Author Archives: Huaiyu Zhang

Museum architecture- A meaningful space within a meaningful space


As museums architectures became part of the urban life, how could we interpret it? What made the museum architectures a meaningful place and how the meaning of the museum architectures changes? This paper is intending to study the meaning of the museum architectures, and how the structures, the spaces, and the urban contexts set up a meaningful environment. By analyzing both the modern museum architectures and compare them with classical architectures, this paper finally concludes that the structures and the space of the museum architectures have meanings while the meaning is changing in modern museum architectures. As part of the urban artifacts, museum architectures’ meaning reside within the urban environments, the cultural and historical backgrounds and modern museums architectures begin to interact with urban life.


Museum architecture is a specific building type that exists for 200 years and became a special place in the history of architecture (Searing Helen, 1982, p.11). Museums are part of the urban life, they are the cultural centers of a city. Museums are places for thinking, education, preserving, and collecting, and their space, their symbolic structures differentiate the architectures from the other constructions. “We have now reach to a point where we see not the art but the space first” (Brian O’Doherty, 1986, p14).

Art museum architecture is often used for preserving, collecting and showing the artworks to the public, while the meaning of the museum gradually changing. Mass education, public interaction and the urban area took part in the museum meanings, while at the same time, a new genre of art appears and differentiate them with the traditional ones. Modern museum architectures, facing the various dimensions and changes, bring new innovations and serve as new spaces to the art world and to the society. And I have two questions to study in this paper: how the meaning of the modern art museum architecture is changing? How the modern art architectures form meanings and how they service for the narrative between the visitors and the artworks? This paper is to study the meaning of museums’ architecture and the meaning created by the space of the museums. The first part introduces how the museums, as architectures, become meaningful by their structures and symbols. The second part introduces the idea of urban artifacts and what role the museums play within the social, cultural, and historical context.

Museum architecture- a meaningful space

When talking about the museum’s architecture, the word “architecture” was taken for granted that almost all of the museum’s buildings can be viewed as architectures. Architecture is a general idea and the broadly used term connects with a museum and it is hard to separate the two things apart. However, “museum architecture” should be much precisely used, and this paper is built on the basis of how to understand the architecture within the context of principles and history. Therefore, the question comes first: what are the architectures? and what is the meaning of museums architectures? Not all of the buildings of museums could be called museum architectures. Architecture is much more than a building or a construction. “The object of architectural attention is precisely the configurational ideas to think with that in the vernacular govern configurational outcomes.” In the book Space Is the Machine (Bill Hillier, 2007), buildings and spaces are configurative, and therefore non-discursive, and they both express the social elements and set up the social ideas. While the process of configuration does not merely follow a single regulation. The process and the constructions of architecture are not only the copies of the same configuration but are more like the process of aspiration and creation, and the dimension of the building is naturally, which is the same as language, solved and handled by the human-beings unconsciously (p.65). Structures and spaces have human ideas inside, and they represent human perceptions and creativity.

Space and time

The arrangement of the objects and utilization of the space mirrored the principle of the human mind and recreated by the designers and curators with their understanding of human activities. Unlike traditional architectures, modern museum architectures, adopt the idea of humanity, mass education and to differentiate from the traditional constructions, representing the common feeling of human and human society, and the idea is especially shown in the shapes of modern art museum, which is: “not only of the differences but also of the universality of humans” (Liane Lefaivre& Alexander Tzonis, 2004, p28).

Geometric Shapes (n.d.). Credited to Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is a representative of modern museum architectures with the popular spiral structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, becoming a symbol of modern art museums. Frank Lloyd Wright’ personal experience and perspective from his childhood gave him the inspiration of the designing and aesthetics (“Geometric Shapes”, n.d.). The meaning of this structure is not only personal but seek to catch the trace of time and space’s moving. Frank Lloyd Wright believed that the spiral space and geometry shape held the meaning of the connection between human and the cosmos. “Geometric forms also held symbolic significance. The circle, he (Frank Lloyd Wright) said, represented infinity” (“Geometric Shapes”, n.d.). “At the end of a particular exhibition, one can simultaneously see the beginning” (Rob Kostka& Helen Searing, 1984, p111). When people walk around the museum, they follow the around walls and see the artworks along the curved, white wall, just like walking along with the flow of time, and sequence of space, and the trace of the art.

