HFJ 4[0]: A retrospective

Yesterday, I celebrated the Johnson’s fortieth birthday by opening popcorn bags, experiencing the joy of being retweeted by a genuine institution (okay, so I may have had an in there, but still), and really wishing that I had not spent most of the week researching 70s slang in preparation for this retro shindig. (I cannot, it seems, “dig it.”)

Of course, it’s a little hard for me to process the significance of this event–after all, I’m half the museum’s age, and I’ve only known of its existence for the past four years. I first visited the museum during Orientation Week for an event that definitely used the word “classy” more than once in its description. Drawn to that adjective like Marty McFly to a 4×4, I glammed it up and hoped my hallmates and I could navigate back to Balch in the dark once the evening was over.

I then proceeded to take really bad pictures because I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to photograph the art or not. (In case you’re wondering, it is okay as long as you’re not in a temporary exhibition!)

To paraphrase the anonymous narrator of nearly every Land Before Time sequel, the world was a different place back then. The New Wing wouldn’t be completely constructed for another year, and, as a result, the Asian art pieces were all jammed together on the second floor. The gorgeous fifth floor–which architect I.M. Pei originally envisioned as a student lounge–housed a handful of offices instead of some of the oldest works in the museum’s collection.

I didn’t spend too much time in the galleries before heading up to the sixth floor to track down the mini-cupcakes, but I do remember being particularly enthralled by Edwin Dickinson’s Woodland Scene. It was installed by itself on a large wall on the first floor, intimidating anyone who dared approach it–and no piece that has replaced Woodland Scene since its move up to the American galleries has ever looked quite so stunning in that spot.

Because what freshman could resist this kind of gloomy Romanticism, right?

After that undoubtedly classy night, I didn’t visit the museum again until the fateful afternoon when I randomly stopped by the student docent info session.

Fast forward about a year, and I’ve magically just been hired as the Adult & Community Programs intern for the 2011-2012 season.

2010 may have been the year we made contact (OR DID WE?), but for the Johnson, 2011 was the real beginning of an era. In early 2011, the Asian galleries conquered the fifth floor, creating an awe-inspiring celebration of the Johnson’s very fine Asian art collection. That August, I spent a blissfully short time in the dungeon-like old education offices before all of my colleagues and I were switched over to a much airier space in the New Wing with a lovely view of the new Morgan Japanese Garden.

It was also a fantastic year for visiting exhibitions. My favorite Johnson Museum exhibition of all time is/was Demonic Divine, an exhibition organized by the Rubin Museum focusing on wrathful deities in sacred Himalayan art. Honorable mention goes to The New and Unknown World: Art, Exploration, and Trade in the Dutch Golden Age, where I learned, among other things, that dendrochronology is kind of the coolest thing ever. Another runner-up is Memory and the Photographic Image from the spring of 2012, where I discovered Margaret Bourke-White, a photojournalist, Cornellian and one of my biggest inspirations since.

Here’s an image she took in 1926 (from the Johnson’s LunaInsight database). Can you place where on campus it was taken?

I’ve continued to learn from the modern and contemporary pieces in the permanent collection as well. Hey, I tend to think a piece is dull unless it was made at least a thousand years ago, but even though it’s my goal in life to get non-Western “ancient artifacts” more generally accepted as genuine works of art in the scholarly community, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for those pieces that do have the privilege of immediately being classified as “fine art.”

To tone down my pompous, quasi-scholarly tone for a minute, let me add that I discovered that I TOTALLY love Andy Goldsworthy during my time at the Johnson too. Honestly, I’m in love with all earthworks artists. How could you possibly create a cooler genre than that?

So, to recap: Johnson Museum, I’m honestly more shocked that I’ve known you for going-on-four-years than that you’ve been around for forty. That’s a fifth of my life spent giving tours, taking notes, and facing the impossible task of cleaning up sequins after a family event. And, trust me, for someone who hasn’t quite reached your age yet, that’s also a long time.

But I’m going to stop there. Better leave and continue my weekend reading of The Monuments Men before this escalates into a sappy “I can’t believe I’m a senior” post (and perhaps also see if I can recreate those mini-cupcakes).

1 Comment

  1. “Drawn to that adjective like Marty McFly to a 4×4” 🙂

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