywhere else you'd just have to read what was in the gift shop.

#14 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 04:13 AM:

hmm, is there some sort of combination museum of science fiction/erotic museum somewhere. cause I think that place sounds a lot more fun than most of the suggestions I'm reading here.

#15 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 05:13 AM:

Does the basement count as an exhibit? The storage/archive/restoration/basement of any decent museum would be the best place to haunt. Oh, to rummage endlessly in the basement of the Met, or the British Museum, or the Smithsonian.

There was a huge, carved ivory eagle that was on display in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History when I was in my teens. I still dream of it, from time to time. It's no longer on display, hasn't been for a very long time. I assume they decided that it wasn't really natural history, and it wasn't really art, and tucked away somewhere just in case somebody figured out what it was. If I could wander around their basement, maybe I'd find my old friend. And if I were ethereal, I could do what I have always wanted to do, which is climb on his back and stroke his feathers. There is odd magic in the secret places which hold treasure. I imagine him luminous in the dark, ivory light coming not so much from him but from around him. But maybe he wouldn't recognize me from so long ago, with him on one side of the glass and me on the other.

#16 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 05:13 AM:

hmm, is there some sort of combination museum of science fiction/erotic museum somewhere[?]

Forry! Didn't know you were here.

#17 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 06:42 AM:

The restoration hangars of the National Museum of the Air Force would be high on my list, followed by the Museum of Science and Industry train exhibit...

#18 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 07:36 AM:

The Isabella Stewart Gardner: it is both grand and jewel-box-like, full of art and memorabilia and furniture, active with lectures and concerts, and finished with the icing of a sublime courtyard garden.

#19 ::: Emma Bull ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:40 AM:

Old Sturbridge Village, but, well, that would be cheating, sorta.

#20 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 11:22 AM:

The Isabella Stewart Gardner

... which also has the advantage of having originally been a house.

#21 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 11:42 AM:

"One cannot make love to a beautiful woman in a statue; I tried in the Statue of Liberty."--Alvar Aalto, more-or-less. I don't know if the woman was his wife.

#22 ::: Jean Rogers ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 11:52 AM:

My home, of course, is a museum of Me, and is open to that select fragment of the public who know where to find it.

No? Then I'm sure I can find a comfortable corner at Beamish - with maybe a London pied-à-terre at the Geffrye.

#23 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 12:30 PM:

... which also has the advantage of having originally been a house.

There is that, as well.

#24 ::: Sarah M ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 01:26 PM:

I second Emma's suggestion of Sturbrige Village. At the art museum I work in now there are a pair of rooms brought from a colonial era house built in Branford, CT, and it's incredible to wander through them when the place is closed and wonder what it would have been like to stand on the heartstone barefoot in winter.

Of course, though, then there's the Robert Lehman gallery in the MET, which is set up to look like an opulent living room. Very Dorian Grey.

#25 ::: RosemarieK ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 01:34 PM:

Two NY museums which I haven't been to in years have (had?) garden rooms which I always found relaxing. At the Frick Collection its the Garden Court -- a fountain, marble benches, and plants. I could live with that room anywhere. At the Carnegie Mansion which houses the Cooper-Hewitt Museum there was a small conservatory on the first floor which was lovely to sit in. Spaces where you could block out the world for small stretches of time.

#26 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 02:05 PM:

I've never lived in a museum, but back in the late 1970s, I was sleeping in a car for several weeks, and I would wash up a lot of the time in one of the bathrooms at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. This was before they started pay-as-you-wish admission; you could simply stroll in anytime you wanted, and I'd been visiting since I was a kid. The Klees, Bonnards, and van Goghs were like old friends I'd stop in and have cofffee with when I had a few minutes. Weekday mornings, the place was practically deserted, and I had them (and the sink in the upstairs washroom) practically to myself. The art students they hired as security guards paid me no attention. the old part of the museum was once a house and still has lots of comfy couches where one can scribble in a journal and collect one's thoughts to face the day.

#27 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 03:03 PM:

For reference, I did in fact mean that London was my home. Living in the Modern would be fun only until they put something weird an unsettling in the Turbine Hall, which they do quite often...

#28 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 06:34 PM:

I'd semi-cheat by having two establishments in one grand country park: the Burrell Collection and Pollok House, both situated about 15 minutes from downtown Glasgow. The former is an astonishingly effective modern building with a tasteful collector's best stuff on display and 80% of the collection in the archives (Lydy N. is on to something). The latter is a true house museum+gardens, emphasis on Spanish art.

