Category Archives: Group Projects

A Hirshorn Discussion

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.


As we learned from Professor Irvine, a museum can be what is called an “interpretive container” for the artwork, and the museum and place in which the artwork is place plays as much of an important role as the artwork itself does when up for interpretation. As we looked at and discussed the importance of the Hirshorn as a “container” for Mark Bradford’s installation piece, it was noted that this specific work couldn’t be just peeled off the wall and placed somewhere else. It was meant for the Hirshorn, meant to be glued and configured in a type of way that was supposed to push the audience to interpret what certain aspects of the artwork means.


Since the work was installed on a curvature, and encases almost a whole floor of the museum, the idea is to go along the work, taking in every piece of material used, and try to not only understand why Bradford did what he did, but why we are viewing it in this way. Was the piece meant that this specific war in which he enlarged the photos and then tore it up, lengthy to show the extent of the war? Or perhaps he wanted to create an ongoing piece that contained much of the same materials throughout, but expressed how the suffering and toil that slaves had to go through was a long and treacherous journey to freedom?


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.


To continue on this, the interactive rooms within the Hirshorn allow not only for constant continuity, and this idea of never being finished with a work of art, but also putting the art back into the audiences hands. Without interaction, there would be no work, right? So what is an artwork without its audience to interpret it? These are questions that continue to plague us when it comes to interactive art, especially within museums. With a traditional work of art say take, Rothko’s piece, there are multiple ways in which the audience can pick and prod at what the point of the piece is. However, with the Pulse Room, this interactive side brings in more of these nuanced questions. We beg the answer; Is the Pulse Room and the Lightshow Room examples of art if they are not being used for their intended purpose?


Work Referenced:

Foster, Hal. “Archives of Modern Art.” October 99 (2002)


Evelyn Hankins and Stephane Aquin, Mark Bradford, Pickett’s Charge (Washington, DC and New Haven: Hirshhorn Museum and Yale University Press, 2018)

Evelyn Hankins and Stephane Aquin, Mark Bradford, Pickett’s Charge (Washington, DC and New Haven: Hirshhorn Museum and Yale University Press, 2018).

Janet Murray, Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Julie H. Reiss, From Margin to Center: The Spaces of Installation Art (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000).

How we understand Morse

Group Members: Huaiyu Zhang, Zhe Lu, Mary Margaret Ewens

How we understand Morse- from his lifetime of religion and science:

Samuel Morse’s idea of painting reflects his idea of politics and religions, which can distinctly be shown in the theme, figures, and structures he choses, which are features that are directly shown on the paintings that people can interpret from the images. From an early age, Samuel Morse’s upbringing was stalwart in his preacher fathers values in both Calvinism and Federalism. After studying religion and science at Yale, Morse studied painting, where his childhood upbringing shone through into his artistic works. After traveling abroad to England to study art further, Morse became increasingly influenced by anti-Federalist ideals, and began producing works that emulated a more politically minded rather than religiously minded tone and tended more towards a belief  in democratic nationalism.

One can compare these various degrees of change in beliefs to the artwork that was created in each period of Morse’s growing thought. In an early work, Landing of the Pilgrims, critics have often noted the use of plain clothing, a nod to Morse’s Puritan background, whereas compared to what is noted to be one of his most well-known works, Dying Hercules, which shows an anti-sympathetic tone towards the Federalist party his father grew up idolizing. Comparing the two, you can see a clear divide both in time and thought, as Morse’s mind was being opened up to a completely different world of thought than the bubble he grew up knowing. Another Morse painting,  The House of Representatives, which will be discussed below, shows how he expressed his willingness to depict a scene of America features.

Within The House of Representatives and the Gallery of the Louvre, Morse used camera obscura to assist him. Gillespie-Morse-and-Mechanical-Reproduction indicates that Morse’s “utilization of technology did not represent his pursuit of technology, but his emphasis on the development of new innovations and use the painting methods to participate and express it.” The idea of using technology for painting also helps him to generate the idea of portrait photograph by combing the new technology with intelligent painting skills. The combination of new technology with human intelligence generates some special features for the painting.”

