Art, Movement and Space


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After walking through the five rooms that comprised the Vermeer exhibit, I left feeling incomplete. The exhibit was largely focused on Vermeer’s competitors and those who influenced the 17th century dutch artist, with little attention on the artist himself and his works. Yet looking again through National Gallery of Art’s brochure, the exhibition’s website and Connect Vermeer (an interactive website dedicated to Vermeer and his contemporaries), the end-goal of the exhibition became a little bit more clearer to me. Such different forms of media presented by the museum provides an interface to observe a 17th century painter through a 21st century lens.

As Professor Irvine aptly states in our last class, interfaces are access points to a system of meaning , providing one with a method for asking questions where discovering “meaning” largely refers to “cultural meanings.” From an anthropological standpoint, I was able to better understand the relationship between Vermeer and his contemporaries by looking at the visitors of the exhibit. I observed the way they moved around the exhibit, in a circular way, reminding me of the way priests or monks circumambulate around churches as a form of prayer and devotion. The people are devoting their time and energy for such an exhibit to find meaning in the nine kinds of genre themes laid out by the exhibit’s curators. Some people walked across the room to look at two paintings side by side, whereas others followed the regular path of the exhibit. Others turned left at an entrance of a new room whereas some turned right. They created pathways that charted the way they interpreted the exhibit.

I sat down to take note of all these observations on various groups of peoples’ trajectories in the exhibit. It also got me thinking of space and the concept of space. Why the curators set up the exhibit in such a way? What ways did they incorporated various forms of media in all of the five rooms? Why did they do so? I believe that the physical space of the exhibit adds to the conceptual meaning of the exhibit, where such an intersection also forms a new interface, an interpretive apparatus that creates a touchstone for the viewer to think about art, genre painting and the connections or dissonances among Vermeer and his contemporaries.