Recent thoughts on art and connectivity

Over the course of my career in the museum and gallery world, seeing the democratization of art through digitization of collections, use of social media and crowd sourcing by museums, alongside the increase in alternative spaces for exhibitions on the gallery level has been very inspiring. 

As I reflect on the needs of my clients who are looking to tap into these relatively new ways of interaction with art to increase their visibility nationally and internationally, I have been doing a great deal of research on the ways cultural institutions and alternative spaces can address and are addressing this cultural shift. 

Here are a few books, podcasts and articles to read that have inspired my work and thinking about how cultural institutions can utilize some of these principles and ideas to create a deeper and more meaningful connection with their intended audiences. 

1. Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. Less than 100 pages in, this book has already turned my thinking upside down. De Botton and Armstrong argue that if museums and curators shift the way they present art from a historical perspective to a therapeutic one, they can successfully engage audiences in more meaningful ways. One of my favorite points so far is how museums should shift what they sell in museum gift shops from simply sending people home with a reproduction of a famous work on a towel set, to an actual work of art that connects them with the sometimes transformative experience they had when viewing it (fantastic ideas for contemporary art museums). When I read the following lines, I thought, this is exactly why I do what I do: "...the main point of engaging with art is to help us lead better lives - to access better versions of ourselves. Art peels away our shell and saves us from the spoilt, habitual disregard for what is all around us. We recover our sensitivity we look at the old in new ways. Art can help us identify what is central to ourselves, but hard to put into words. Much that is human is not readily available in language. We can hold up art objects and say, confusedly but importantly, 'This is me.'"

1. Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. Less than 100 pages in, this book has already turned my thinking upside down. De Botton and Armstrong argue that if museums and curators shift the way they present art from a historical perspective to a therapeutic one, they can successfully engage audiences in more meaningful ways.

One of my favorite points so far is how museums should shift what they sell in museum gift shops from simply sending people home with a reproduction of a famous work on a towel set, to an actual work of art that connects them with the sometimes transformative experience they had when viewing it (fantastic ideas for contemporary art museums).

When I read the following lines, I thought, this is exactly why I do what I do: "...the main point of engaging with art is to help us lead better lives - to access better versions of ourselves. Art peels away our shell and saves us from the spoilt, habitual disregard for what is all around us. We recover our sensitivity we look at the old in new ways. Art can help us identify what is central to ourselves, but hard to put into words. Much that is human is not readily available in language. We can hold up art objects and say, confusedly but importantly, 'This is me.'"

3. Photo Archives Are Sleeping Beauties. Pharos Is Their Prince. by Ted Loos, The New York Times; New Messages at Some Museums: Don't Just Look. Do. by Kerry Hannon, The New York Times. I often get asked by people why museums are so slow to digitize themselves, and alternatively in my own art circles why museums are allowing visitors to interrupt the museum going experience by giving visitors permission to use their mobile phones and Instagram their experiences. To both comments posed above I have a simple answer: time and money.  These two articles from The New York Times describe The Frick Collection's (in collaboration with several other institutions) ambitious project to digitize over 22 million artworks and how museums are addressing issues of social and cultural importance through interactive art exhibits.  Seeing artworks online through digitization of collections and utilizing social media platforms like Instagram is fantastic, because it allows museums to meet their mission of preserving and sharing art for the public good. It allows visitors from all over the world to experience art while reaching new audiences. But these new endeavors take time and support. If you want to see more work online, then support those institutions and more importantly be an active participant by giving them feedback on the ways you want art to interact with their collections/exhibitions.  Can someone who is photographing their experience at a museum actually be present and take in what they are seeing? The question of photography as a commodity and an intermediary to experiences is as old as the medium. As a classically trained photographer, I think not. Though, the question of best practices for increasing connection through digital means is not just an issue museums and cultural institutions are still figuring out, but one our collective culture is as well as we increasingly live our lives connected on online. I believe there is a way to live in both worlds, we just haven't perfected that way of life quite yet.

3. Photo Archives Are Sleeping Beauties. Pharos Is Their Prince. by Ted Loos, The New York Times; New Messages at Some Museums: Don't Just Look. Do. by Kerry Hannon, The New York Times.

I often get asked by people why museums are so slow to digitize themselves, and alternatively in my own art circles why museums are allowing visitors to interrupt the museum going experience by giving visitors permission to use their mobile phones and Instagram their experiences. To both comments posed above I have a simple answer: time and money. 

