Wednesday, February 8, 2017

An Extraordinary Gift from Massillon Museum

An Extraordinary Gift from Massillon Museum (Part I)

By Tom Wachunas

   “All painting, no matter what you are painting, is abstract in that it's got to be organized.”  - David Hockney

   “Abstraction is real, probably more real than nature. I prefer to see with closed eyes.”  - Josef Albers

    Consider this as advance notice of what promises to be a wholly edifying (not to mention ambitious, intriguing, and otherwise very exciting) exhibit at Massillon Museum. Before reading any further, however, I respectfully urge you to click on this link to learn more (then, hopefully, my following comments will make some sense): 

    If nothing else, the above-posted comic strip highlights how some – perhaps many - folks are predisposed to viewing art in a gallery or museum. On the face of it, the idea of listening to a painting might seem antithetical to our assumptions about the visual arts. And yet, consider how often you might say about a work of art, “It speaks to me.” What’s the nature of its voice? How is it that we can indeed sense, with some intentional reflection, that we’ve heard something? In the end, what ultimately contributes to our fully appreciating the content and meaning of an artwork? 

   Our eyes only? Hardly. In the context of looking at art, seeing, in the strictest sense of the word, is but one element of the process. In what I have often called ‘willful looking,’ we must necessarily source multiple components of our existence – physical, cerebral, and spiritual. 

   Granted, we’ve come to depend upon our eyes as a primary conduit for channeling such a realization. In the absence of healthy eyesight, though, what path for embracing the proverbial “art experience” is open to those deprived of it? Meeting that challenge is very much the heart and soul of this upcoming exhibit, so consider it a remarkable gift to the blind or vision-impaired in our midst. But I also think that the interactive, multi-sensory design of the exhibit is a unique reminder to all visitors that art – especially abstract art – can potentially engage our whole being. It’s an invitation to become active participants, which is to say co-creators, with the artist in a shared response to being alive.

   I’ll leave you for the moment with these words from the 20th century Modernist painter, Arshile Gorky: “Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes....Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.”

   The Massillon Museum's spring exhibition, Blind Spot: A Matter of Perception, will open Saturday, February 18, 2017, from 3:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon. Persons with blindness and low vision and their guests will be welcomed at 1:30 p.m. The Massillon Museum member's preview will begin at 2:00 p.m. The free public event will include refreshments inspired by paintings in the exhibition and a performance of specially commissioned music at 4:00 p.m…

   Blind Spot: A Matter of Perception is based on ten abstract paintings from the Massillon Museum's permanent collection by Richard Andres, David Appleman, Julius Faysash, Clare Ferriter, Richard Florsheim, Sherri Hornbrook, Leo Thomas Kissell, Walter Quirt, and Theodoros Stamos. Each painting will be accompanied by a three-dimensional cast aluminum model and a braille label, which all visitors will be invited to touch. Large-print labels will also be displayed. A touchscreen adjacent to each painting will provide an audible description. More than a dozen components will enhance the experience of visiting Blind Spot.

   The Museum has commissioned three students from the Cleveland Institute of Music's Composer Fellowship to each write a piece inspired by one of the paintings in the exhibition. Alex Cooke's composition is based on Celebration by Richard Florsheim; Joseph Tolonen has written a piece based on Abstraction by Walter Quirt; and Qingye Wu used Shoreline by Julius Faysah as inspiration. A Canton Symphony Orchestra quartet will perform their compositions at the exhibition opening.

   Additional exhibition components that guests will encounter at the opening include tactile gallery maps, accessible exhibition design, tactile response artworks created by students at the Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Cincinnati, and low-vision goggles. The exhibition will continue through May 23, 2017, and special programming will be provided throughout its duration.

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