Installation view of Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. 2017. Photo: Cathy Carver

Another example would be no further than the Hirshhorn Museum, locating in Washington DC. The shape of the Hirshhorn Museum is quite similar to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Hirshhorn Museum abandoned the heavily decorated model and serious emotion injected to the constructions, trying to express the natural and common sense of human beings and create a special space that is differentiated with traditional museums. Trace back to 1966, the Hirshhorn Museum was designed by the Gordon Bunshaft and the construction was totally different from the traditional ones locating in the National Mall. The idea of Hirshhorn Museum resided within the structure and the exhibition. Mark Bradford, creating the narrative history of the American, created an infinite and circular space by eight installation arts. Mark Bradford combined his personal experience and understanding within the creation of the piled and “loosely ordered” history (Lyric Prince, 2017). The space of Hirshhorn Museum offers a space for the art to organize and construct the history. When the visitors walk around the space and view the artworks, the space with no light, forming a circular, let the visitors forget the time and appreciating the stories. The creation of time and space has the power for conceptual participation, which explained by the Stephen Alexander Wischer: “…the symbolic potential of architecture seems dependent upon its ability to persuade participation with perception, and with it, an essential act of translation.” (Jonathan, Suzanne& Laura, 2012, p136) The conceptual experience comes from the sensitivity to sense, the sense of the idea unhinged from the objectivity and rooted in human minds. The conceptual experience was provided from the shape of the modern art museum and it is hard to capture or measure, but it comes from the perception of human ideas and creativity and the inner sense of aesthetic and nature.

The skylights

Besides the shape of the museum architecture, the roof of the construction also indicates how the museum can form a special environment for the artworks and the visitors. The skylight of modern museums is changing, and the structure represents as different symbols and therefore transit various meanings. In modern art museums, the meaning of light is hard to unify, and the symbolic meaning tends to be blurry. First, eschewing from being injected by a specific meaning, skylights of modern architectures are more functional. Second, the diversity of public functional institutions makes modern museums preserve multiple genres, ideas, and voices. Third, the meaning of the roof or skylight did not hold specific meanings but take part in the artworks.

Interior of the dome, Cathedral, Florence. Wikimedia Commons. Photo: Peter K Burian

In classical constructions, light from the skylight can represent heaven, forming a connection between “a human connection to the location of spiritual, if not physical, permanence” (Lance La Vine, 2001). The light passes through the small circle on the dome of the construction and is regarded as the symbol of the center, the power, the connection with heaven, and the universe. Lots of museums architectures have domes. National Gallery of Art, for example, has a traditional classic style and the dome was designed as part of the neo-classical architecture. The dome of the west building of the National Gallery of Art services as the center of the gallery, as part of the symmetrical construction, connecting two curved skylights on both the east and west sides, letting natural light pour into the space of the architecture. The partition on the skylight transfer the nature sunshine into a soft and blurry light that saturates inside the whole space and the gallery follows the principle of creating a still, silence and regulated environment for the arts. The whole environment of the museum is unified and motionless. The west building with the classical interior garden, fountain, triangle square, demo, and the pillar, composing a traditional housing for the traditional artworks, creating a meaningful place which is sacred, serious, and unreachable.

Dome of West building. Wikimedia Commons. Photo: HillmanHan

National Gallery of Art DC. Wikimedia Commons. Photo: Gryffindor

In modern museums, the designing of the skylight makes differences in a way that light does not come from the center of the roof, but the skylight integrates with the whole construction. The east building of the National Gallery of Art is totally different in the designing of the skylight. Designed by the I. M. Pei, the building has a sharp and unsymmetrical shape, declaiming its personality and independence. The roof is specially designed for the large and open space for the modern artworks. The roof of the building was composed of two parts: the skylight and the scaled glasses structures. The skylight was opaque and does not shade the natural light, while at the same time, the structure let the light “slip around a smooth surface” (J. Carter Brown, 1991) and smoothly pour into the museum’s space, moving and flowing into the large interior of the building. Light is moving inside the east building, so how to capture the light’s moving? When I visited the museum, I took a picture under the skylight. When the visitors were walking across the bridge, their shadow is reflected on the wall and pass through the shadow of the trees, and the natural light becomes visible. There no central light seam pass through the top of the dome, the light comes everywhere, and the whole environment changed to be free, open, and bright. The light becomes interactive and moving, which gives space for self-consciousness and self-reflection.

The oculus of the Guggenheim Museum in NYC. (n.d.). Credited to Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s skylight is more central and enclosed by a circle space. There may be some people criticize that natural light will influence the audience appreciating the artworks. However, the open light, at the same time, offers a different experience, it let the audience “confronted with a multitude of ways of viewing the art” (Searing Helen, 1982). The white cube has white walls as well as the still artworks, and even the visitors keep silent when they appreciate the arts, while the large opaque skylight of Guggenheim Museum allows the participation of natural light. It introduces the movement and interaction of natural light to the museum space. The natural light and skylight also participate artworks and they become part of the artworks. For example, Danh Vo’s exhibition in the Guggenheim Museum utilized the nature light and represented a totally different feeling. “…unites the experience of the exhibition with daily and seasonal cycles while underscoring the interdependence of the objects on display…” (Ashley Mendelsohn, 2018). The light became part of the exhibition, and the museum, not only provided a space for the artworks inside but took part in the artworks and became part of the artworks. Even though there is no physical center in the modern art museum, the center of the whole architecture resides in somewhere inner and invisible, environmental and conceptual.

