Up and Down

I’ve grown to really enjoy museums in the last few years. As a kid, I visited a place in Bakersfield called “Pioneer Village” which was a weird mélange of natural history and historic site—a complex of buildings and a structure filled with dioramas. When I became a teenager, the “art” museum was my favorite—you had to go to Los Angeles to find those. Now, I’ll stop into any place that claims to offer an interesting viewing experience.

During this last trip, we stopped at several places that made me think heavily about the path one takes through a museum space. Usually, I’ve thought of these places as somewhat “random access” because I seldom march in a line, even when a trail is clearly marked. But after visiting the Henry Ford Estate where the only option was a guided tour, my opinion began to change. My preference now favors a semi-structured theatrical approach. After visiting the Mohammed Ali Center where a visitor is guided along uniquely loose pathway towards an overwhelmingly affirmative message, conventional sites such as the Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame in Nashville seem positively lame. At the most basic level, the paths of the Country Music Museum and the Ali Center are similar—a visitor ascends to the top of the building and works their way down. But in practice, the journey to the top couldn’t be more different.

At the Ali Center, we entered in the “basement” level and had to climb a flight of stairs to get to the ticket area. After purchasing tickets, you proceed to a five-story tall escalator that slowly ascends to the top where you view an orientation film (multimedia, on five screens and impressive as hell). At the Country Music Museum, they volunteer to shoot a picture of you against a green screen (so that you can be superimposed with the country music star of your choice) and then you proceed to a tiny elevator where you are bombarded with canned narration on your trip up. After these preliminaries, you are free to wander down (four floors of exhibits for Ali, two floors for the Country Music Museum) along a more self-selected route.

Last night, I went to the opening of Daniel Corrigan’s Music Photography: The Analog Years at the Mill City Museum here in Minneapolis. The exhibit was a disappointment. He came across as just another journeyman doing a fair job within a traditional genre. Corrigan’s claim to fame is the cover of the Replacements Let it Be album (
“That picture, if it had been up to me, would’ve never been used”). I didn’t’ stick around to hear everything he said—mostly because it made me ill. The short list of peaves includes his suggestion that photographing teenagers in their first band was as rewarding as photographing more talented artists (not in my experience—real passion and sophistication are always more interesting to me than naïve bravado). He also intimated that more photographs were always better than less (as illustrated by the endless slide show in the center of the room), and admitted that he had no real passion for music. His photographs pick two primary perspectives: high and low (a typical journalistic attempt to be “different”). They are, to my eye, not very rewarding except for those with a taste for nostalgia. But given the huge crowd clustered around the T.V. that offered the silent 3,000 slide barrage, the market for nostalgia is booming.

The Mill City Museum was more rewarding. The “Flour Tower” multimedia experience placed the sense of ascent and descent present in the Ali Center and Country and Western Museum in the middle of the museum rather than at entry or exit. A visitor rides up and down in a large freight elevator to view different multimedia presentations projected on stage sets to describe the process of flour manufacture, while listening to the voice of workers during the trip which moves both ways before coming to rest high over the city. It’s well worth the ride. The rattle in your guts from the huge industrial elevator makes the narration come alive in a way that you just don’t get watching T.V. at home.

1 thought on “Up and Down”

  1. Ken and Lydia

    This afternoon I went to the Weinstein Gallery to see the selection of Mapplethorpe photos before it closes. I was surprisingly impressed, both with the exhibition space and the things on the walls. I hadn’t seen any Mapplethorpe prints…

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