These two articles from The New York Times describe The Frick Collection's (in collaboration with several other institutions) ambitious project to digitize over 22 million artworks and how museums are addressing issues of social and cultural importance through interactive art exhibits. 

Seeing artworks online through digitization of collections and utilizing social media platforms like Instagram is fantastic, because it allows museums to meet their mission of preserving and sharing art for the public good. It allows visitors from all over the world to experience art while reaching new audiences. But these new endeavors take time and support. If you want to see more work online, then support those institutions and more importantly be an active participant by giving them feedback on the ways you want art to interact with their collections/exhibitions. 

Can someone who is photographing their experience at a museum actually be present and take in what they are seeing? The question of photography as a commodity and an intermediary to experiences is as old as the medium. As a classically trained photographer, I think not. Though, the question of best practices for increasing connection through digital means is not just an issue museums and cultural institutions are still figuring out, but one our collective culture is as well as we increasingly live our lives connected on online. I believe there is a way to live in both worlds, we just haven't perfected that way of life quite yet.

2. Where else can you show art? on Monocle24's podcast, Culture with Robert Bound. What do you do when the country in which you lives closes the doors to its national museum(s)? Seek alternative spaces.  Going back to my thoughts above about how inspired I am by seeing the increase in art at the community level through pop-up exhibitions and the use of alternative spaces, this episode of Culture with Robert Bound really spoke to how creative people can be out of necessity or want. Connecting further to my points in response to The New York Times articles, I'd like to offer a different perspective that listening to this episode made me reflect on: the opportunities for exchanges of ideas, collaboration and understanding between museums and those working outside of traditional ways of presenting art are endless.  We should be asking: what business practices and opportunities for increasing community connection can museums learn from these alternative spaces? And what can these alternative spaces learn from the seasoned and researched approach museums have to visitor experience? If our collective goal is to increase visibility and connection through the arts, then we need to increase opportunities for collaboration and understanding between both worlds.  Ask yourself: do you think museums are actually snobby and you do not connect with them? Or are you simply intimidated or scared to create your own meaning from looking at a work of art instead of what is presented to you on the label copy? 

2. Where else can you show art? on Monocle24's podcast, Culture with Robert Bound. What do you do when the country in which you lives closes the doors to its national museum(s)? Seek alternative spaces. 

Going back to my thoughts above about how inspired I am by seeing the increase in art at the community level through pop-up exhibitions and the use of alternative spaces, this episode of Culture with Robert Bound really spoke to how creative people can be out of necessity or want.

Connecting further to my points in response to The New York Times articles, I'd like to offer a different perspective that listening to this episode made me reflect on: the opportunities for exchanges of ideas, collaboration and understanding between museums and those working outside of traditional ways of presenting art are endless. 

We should be asking: what business practices and opportunities for increasing community connection can museums learn from these alternative spaces? And what can these alternative spaces learn from the seasoned and researched approach museums have to visitor experience?

If our collective goal is to increase visibility and connection through the arts, then we need to increase opportunities for collaboration and understanding between both worlds. 

Ask yourself: do you think museums are actually snobby and you do not connect with them? Or are you simply intimidated or scared to create your own meaning from looking at a work of art instead of what is presented to you on the label copy? 

Recent Work

I am so pleased to have two major projects I have worked on opening soon. 

Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum

Image courtesy of the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum

1) Chicago History Museum's Inspiring Beauty: Fifty Years of Ebony Fashion Fair opening at The George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum on March 30. 

I was so pleased to be able to bring this important exhibition to my hometown of Washington, DC. Inspiring Beauty is the first-ever exhibition about the Ebony Fashion Fair. It is a story of vision, innovation and power told through the history of Eunice Johnson, co-founder of Johnson Publishing Company, and the prism of iconic fashion from Christian Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent and Patrick Kelly among others. 

NPR did a wonderful piece on the exhibition when it first debuted Chicago History Museum in 2014. 

Image courtesy of Winterthur Museum

Image courtesy of Winterthur Museum

2) Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes opening at Winterthur Museum and Gardens on April 1. 

This is one I am particularly proud of and so happy to have worked alongside art fraud expert Colette Loll again on an exhibition relating to fakes and forgeries in the art world. Collaborating with Linda Eaton and the incredible team at Winterthur was such an incredible honor, not to mention the numerous colleagues in our field who shared their research and scholarship with us so generously. 

Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes exhibits over 40 objects including artwork, couture, silver, sporting memorabilia, wine, musical instruments, antiquities, and stamps along with ceramics, furniture, and folk art, examining how rarity, supply, and desirability can make anything fair game for a clever forger. Featuring several high profile cases and scientific discoveries, the exhibition highlights how evidence and new scientific techniques reveal the truth regarding the authenticity of these items and lends insight to the colorful motives behind why they were created.

Read a review about the exhibition in the Associated Press here

 

Art + Curation Inspiration Board on Pinterest

As a curator and photographer, I love searching for new artists, and ways of displaying artwork. It always inspires me to see how people surround themselves with art. I have been known to rearrange my entire apartment (furniture and artwork) over ten times a year based on what is currently inspiring me, but gathering images also helps me figure out what my clients styles are too. 

When I purchased my first condo in January of this year, I went Pinterest crazy as I sought inspiration for my future home, which is still a work in progress. I recently created a specific board for Art I find online as well as curatorial inspiration. Keep checking back as I continue to add to it!

Upcoming Events: October + November

http://www..instagram.com/lailajadallah

http://www..instagram.com/lailajadallah

I'm off to London and New Delhi today for my work with Art Fraud Insights, LLC. I am excited to have an opportunity to see some incredible art in London and explore Delhi for the first time in between our meetings and work. You can follow me along on my Instagram as I'll be posting as I go along. 

I am sad to miss the launch of Washington Studio School's What If... kick-off and party on Sunday October 30th from 4-6pm. As a member of the Board of Directors I have been participating in the What If... challenge, of doing something creative everyday. I hope you will attend and get to know this wonderful institution and community I am happy to be a part of. 

I will return on Friday November 4, just in time to celebrate FotoWeekDC and attend the opening of the exhibition I had the honor of Jurying at Hillyer Art Space.  The exhibition, FORMAT features artists living across the United States, showing how diverse the medium of photography is, and how many different ways the photography can not only interact with its subject, but also its future audience. 

Opening Friday November 4, 6-9pm | On view through December 18, 2016. 

Opening Friday November 4, 6-9pm | On view through December 18, 2016. 

Later in the month, I will be participating in a wonderful panel, How Photography Influences Cross-Cultural Dialogue alongside O. Louis Mazzatenta, Amalia Pizzardi, and Christine Neptune on Thursday November 17, from 6:30-8:30pm as part of the FotoDC Festivities. RSVP here

On Saturday November 19, I will lead a DIY Digital Pinhole Workshop at Hillyer Art Space from 9:30am - 12pm. The workshop will allow attendees to create modern pinhole cameras, treating our cameras in an analog fashion inspired by the roots of photography and traditional practices, including: how to look at light, frame your subject and how this practice can inspire us to wait for the ‘decisive moment.’ Space is limited to 15 people. Those attending will need to bring their own digital SLR camera, (and tripod and shutter remote if they want but not required). Any photographs taken will not be developed/printed during this workshop. RSVP here

Looking forward to a wonderful few weeks ahead and hope to see you at some of the events!

Laila

Where Do I Start?

Many people ask me, how do I start collecting art? What comes easily to me as a professional whose entire career has involved interacting with the arts in various capacitiesas a gallery assistant, an exhibition manager for museum exhibitions, an artist and curator/art producerit is easy, but for a majority of people it can be intimidating and daunting. 

I am lucky to be surrounded by art and having to look at art everyday for my work. Looking at art is the first step to becoming a collector; visit your local museums, go to gallery openings and artist open studios. There is a popular thought that to look at art, you need to understand it. I disagree with that consensus. Think about looking at art as if you were shopping for clothing, or anything else you may be interested in buying. Often times we buy something because we simply just like it, it looks good on us, we feel good when wearing it and happy when we do it. The same logic can be applied to both looking at and buying art. Go with your gut, view a lot of art, then ask yourself what trends emerge in the style of art you find yourself drawn to and why. 

Working in the museum field for many years, I have a deeper appreciation for art that does not align with the style of works I collect but I have a deep appreciation for the artistic intent, and the larger social and historical meaning of a work after I read about it. You can develop this sense of appreciation with too, but first just simply go look at it and observe. I also continuously read a lot about collecting art, and wanted to share some great sources I have read and listened to recently: 

Most importantly, collecting art and looking at art should not be a stressful process. Start in a approachable fashion and the rest will come along.