Museum architecture- within a meaningful space

The meaning of architecture resides within the urban context. Go back to the symbolic meaning of the museum architecture, Michaela argues that the museum architecture resides in the urban context, and within the historical and cultural background (Michaela Giebelhausen, 2003). “The painting is not an isolated image or artefact but has been part of a century of dialogic interpretations over multiple contexts of reception” (Martin Irvine, 2018, p21). And architecture is the same as artworks, they are urban artifacts and urban artworks with historical and social context. More than that, the urban environment is fulfilled by the museums. the institutions not only become part of the city but represent the city. The museum architectures enrich the urban space structure with its aesthetic representation and functions for education and researching. Museum architectures have connections with the social community, representing the value of the world or the values of the respective communities (Jonathan, Suzanne& Laura, 2012, p120), serving as a place for the narrative of thinking and communicating.

Museum architectures hold meanings for and from history. How could people sometime recognize a museum architecture as a museum? As talked before, the special historical architecture can always stand out from the surrounding buildings by the special designed symbolic structures, such as domes, stone pillars, large skylights, and abstract structures. Sometimes, we can easily find out the building is belonging to which historical period. History is context and museums represent it. “The context is amazing. There’s no way you can be here and not think about governance, there’s no way you cannot think about the foundations of the United States of America. Sometimes the context is so great, the work comes naturally out of it” (Sadie Dingfelder, 2017). The history of the cities was kept and reflected by the museums. The east building of the National Gallery of Art represents the transformation of the capital’ architecture style. Before the building was designed, whether remaining in the “monumentality” or embrace the modernism became a challenge and I. M. Pei considered to combine the urban context into the designing process. Finally, the modern art museum combined modernism with the capital city’s structure. Not only the building fits the area, but also the city lives inside the building and is represented by this building (Anthony Alofsin& National Gallery of Art (U.S.), 2009).

The urban environment is enriched by the museums. Over 200 years, American museums have become a space for mass education, and the space of the museums, inside or outside the constructions, are opened to the public. During March 22ed to May 20th, 2012, Doug Aitken created a 360-degree screen cinema, which is named SONG 1, enveloping the Hirshhorn Museum. Covered by the images, the museum became an urban artifact and “disappears completely into the content of the artwork”, changing as a more interactive, more integrated, and less isolated public space. The museums are going outside and take part in urban life and took part in the process of changing city space.


“…the features of this new structure are seen coming inside as well as the inside features going outside. This integration yields a nobility of quality and the strength of simplicity…” (Frank Lloyd Wright, as cited in Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1960).

The museum architectures have meanings and they also reside in a meaningful space. First, the meaning of the museum architectures forms when people create space, building structures and principles, and it resides within the regulation of designing and utilizing, and reside within the symbols representing the idea of people and society. Modern art architectures are more tolerant and inclusive. As new genres spur out and they require for a space in the art world, modern art architectures open the entry for the new genres. The style of modern art museums does not stick to the classical symbols by adopting structures, shapes, and materials that are different from the classical architectures.

Second, architecture has meanings when it was viewed under the context of historical, cultural and social background. The architecture itself is creativity and the process of designing architectures is a process following the human’s perception and regulation, and it reflects the idea and sense of human beings. Designers find the common part of the human and inject the ideas into architectures, and that is why architectures can reflect social elements and take part in the human society, became part of the urban area and part of people’s daily life. Modern architectures are urban artifacts and they begin to interact with people, artworks, and the cities. They are not only buildings for collecting and preserving artworks but serve as a space for human interaction, communication, and sharing ideas.


Searing, H. (1982). New American art museums. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hillier, B. (2007). Space is the machine. Space Syntax: London. Space Syntax. Retrieved from

O’Doherty, B. (1986). Inside the white cube: the ideology of the gallery space. Retrieved from:

Lefaivre, L., & Tzonis, A. (2004). The emergence of modern architecture : a documentary history from 1000 to 1810 . London ;: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group. Retrieved from:

Geometric Shapes. (n.d). Retrieved from:

Untitled illustration of the shape of Guggenheim Museum [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Kostka, R., & Searing, H. (1984). New American Art Museums. Leonardo, 17(4).

Prince, L. (2017, December 29). Mark Bradford Reimagines “Pickett’s Charge” to Include New Voices. Retrieved from

Hale, J., Hourston Hanks, L., & Macleod, S. (2012). Museum making: narratives, architectures, exhibitions (1st ed.). Abingdon, Oxon [England]: Routledge.

Vine, L. (2001). Mechanics and Meaning in Architecture. University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved from:

Brown, J. (1991). The Designing of the National Gallery of Art’s East Building. Studies in the History of Art, 30, 278–295.

Mendelsohn, A. (2018, April 19). Artist Danh Vo Opens the Oculus, the Guggenheim’s Iconic Skylight. Retrieved May 3, 2019, from

Untitled illustration of the oculus [Photograph]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Giebelhausen, M. (2003). The architecture of the museum: symbolic structures, urban contexts. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Irvine, M. (2018). Introduction to a Peircean Visual Semiotics: De-Blackboxing Meaning-Making in Art and Visual Media:

Alofsin, A. (2009). A modernist museum in perspective: the East Building, National Gallery of Art . Washington [D.C: National Gallery of Art.

