So on Friday afternoon, my friend and I made our way over to the University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA) here at UMass. It’s been on our to-do lists for awhile, and so when the opportunity arose after lunch, we made our way over to the Fine Arts Center (FAC) to stop in.
According to its brochure, UMCA is the “only university-affiliated public art museum in Western Massachusetts devoted to national and international contemporary art.” The museum is REALLY small, especially in context with the size of the FAC’s building. It also appeared really empty on the inside – I’m not sure if that’s because the museum has limited collections on display, or if it simply doesn’t have the space for large collections, but it was a surprise.
The UMCA currently has two in-house exhibits: Walid Raad’s “Postface,” and specially-curated “The Art of Collecting.” Both of these exhibits are only here for the rest of the semester (in case you were thinking about visiting.) Both exhibits were fascinating – “Postface” combined ideas of Islamic art with an exploration of tradition and the disaster; “The Art of Collecting” was a display of innovation in printing from donations by Risa Gerrig (a UMass alumna.)
As my friend and I walked around the exhibits, we started talking about how art – especially contemporary art – is hard to decipher. It’s a curator’s job to create a narrative and to help visitors experience pieces of work – but it’s a visitor’s job to continue building off of those ideas to make their own interpretations.
So, we took it upon ourselves to do just that, in the form of discussion. Instead of reading the placards first, we made our way through the two exhibits by making up our own critiques of the artwork. What did we get out the painting? What did the color changes in the video portion of Raad’s display mean? What emotions did the work evoke? What did we like about it? What didn’t we like? After generating a few comments, we’d read the placard and continue our conversation from there. We worked our way around the rooms
For me, our two minutes or so with each work were so much more fascinating than if we hadn’t done so. Being the only visitors to the museum, we were free to talk out loud and have a quality conversation about what we were looking at. It made the artwork and the experience personal – and it was fun to imagine wacky and fantastical explanations for what was going in the piece. But it also helped me develop some quality artistic critique – I started seeing what the narratives and ideas presented in the exhibits were getting at. It made me feel inspired, it kept my attention, and it was exciting. It really made the experience for me. By the end of the visit, I no longer felt that I was intruding by misinterpreting the work presented. My friend and I had created an exhibit all our own.