As a Bostonian I would counsel against the Gardner. Mrs. Jack's proscription against ever moving anything gets old, fast.

#29 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 07:24 PM:

Well, if any of us had been living at the Gardner a few years ago, nothing would have been moved.

#31 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:00 AM:

If I could have back the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building before the collection was scattered (airplanes to Air and Space, the rest to who-knows-where) I might live there; it had all sorts of cutaways and simplifications so you could understand how machines worked, so many that what are now echoing half-empty galleries were crammed.

museum of science fiction/erotic museum somewhere.

Must they be separate? The MITSFS probably has the world's largest accessible collection of off-color SF....

#32 ::: Darice Moore ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 01:31 AM:

When I was a kid, I lived in a small town, and my only exposure to Art and High Culture was the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. (I still love to go; it's the premier art museum 'round these parts.)

The Ringling is more than the art museum. The Ringling campus includes the Ringlings' house, Cà d'Zan (a wonderful 1920s Mediterranean-style mansion that was my first taste of living-breathing-history and glamor). There's also the Circus Museum, which had a fabulous "backstage at the circus" setup; you can (or could; it's been a long time since I went) wander through the tents and wagons and see the makeup boxes and costume repair bits and camp cookery scattered around. And, finally, there's a theater (the Asolo). Oh, and the grounds are lovely.

I could live at the Ringling.

#33 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 05:25 AM:

The Overlord's museum from Childhood's End. I could never believe that Protagonist guy leaving that wonderful place to come back to Earth, or at least not returning there to mop floors when he'd seen what had happened on Earth while he was away.

And as the Last Man, he'd have made a great janitor.

#34 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 06:14 PM:

On the theme of living in converted houses, I know plenty of people who would be delighted to move into Kettle's Yard in Cambridge [England]. As well as all the artworks it has a nice collection of books and I think working plumbing.

As someone mentioned, though, I think I'd rather live in a library. There's a Tibor Fischer short story about living in the Cambridge University Library, which would suit me fine. It's not very pretty, but the *books*...!

#35 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 07:57 PM:

The Renwick, the Smithsonian's arts & crafts gallery.

#36 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 08:38 PM:

E.L. Konigsberg wrote a book, "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," about a pair of siblings who run away from home and life in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I think they have a good idea; I'd love to have the stained glass courtyard as a part of my home.

#37 ::: tamago ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 10:10 PM:

Again, feels like cheating, but I'd love to live in Skansen, the open air cultural museum in Stockholm.

#38 ::: Allen Baum ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 10:48 PM:

I'd go for the Robert Opie Museum of packaging and advertising (which closed nearly 5 years ago, it appears)

This sounds like an odd choice until you've been in my living room...

#39 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 04:21 AM:

okay, how about the museum of online museums

#40 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 02:36 PM:

Well, heck, if we're going for huge grandiose estates, I call dibs on Balboa Park. Especially if you count Marston House. I mean, aside from all the museums and gardens, there's a carousel, a miniature railroad, the Old Globe Theater, and the San Diego Zoo. Plus I'm very fond of a particular still life (this one, though you can't really see how sharp it is in that photo) in the Museum of Art. Although there's a big equestrian statue of El Cid just outside that always makes me giggle--the horse looks like it's in the middle of a major coronary attack.

I went to UCSD for three years, much of which I spent wandering the Park, and my grandparents met in the House of Hospitality. So clearly it already does belong to me. If I can only convince the guards of that...

#41 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 06:00 PM:

One could probably do an anthology on the psychic ownership of places. If I were soliciting stories for such a book, I'd probably want to call it something like Real Possessions (or maybe Real Property), which is part of the reason I'm not doing any such thing.

#42 ::: Andy Hickmott ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:40 PM:

The American Museum of Natural History's ecology of upstate New York is set in Duchess County, where I lived for five years. I wouldn't mind living there again.

My mom was raised in a General Electric home of the future after GE was done with it. It was pretty nice, for late thirties technology.

And there used to be the Hickmott wing of the Hartford Atheneum, funded and furnished by a distant relative. That got closed when the funds ran out.

So I'm somewhat predisposed to museum life.

Still, if I had to pick my favorite museum exhibit to live in, I'd want to live in the Exploratorium in San Francisco. It's got the best toys. I wouldn't mind having the Japanese Garden from the Metropolitan attached to it.

#43 ::: Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2005, 05:27 PM:

Ermitage I guess. Or Modern Art museum in London.

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