Installation view of Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 2017.Courtesy of the artist and Hauser& Wirth. Photo: Cathy Carver. Retrieved from

Dingfelder. S. (2017). Artist Mark Bradford explains his Hirshhorn remix of a Civil War painting. Retrieved from:

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum : architect : Frank Lloyd Wright. (1960). New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation ; Horizon Press.

File: Interior of the dome, Cathedral, Florence (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore).jpg. (2017, June 30). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 06:30, May 3, 2019 from,_Cathedral,_Florence_(Cattedrale_di_Santa_Maria_del_Fiore).jpg&oldid=249781344.

File: Dome of East building.jpg. (2017, October 12). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 06:32, May 3, 2019 from

File: National Gallery of Art DC 2007i.jpg. (2014, March 17). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 06:40, May 3, 2019 from

Untitled illustration of the Song1 [Photograph]. (n.d.).

Online interface, a new space? or just an extension?

What is the value of physical museums? What if the online museum could replace the offline museum? When talked about the physical museums, the first thing came into my mind is education. One of the most important functions of the museum, not only for the museums in the U.S but the museums around the world, are set for mass education and spreading knowledge. Instead of persevered as private collections, art and historical pieces became national treasures and the meanings of the pieces also were transmitted by the museums to the public. However, the trend of transmitting did not stop at the point when the treasures could be viewed inside a public space, but it was developed to online education. Now, the art and historical pieces could be viewed by anyone at anywhere. The educational function of the museums spread and developed by the new technology and anyone can have a close look at the art pieces online. Online museums largely enlarge the scale of worldwide visitors.

However, showing pictures, or setting up a “platform” for artworks, did not match the entire goal of mass education. Museums’ functions for collections, preservations, and interpretations are much more than a collection of pictures.  Even though web design assist curators introduce and interpret the context of historical or art pieces, the process of interpreting and arranging artworks in a specific space is different from online interpretation. When viewing artworks online, users’ view and thoughts were all limited within a screen and all of the visual space and pictures are 2D instead of 3D. At the same time, the environment of viewing artworks is totally different, texts are all shown in a page or a paragraph, designers’ logic and thoughts are inevitably rooted in the websites, and therefore, users’ have little space for exploring and wondering. For example, when I walk around in space, I can explore the art and history and follow my thoughts, finding something interesting and go back to another space and find connections. However, when I view artworks online, my thoughts will be interrupted by the time spent on controlling the mouse and the navigations of the websites.

The online collection forms a new process of learning and interpretation. With the enlargement of the online collection, I have the same question that whether the interpretation would be different if all the artworks will be viewed online before visitors view it in a museum. When visitors get “familiarity with reproductions”, how could they interpret the artworks when they see the original one? Would they focus more on the size, the frame, or the width of the artworks? or will they put more emphasis on the meaning of the artwork? If an artwork was copied precisely that even a crack could be seen when the visitors stand in front of it, will the viewers be surprised at the size of the artwork is only 2′ 6″ x 1′ 9″?

screenshot of Mona Lisa

I believe that online museums will never take the place of physical museums. Even though multimedia experience enriches the online experience, people are addicted to the original pieces. Reproductions are replicative, and the original pieces are irreplaceable and special, even though without physical space of the museums, the original pieces hold historical meanings and values by themselves.


  1. Mona Lisa.jpg, retrieved from
  2. Kim Beil, “Seeing Syntax: Google Art Project and the Twenty-First-Century Period Eye.” Afterimage 40, no. 4 (February 1, 2013): 22–27.
  3. Nancy Proctor, “The Google Art Project.” Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2, 2011.

Experience in Hirshhorn Museum

Zhe Lu and Huaiyu Zhang

Museum used to be thought as a family sepulchers of artworks

According to the reading, in the history of museum, ideal viewer such as Proust takes museum as a “family sepulchers” of artworks. The paintings there were described as being “put to death”. The soft version of this extreme statement is what Baudelaire and Manet held: they believed what museum doing is collecting the artistic memory. Both statements viewed not only museum, but also implied the role of painting. Once upon a time, art museum gathered no more than classic paintings and sculptures. The artworks carry the aesthetics meaning, but also have the function of recording or reification of some ideology. Genres as landscape, portraiture, still life and historic events are all a condensation of certain time. Under the religion theme, the work also tries to narrate tales as a telling truth story. All the practical function of artworks impressed viewers as something static: past congeal in the works. History and creating context could be shown in the details. That is why the museum serves as mediation between public and history: not only the artistic history, but also a reference to a certain period. Thus, museum, also reanimate the artworks, by bringing them back to the public attention. No matter “reanimation” or “sepulchers”, the interaction between museum and artworks is weak.

Installation Artworks and the Museum Space

However, the installation art is another story. When seeing the installation art last week, we feel deeply that the strong interactions exist not only between audiences and artwork, but also between museum and artwork/museum and audience. Museum participated in the relationship as an indispensable factor, not just a replaceable medium. The Hirshhorn Museum has a special environment, both the environment inside and the environment where the architecture located in is designed for its own purpose. The environment of the museum is like the context of symbolic meanings, and it forms the context of how curators and designers interpret their artworks and set up the background for the visitors to understand the artworks.