What we found about after last week’s visit is the technology for painting The House of Representatives makes this painting did not look like normal paintings drawing a situation or a scene. First, the figures in this painting were recorded by the technology instead of painters’ memory or imagination. So, the gestures of the people in this painting were a little bit strange because in a painters’ view, almost all the people showing their faces in the same direction. There is a certain amount of detail paid to the subjects faces, and you can see many of them looking in the same direction, because as stated before, the painting was originally cast from a photograph that Morse used with his camera obscura.The colors and details of both the outfits and architecture within the space moreover adds to the realism that can be noted within Morse’s later works. There is much more pomp being paid to the overall subject, a complete opposite idea to Morse’s former Puritan way of painting in his earlier years.

Second, this painting tends to record a historical moment in an interesting and ideal way. Instead of creating a serious or strict environment, Morse depicted the painting in an ideal way that Morse wanted it to be, instead of reality.

As Irvine’s article said, the interface function of art could be seen as another kind of “transmitting ideas and communicating through distance”, shares similar ability with telegraph. When Morse considered the material appears in his painting, he is encoding. And when the audience at his time or nowadays view the painting, we are decoding the meaning. The Meta Painting was an even more similar work. When using telegraph, people need to separate the word into letters, and encode. The receiver then decodes every letter, and combine them together to make it meaningful. Similarly, after preparing every interior painting, Morse worked on Gallery of the Louvre. And to fully understand what Morse wanted to convey, we need to recognize the artworks inside it.


How we understand Morse- from the perspective of media interface:

For us, the failure of Morse’s artist career was regretful yet understandable. When viewing The House of Representatives, we approve the painting technique in it. But the work was hardly seen as outstanding, and failed to stir up emotion. Comparing it to Thomas Cole’s Course of Empire, the latter is a more impressive historical epic painting. Course of Empire is more narrative, containing a whole progress of the empire’s vicissitude. The intensive contradiction in this series gives its viewer a huge shock.

From my perspective, Morse gave up creating this viewing experience for his audience, because he took the painting as something more than a simple picture, but as an interface. He hoped his work could be an interface between the audience and the distant place they couldn’t achieve. Also, the painting should make the audience inspired by the tantalizing, idealistic ideology Morse believed in. He erased all the less polite politicians and the intensive arguments happening in the House of Representatives, and gave up presenting the real and impactive history moments. Instead, he chose to show a grand building, with peaceful, elegant and rational gentlemen working here. What Morse is able to capture is that through his interface, he allows the viewer to peer into the inner workings of democracy, and by using the camera to originally capture the expressions and movements of the people, it creates a realistic view of democracy. There is no friviality added to it to make it seem more exciting or opulent, but rather he chooses to show the viewer exactly how he preserved a specific moment in time. This brings together both his realistic style for painting with his interest and knack for bringing the scientific realm into his works, to create a work that was yes, short of many people’s expectations, but one that continues to show the bridge of reality between technology and art.

For now, the painting also serves as an interface for us and that particular history. The painting itself is not strong enough, for it didn’t record the truth honestly. But by analyzing what was accept and what was rejected in the painting, we could feel the social contradiction and context at that time concretely.

The Gallery of the Louvre also carries the function of interface. Although Morse was still working as a painter at that time, we can see how the work combining many aspects of his later roles. He believes the painting could be an interface between American public and the brilliant European art legacy, by which he actually realized the educational function of public museum nowadays. This, also forecasts the foundation of his school of design. In this way, Morse’s choice of interior paintings is not the same as the exhibition. He also accept and reject parts the reality intentionally, to make the “code” he made contains the meaning he admire. Although he used camera obscura to help his work,by embracing the technology, Morse is not pursuing the resemblance, but took Art as a way to express his abstract idea and value.



  1. Wikipedia contributors. (2019, January 22). Samuel Morse. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:42, February 7, 2019, from
  2. Cash, Sarah, ed. Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Washington, DC: Corcoran Gallery of Art; Hudson Hills Press, 2011. Excerpts.
  3. Sarah Kate Gillespie, “Morse and ‘Mechanical Imitation.’” In Samuel F. B. Morse’s “Gallery of the Louvre” and the Art of Invention, edited by Peter John Brownlee, 100–109. New Haven: Yale University Press and Terra Foundation, 2014.
  4. Martin Irvine, “From Samuel Morse to the Google Art Project: Metamedia, and Art Interfaces.”