The Mark Bradford’s artwork relies on the unique space: the inner-circle building provides enough length for the giant frame of the work. It is created based on the context, therefore, the door to the inner-space on this level is naturally avoided. The distance between the wall and window (the diameter of the annulus) is perfect for viewing the full scene of those paintings. Similarly, the space of museum also impressed me deeply in the exhibition What absence is made of. When viewing the installation work Safe Conduct, the dark lighting, surrounding sound and empty room all foiled the quirky and detached atmosphere, makes the whole installation standing out. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s work also benefit by its interaction with museum space. The continuous cambered wall became a natural medium of his work. When the fingerprints and water waves was projected on the huge wall, the shocking visual effect really leads the audience to believe the power of pulse. The circle space makes the lights square stretching into endless in our point of view, immersing the individual in the dazzling sight created by himself/herself. If the room is a square like many other museums, the experience will be limited. Besides, the interaction presented by the museum uniquely emphasizes the function of museum as an interface. We related to the artworks not only in the gazing. There is no more division between object and subject, cause we are part of the artwork, and the artwork is the extension of us.

Space and the Sense of Time

What we found more interesting about the Pickett’s Charge and the Pulse series is that both of the two exhibitions, installed within the round construction of the Hirshhorn Museum, expressing a different sense of time, and therefore producing a contrast with the “static” artwork as we talked before. The first exhibition shows a linear or sequential time, while, the second exhibition record both the linear and the multisequential time of the visitors’ interactivities.

For Mark Bradford’s exhibition, the environment the museum and the artist created set up a series of story and history. The abstraction reminds me of the Rothko room in the Phillips Collection. With the shape of a cube, the Rothko room form an environment of still and self-reflection, and the time of the Rothko room seems stopped when I walked into it. However, Mark Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge was installed on the round wall of the Hirshhorn Museum. To view the whole series, visitors need to walk alongside the wall and see each piece individually. But the process did not become fragment or broken but composed a linear storytelling experience, and the round installation consisted the infinite time, just like “historical cycles”, representing “historical cycles emerge anew”, and serve for “unity and continuity”.

Both the museum and the new media technique are mediums, and both of them are part of the exhibition and compose the context of the artworks. For the Pulse series, the linear time was recorded by the photos of the fingerprint, the data recorded by the interfaces, and the multisequential time was represented by the bulbs and the water wave. Visitors participated in the environment by “specific activity.” In the room for Pulse Index, each participants’ fingerprint was recorded by a photo and the photos are shown on the large screen, consisting of a community, a timeline formed by the visitors. However, in the Pulse Room and Pulse Tank show the multisequential timeline because, for each time of interactivity, the water and the bulbs compose a different artwork. The artwork seems never finished before the last participant’s interactivity.


  1. Evelyn Hankins and Stephane Aquin, Mark Bradford, Pickett’s Charge (Washington, DC and New Haven: Hirshhorn Museum and Yale University Press, 2018).
  2. Foster, Hal. “Archives of Modern Art.” October 99 (2002).
  3. Janet Murray, Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.
  4. Julie H. Reiss, From Margin to Center: The Spaces of Installation Art (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000).

New media- inside or outside the museums

The media of conveying arts is mass. When I studied advertising, I remember one of the features of advertising was its artistic value. When I read technology articles in the magazine, I saw writers described MacBook as an artwork. When I saw the English version of a Chinese military treatise, it was translated as The Art of War, which is totally different from the book’s original name. In advertising, by combing the core idea of the product with mv or posters, adman uses those art form to persuade and please customers “to take pleasure in the act of mediation” (Jay David Bolter &Richard Grusin, 2000). In the magazine, authors regarded the MacBook as art because the laptop was well designed both aesthetically and technically. In the translating of The Art of War, the translator expressed his understanding and appreciation of the book and hope to show the meaning and value of the ancient military strategies. It seems that when people talk about art, the word “art” could cover anything, and art is much more than aesthetics or historical value, but anything presenting a meaning, or an impressive feeling can be viewed as “art” or the media or art. Art is everywhere, and it can adapt to many kinds of mediation.

Put art in the perspective of art and art history, the meaning of “artwork” and the media of arts might be much more serious, and the artworks require a special context to frame their meaning and value. Museums’ space has institutional functions for appreciating the artworks. They offer timeline, interpretation, creating space for retaining the original or historical state of artworks, and reproducing the environment or atmosphere to show the meaning of artworks. As new media began to reproduce the artworks from 3D to 2D, the mediation of artworks changed, and the context for housing the artworks changed from spatial environment digital and online environment. I want to discuss the new media outside and inside the museum, which have different meanings to both the artworks and the public.

For new media outside the museum, the discussion is based on whether the media is used for mass education or popularization. For mass education, here comes to the same question: “How the mass-mediated images serve the museum function?” (Martin Irvine) Today’s technology still not able to imitate the whole function of the physical museum. Even though the database of digital collections of the museums provides part of the copy of artworks, the presence of the artworks is still limited by the technologies, it is hard to copy the brushstroke or frame or details that could only be viewed under the light. However, when talked about popularization, things become different. No matter the metapainting of Mores'(Martin Irvine) or the education idea of museums (Edward P. Alexander &Mary Alexander), a museum is not only the place for showing wealthy or collections but has the function for mass education. In my perspective, new media came in this process and enrich the environment of popularization and offered much easier access to museums’ functions of mass education. For example, VAN GOGH ALIVE, a multi-sensory exhibition about artworks of Van Gogh, shows more than 3,000 images but has no real artwork of Van Gogh. This is indeed a process of producing a new media art instead of copying or replicating the original artworks, and even though set in a large space, the exhibition itself cannot replace the museum meaning or imitate the educational function of physical museums, while the exhibition set easier access for the public to appreciate Van Gogh’s artworks by using multi-sensory techniques to attract the public and popularize the art.


For the new media inside the museum, new media itself become part of the museum, it also works with mediational function. Lots of museums combine space with new media reproduction. Space is unmovable and still, while, the new media can show the visitors with videos or textual interpretations, fulfilling the multi-sense experience as well as giving more information about the artworks. For example, one of my favorite combination of new media and museum space is the smart guide of Casa Batlló. Since Gaudi used animals as prototypes for the decorations and furniture in Casa Batlló, the smart guide show which elements in the building are designed by referring animals and how to recognize the shape and how to appreciate the flow of design of the building.



Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

Bohrer, Frederick. “PhotographicPerspectives: Photography and the Institutional Formation of Art History.” In Art History and Its Institutions: Foundations of a Discipline, edited by Elizabeth Mansfield. London; New York: Routledge, 2002.

Martin Irvine, “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art”.

Edward P. Alexander and Mary Alexander, Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums, Second Edition (Mountain Creek, CA; London, UK: Altamira Press, 2007).


Casa Batlló:


Norman Rockwell- not only the photograph

The paintings I chose for the discussion are the works of Norman Rockwell. When I first saw Norman Rockwell’s work 10 years ago, I was impressed by the sense of humor and bright details contained in his painting. His painting depicted the daily life and culture of American. He used the projector and took photos of normal people, and then he used those photos to create posters and paintings. Even though people in his paintings look stylistic and comic, the figures in his paintings seldom came from his imaginary but come from “carefully orchestrated” elements that captured by the camera (Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, n.d.). Norman Rockwell used optical techniques to show the image and trace the image projected from the photo (A Story in a Frame— Norman Rockwell’s Techniques,n.d. ) and thus he could precisely record the movement and the emotion of people. However, even though he recorded from the photos, his painting is not only limited to the photograph. He sometimes created the paintings by combining and referencing several photos. He also added his imagination into his art, with more details, figures, and even perspectives, and therefore, his paintings could overcome the limitation of the camera and create scenarios of meaningful content. There is a series of pictures about Norman Rockwell’s painting (Norman Rockwell: Behind the Cameran.d. ).








Reference photo and magazine cover ( Norman Rockwell, 1958)

For example, in the painting Little Girl Observing Lovers on a Train, the referenced photo showed a little girl staring at a man, and there is no couple, the girl’s emotion is not clear, and viewers cannot figure out her feelings. While in his painting, he depicted a girl staring at a couple and she seems curious and confusing. The scenario became much more humorous and dramatic and much more meaningful with details added by the painter. Another painting of Rockwell is The Connoisseur. Initially, I thought this might be a metapainting, and he copied the painting of Jackson Pollock. However, in this painting, he did not copy Pollock’s work but used Pollock’s way of painting creating a similar one. Then, he combined the man in the painting with the abstract painting and finished the final painting (Norman Rockwell Museum, n.d.).







Reference photo and Little Girl Observing Lovers on a Train ( Norman Rockwell,1944)

The Connoisseur ( Norman Rockwell,1961)

In painting, the painter’s emotion and skills are the most important and traditional academic painting genre put great emphasis on painters’ sense of perspective, feelings, and expressions. In the process of 3D to 2D, the technology of precisely copying and recoding could be a tool for assisting painting, but preciseness is not the aim of painting but a way of expressing painters’ idea and feelings. In Norman Rockwell’s painting, he utilized the photograph and projectors for recording people’s movement, emotion, and gestures. The technology of the photograph offered him detailed elements of the painting. However, he created the context of the paintings and without his creation of the meaningful context, his painting cannot express the in depth feeling and ideas of him.