A Talk with Morse

Group: Fred Ji & Yutong Zhang

  • Metapainting/Metamedia

I was very much fascinated by the concept of “metapainting” while looking at Morse’ artworks–House of Representatives and Gallery of the Louvre. Have the scenes depicted in these paintings really took place in history? Or are they wholly based on the imagination of the artist? If so, could this be a common practice routinely executed in the process of creating metapaintings: to transcribe the images from your brain–not from what they’ve witnessed–to the canvas? In that sense, metapaining is not merely a collection of simple interfaces, but also the reprint of the artist’s highly idealized world. In the world of House of Representatives, each member of the Congress seems to be focusing their own task and yet gathering in the same room with one single unified purpose in mind–to represent the people from their district and to serve their country, which perfectly embodies the moral of E Pluribus Unum–the very motto that speaks of the union between the states and the federal government in order to form a single entity, manifesting this country’s constant struggle between national versus group identity, group versus individual rights and multiculturalism.

This reminds me of the famous The School of Athens–a masterpiece that brings together the most brilliant minds from ancient Greece. It certainly depicts a scene that never took place in real life, but Raphael communicates the ideas by visualizing his imaginations on each individual historical figures then aggregating these fragments into one organic, wholesome piece. The message behind these artworks is, of course, open for interpretation, but it is certainly interesting to see the artist has all the individual elements at his disposal to compose an expansive and yet intricate setting.

  • Technology and Art (Photography and Painting)

It is hard to really pay attention to those miniature photos in the National Portrait Gallery if you are just normal visitors without an explicit intention to explore more about them. People may just quickly walk through the corridor, glancing at the black and white photos for a few seconds, and then be attracted by other bigger artworks hung on the wall. Honestly, I would also do the same thing if I hadn’t done the assigned preparation reading before the visit, or if I were not on a field trip guided by Professor Irvine.  With the knowledge that Samual Morse himself might be the first American to view a daguerreotype first-hand and to bring it to the United States, it is interesting to see Morse’s own portrait photo inclu ded in this group of photos, which reflect the diversity of American intellectual and cultural life during Lincoln’s presidency.

Morse’s use of camera obscura to assist his painting is a perfect example of the combination of his passion for mimetic reproductive technology and his love for art. According to Gillespie, Morse used camera obscura to obtain the interior view of the building and then reproduced the perspective in canvas. Also. he used camera obscura to copy old masterpieces and then reproduced them in his painting Gallery of the Louvre. He believed that the technology of photography as a medium could assist painters and help them study the perspective, the light, and shadow from nature. I highly admire such a thought that technology can also serve art. When we talk about technology, we usually come to the conception that technology is anything but art, forgetting that technology and art are not excluded from each other. The technological change not only contributed to the Age of Steam, Electricity or Information but also expanded artists’ horizons,.improved their skills and stimulated their creativity. According to the brochure A New Look. Samuel F. B. Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre, Morse used thin layers of translucent mixtures of oil and pigment to achieve the richness of coloring when painting Gallery of the Louvre, which also can be regarded as a technical experiment. Morse’s case indicates that different technologies as media are involved in the art production process.

I also thought we should acknowledge the importance of being in the setting of a liberal arts program could potentially expose you to the endless amount of possibilities for future exploration on either natural science/technological inventions or politics/performing arts. It simply highlights the very concept of interdisciplinarity that brought all of us together at CCT. The problem, as many of us might have encountered navigating through graduate school, is how to identify the thread that anchors/unifies our interest against all the important matters that we would like to study? For Morse, it was using symbolic media for encoding the transmission of meaning–and transmitting representations through time and across distances, as people now are probably more familiar with the concept of cultural representation and reproductions. 

  • Context and Artwork

The reception change of Morse’s The House of Representatives shows how specific social and cultural context influence the status and popularity of an artwork. Morse’s artwork House of Representatives was initially not as a big success as Morse expected. However, it was eventually included in the Corcoran’s private collection and then by the National Gallery of Art. Historical context changes may explain such a leap.

When he started working on House of Representatives in 1822, about ten years after the Second War for American Independence, the art climate in the United States didn’t have a preference in historical painting. Also, Morse placed his political nostalgia in the painting rather than capture the true chaotic scene of Congress at that time. In reality, including the congressmen from distant rural states threatened the leadership of the eastern states, while in Morse’s painting the Congress remained harmonious and courteous, reflecting his political idealism and his “claiming the superiority of the old ruling class.” However, the weel of the history kept going and neglected his intention of civilizing the Congress. The historical background may be the reason that his House of Representatives was not recognized at that time.

When Corcoran’s collection bought The House of Representatives in 1911, nearly 90 years passed after this painting was finished, the social context also changed. Corcoran’s purchase strategy shifted from the old European taste to contemporary American paintings with the intention of encouraging American genius Also, because Corcoran’s collection was competing with other museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was ambitious in mounting special exhibitions. Lots of artworks were collected by purchasing or gifting, including Morse’s  The House of Representatives. At this time, considering the social context, this painting was probably endowed with the educational value and was related to the democracy in the new era or the national pride.


Sarah Kate Gillespie, “Morse and ‘Mechanical Imitation.’” In Samuel F. B. Morse’s “Gallery of the Louvre” and the Art of Invention, edited by Peter John Brownlee, 100–109. New Haven: Yale University Press and Terra Foundation, 2014.

Cash, Sarah, ed. Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Washington, DC: Corcoran Gallery of Art; Hudson Hills Press, 2011. Excerpts.

Martin Irvine, “From Samuel Morse to the Google Art Project: Metamedia, and Art Interfaces.”

Reviewing on Samuel Morse’s artwork

Group: Banruo Xiao & Siheng Zhu

Being an artist and a creator of the standard telegraphy technology

In the context of his age, Samuel Morse’s artworks did not comply with the mainstreaming style, romanticism. His meta-painting style, with the help of camera obscura, makes his artwork like a magazine layout, which composing the people and the paintings together in one page with no obvious personal emotion.

Morse gives his own definition of art, “A picture then is not merely a copy of any work of Nature, it is constructed on the principles of nature. While its parts are copies of natural objects, the whole work is an artificial arrangement of them.” Sarah Kate Gillespie gives a more precise comment on his artworks, “Like a telegraphic message, these painting each contain mechanically transcribed parts that were assembled into a complete whole.” Probably that is the reason why Samuel Morse later created Morse code instead of continuing working on art.

Both the artworks and the code, from Morse’s point of view, are merely a medium conveying message or starting a communication. The medium is less important than the content hiding in it. And the most important thing is how to let two people stay on the same page when reading the same section of code or the same piece of artwork. It is easy to achieve the goal for Morse code as long as establishing a standard for code interpretation. However, it is hard to do it in the painting, which can explain why Samuel Morse never becomes a successful artist at his age.

From ‘The House of Representatives’ to ‘Gallery of the Louvre’

As one of his earlier meta-painting pieces, ‘The House of Representatives’ featured an original scene of representatives preparing for a meeting; a peaceful, cooperative, and democratic scene that aimed to show the central ideal of America. Besides, if one looks closely to every character in this painting, every one of them seems to be an individual portrait of themselves. However, the major ‘flaw’ of this meta-portrait may lie here, since there is not much life-like expression or interactions in this painting, thus lead to a rather ‘dull’ scene.

His later work, ‘Gallery of the Louvre’ during the 1830s is also an interface of transmitting his ideas. However, instead of using portraits of people, he emphasized more on famous paintings in the Louvre. His use of camera obscura, as well as meticulous sketching and re-producing these artworks, has made this meta-painting a masterpiece of high precision. Also different from other artists such as Zoffany of the late 18 century, Morse’s meta-painting features a more ‘democratic’ view of the museum, instead of showing off wealth and prestige of the rich.


Morse’s life, as pointed out by professor Irvine, is a pursuit of “encoding and transmitting meaning.” Both of his paintings mentioned above are his attempt to “encode” his value of American Democracy and transmit it to the public. Many of the recent technologies such as the Google Art Project and numerous other museum interfaces seem to be the technical extensions of Morse’s meta-media idea.


Great Success is Built on Failure

Group: Samantha Bedell and Andrea Xu

  • House of Representatives 1822
    • Metapainting with portraits
    • Unusual the figures are not making eye contact with one another, instead they’re looking at the viewer. This gesture is similar to the other portraits in the gallery space
    • Uses two types of imitation in the painting, mechanical and intellectual
  • Created Gallery of the Louvre painting nearly ten years later in 1831
    • Metapainting, instead with paintings
    • More technologically advanced than HOR, the camera obscura and inspiration of the telegraph are clearly evident. The telegraph is meant to spread knowledge, and this painting is serving as the interface to cultural knowledge
  • Financial failure of both paintings lead him to abandon the arts, and pursue his scientific endeavors, like the telegraph, and eventually bringing daguerrotypes to the US
  • Ironic that HOR has gained so much recognition and popularity today, when he was unable to sell the painting in his lifetime. His inability to sell the work lead the way to his other scientific endeavors