Norman Rockwell Museum (n.d.). Retrieved from:

TIME (n.d.).Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera. Retrieved from:,29307,1943059_2005737,00.html

Norman Rockwell Museum (n.d.).Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera. Retrieved from:

Norman Rockwell Museum (n.d.).A Story in a Frame— Norman Rockwell’s Techniques. Retrieved from:

Norman Rockwell Magazine Cover 1958 Saturday Evening Post Cover The Runaway Norman Rockwell Ideas. Retrieved from:


How I understand Modern Art

Modern Art period is long period and the content of modern art is very complicate because art in the modern period not only heritage from the classical art, but there were so many genres generated from the dynamic period, from impressionism to the Abstraction. However, what define “Modern Art” and why define an artwork as Impressionism, Realism, Post Impressionism, or other genres? Initially, I thought Modern Art must be “modern” and must be far different from classical art, however, after knowing more about the history of Modern Art and by using the method of semiotics, I found that Modern Art is not only defined by the skills, techniques, or materials of paintings, but also defined by the ideas and thoughts of a period that artists who begun embracing freedom, inherence, and feelings. The artworks and artists of the Modern Art period from a dialogic situation and differentiate the period with other periods of art history.

Before the impressionism, Realism in the 19th century is the mainstream of art and painting, and even though it reflected the reality of society and industrial life, what I found about Realism still heritage the skills and technique of classical art, while it adopted real life and depicted the original life of people and the Industrial Revolution. Photography was invented and assisted the classical art in many aspects, including learning on perspective and locomotion (Laurie Schneider Adams, 2011). However, if photography could do the same thing as the artist, what is the meaning of art in the context of history and real life?

Starting from Impressionism, the artist chose to depict moments by adding the understanding and feeling of artists themselves. During the visiting in the National Gallery of Art, I saw a series of picture draw by Manet. His early paintings were not realism, but it is also not the same as other paintings of Impressionism. Manet adopted both Realism and Impressionism style in his early painting life, the figures in his paintings are not romantic or ideal but show the normal shapes and moments, and at the same time, show the artist’s “individual freedom”. His later works showed more features of Impressionism by using blurring and depicting “slice of life”. I also found that his paintings have something common with Renoir’s paintings. Both of the artists created an environment of an endless surrounding within the limited canvas and showed the imagination of artists. Monet’s famous paintings depict more about the environment and create more about the feelings, the shift of lights and passing time. Manet combines realism with Impressionism, while Monet seems to adopt more elements of Impressionism in his artworks and his paintings developed the Impressionism and were used to represent the Impressionism as an individual genre.

Moreover, Monet also utilized the feature of brush and color to create abstraction. Explicit depiction of objects is a way to judge the skills of an artist, however, Monet did not want to show the skills of painting but showed his ideas and feelings within a painting. I read the introduction of the Birth of Abstraction in the National Gallery of Art, and it is said that “paintings that were no longer pictures of the visible world but just…paintings”. Even though Abstraction was thought to generate from the 20th century, Monet and other artists who lived in the earlier period might influence later artists and art genres by the idea of replacing objects, the idea of expressing the artists’ feelings, and the spirit of revolution in arts.

Art cannot be understood without its context and history. At first glance, some artworks might be considered as drafts or unskilled sketches because there was no painting skills or technique shown in the artworks. However, “Art is not a ‘profession'” (H. H. Arnason &Elizabeth C. Mansfield, 2012). If an artwork were put within the context of meaning, it could construct a dialogue between the audience and the artists and express the meaning of it.


Introduction of the Birth of Abstraction. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

H. H. Arnason and Elizabeth C. Mansfield. History of Modern Art. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Excerpts.

Laurie Schneider Adams, A History of Western Art. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Excerpts.

Prof. Irvine, “Framing an Interface for Modern Art and Modernism”

How to understand an artwork or art from the aspect of semiotics?

When I see the introduction of this course, what interested me is studying the artworks from the aspects of semiotics. The readings introduce two models of the sign, and by explaining and combining the two models, I have a basic sense of what semiotics is, and the case study of Van Gogh assist in understanding how to understand an artwork in a semiotics way. I have three questions about art and semiotics.

  1. How artworks embody the previous interpretations and interpretants and how the past interpretation influences it’s meaning today.

For Peirce, interpretant is not interpretation but the sense of the sign, and it has three levels: immediate interpretant, dynamical interpretant, and final or normal interpretant. In the first level, people understand or interpret the artworks by the appearance- the painting strokes, the frame, the material, the genre. However, the artworks are not only the artwork themselves, but like the vehicles for meaning, and therefore, people interpret artifacts as signs by understanding culture background, previous interpretations, and the contexts artworks exist. But why and how the artworks have meanings? How artifacts, such as Mona Lisa,Napoleon Crossing the Alps,The Fifer,Sunflowers, could become “masterpiece” or the treasure of a nation or even worldwide? How to understand the principle and meaning of how the museums select, collect and preserve the artifacts?

  1. How an artwork become meaningful with the elements or symbols on it?

Words or letters do not have value or meanings, and it is the value of words. Elements of artworks, in my perspective, do not have the value, but the combination of different elements make the value, dialogues, and meanings. There are lots of symbols or elements in artworks, such as ravens, cats, mirrors, snakes… what are those elements stand for? How could the combination of those elements make the painting meaningful? How people understand or have a sense of the meaning of the paintings when they see those symbols?








  1. How an artwork or artworks combine the three types of signs? How interpreters interpret artworks for the museums’ visitors?

There are three types or modes of the sign: symbol, icon, and index. The icon is the most motivated sign because it is not so conventional, not that determined by restricted symbolic, and do not need a common agreement of the meanings. However, even though artworks are iconic signs and do not require “learning of an agreed convention”,  they have specific meanings in the context of culture, history, and society, and require words to interpret them. Therefore, how to use language, a symbolic sign, to interpret artwork, and how to use symbols and languages to assist people to understand the artworks or limit visitors’ meaningless imagination? I saw lots of labels, books, introductions for the artworks in museums, are they useful or helpful for the visitors to understand the meaning of the artworks?


  1. Goya. (1787–1788). Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga[Oil on canvas].The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
  2. Martin Irvine, Introduction to Visual Semiotics.
  3. Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. Excerpts.

Week2- Museum interface and space

Art and Media Interfaced – Week2- Post

Huaiyu Zhang

This post talks about the space of the Phillips Collection and my perspective of the exhibitions ‘space. In the first part, this post talks about the museum’s history and as an interface, it’s historical and institutional functions. The second part talks about what I found about the exhibition space when I visited the museum and combined with the readings, what I learned about the interpretation of the museums’ space.

The museum is the interface of artifacts in two aspects. The first is that museum is an art and cultural space has institutional functions, and the second one is the museum itself is an interface, with exhibitions in it and providing a system of the meaning of the collections in it. The Phillips Collection is an interface of the art institution. The Phillips Collection itself is a historical institution with an accumulation of art collection and the building itself, is the witness of its history. When I visited the museum, I found that the Phillip Museum has two spaces, the new gallery house, and the old family house, and the two spaces separate and connect the idea of collections and different styles of arts. During the visiting, the family house, with small rooms and traditional decors, did not look like a gallery, but as a book of a collection, and what interesting is that the new gallery also heritage the tradition of the family house. It did not differentiate with the old house but designed with small rooms and the traditional atmosphere, even with a fireplace, and the two buildings felt like a whole institution, showing the idea of the collections and its history, and forms special space for the art collections. A museum is also a place that preserves and collects arts and shows the “psychological weight which reinforces the predominance of the support” (Buren, 1985). By browsing the website of the Phillips Collection, there are introductions of the history of the collections and why the collector chose the painting instead of the others and it is better for understanding the idea and design of the exhibitions.

During the visit, what I like is the space and arrangement of the collection, it not only creates a space for the paintings but also makes a context of the dialog. Compared to the exhibitions in large museums such as the MET or some national galleries, Phillips Collections is much more like an exquisitely carved artifact. Each room is arranged with selected artifacts of the owners, expressing the tradition and the ideas of the collectors. In the music room, the room was covered by wood-paneled walls on the front side, and the two paintings of Piet Mondrian hung on the wall. The comparison of the color the wood and the white space makes me focus on the painting without too much disruption from outside. With the comparison of the colors, the painting seems nor expend to the surroundings but go deep inside to the white space within the frame. When walking through the music room to the dining room, I saw three paintings of Piet Mondrian, with different styles, especially the comparison of Painting No. 9 and the Self- Portrait. When I was standing in front of the Self- Portrait which is Impressionism and looked back, I could see the Painting No. 9 far away on the wall of the music hall, which is Neo-Plasticism. Those two paintings both come from Piet Mondrian but form such a difference by the connection and the placement of two private rooms, creating the collision of the capture of a momentary of light and memory with the infinite imagination of spaces and elements. It is something like a discussion or a dialog between the Neo-Plasticism and the Impressionism, and this arrangement forms a context of comparison.

Painting No. 9 and the dining room

“Things become arts in a space where powerful ideas about arts focus on them”(O’Doherty, 1999). Even though the family house, to some extent, influence the understanding of the Piet Mondrian paintings, the Phillips Collection offers white and rigorous space to focus, without the influence of outside meanings and feelings. The Rothko Room is a space for wondering and creating an atmosphere for feeling the paintings. The paintings have no frame, no absolute limit, and no psychological container, but the room set up space, such like a frame, for the paintings, and the artist, and it is, therefore, set up the context of feeling the art. I thought each person have different feelings when they walk or sit in the room. However, the limited space of the room and bench form an environment of letting people immerse and saturate in it, and at the same time, can observe the details of the original paintings. The light of The Rothko Room is not so bright or so dim, so when I sit on the bench, the three paintings seems like forming a space of infinity. However, when I stood up and walk around the space, I could see the details of the paintings. There are small bright spots on the green pigment just like shining stars, and the original form of some dry pigment stick on the surface. The rough and random edge of the three paintings seems to transfer to the surroundings. The frame is unlimited, but the room offers a limited place and forms an infinite frame for the visitors to appreciate the work of the arts.


[1].  O’Doherty, B. (1999). Chapter One. In E. Editor (Ed.), Inside the white cube: The ideology of the gallery space. Berkeley: University of California Press. Retrieved from:

[2]. Daniel Buren. (1985).In E. Editor (Ed.), Function of the Museum. In Theories of Contemporary Art. Retrieved from: