Good Life Tour of the Harn Museum Charles Wilson

This Spark story illustrates my visit to the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art. While there, I experienced artwork that was moving in both obvious and subtle ways. The selection below describes several works and places that related to artistic medium, museum design, core values, and the Good Life itself.
El Anatsui: Old Man's Cloth (2003)

This work, Old Man's Cloth, was created by contemporary artist El Anatsui. From a distance, it appears to be an opulent, color tapestry fit for royalty, however, a closer glance reveals a fascinating truth about its medium. Though it strongly resembles rich kente cloth, it is actually composed of recycled bottle tops strung together by wire. This interesting choice by El Anatsui for this piece is intended to communicate the impoverished state of African nations, a condition brought about by colonialism and commercialism that used Africa's resources to make products such as the very bottles hanging on the wall. This work's unique medium creates a sense of motion and color that I found intriguing. Not to mention, I once saw this work in an art history class, so I know first-hand what its like to see an art piece on a computer and then in person. What struck me most about this work when I saw it in person was the rough and messy way the metal held together up close, which contrasts with its regal appearance from far away. Additionally, its folding shape represents only one possible position out of many it has had while on display in other places. These attributes convey a strong sense of strength and adaptability, qualities that have come to represent post-colonial Africa.

David A. Cofrin Asian Art Wing

All of the wings and exhibits in the Harn Museum, I found the Asian Wing to be the most visually and spatially appealing. The very layout of the room, beginning with the massive entry way, conveys a powerful sense of openness. Its wide floor plan and wall-to-wall windows have an ingenious way of filling the room with natural light and spreading it around. I was almost taken aback when I walked inside because the previous exhibits were claustrophobic and artificially lit. Another quality that I found agreeable was the minimalist approach to art display. As can be seen in the picture above, a lot of the works reside in the room itself, rather than trapped in display cases. This creates a refreshing feeling of closeness and contact with the art that is lost when more precious pieces are separated from the viewer by small, constricting cases. Overall, I just considered this wing to be an interesting place to dwell in for a few minutes at least.

William Morris Hunt: Florida Landscape (1875)

A landscape oil painting such as this one is not typically considered a deeply moving piece of art. The medium is dreadfully familiar and it usually does not try and convey any important messages or themes. However, one thing it shapes powerfully is mood and tone, and these qualities resonated with me when I first laid eyes on the painting. Something I enjoy about seeing landscape art, especially when painted, is that it seems to capture the world in a single moment. It displays life as it is now, or as it was before, and succeeds in its own way at preserving a memory or experience from the unrelenting force of time. What I felt in this picture was melancholy. Through the sunset and flowing river, it seemed to convey the constant changes of life, as well as its inevitable end. A value I hold very dear is enjoying the beauty of the present before it leaves for good and I feel like this picture unintentionally communicated the mellow sadness I feel when things change. I grow older, I go to college, family members pass away, the river goes ever forward. To sum it up, I just enjoyed the peaceful window of feeling that I could find meaning in.

Sebastiao Salgado: Cast of thousands, Serra Pelada, Brazil (1986)

The powerful effect of this Gelatin silver print comes from the sheer magnitude of what is occurring within it. Thousands upon thousands of people in Serra Pelada desperately search for gold. The feeling of urgency and desire is almost tangible when viewing the piece, and these attributes coincide with the concept of seeking the good life. The good life tends to vary from person to person. For some people, it takes the form of family, for others it is achievement, and for others still, it is wealth and prestige. However, the odds are that most people in that chaotic pit aren't seeking with greed in their hearts. What I saw was many individuals, each trying to scrape up a tiny sliver of good fortune. They want something to make them happy, or at the very least, satisfied. We don't all seek the good life in the depths of a giant mine like the people in this work, but the feeling of desire and desperation for a little contentment is universal. This artwork embodied vividly that yearning that comes with an unending pursuit. Similar to those thousands of miners, we struggle in situations we don't always enjoy, working towards goals we are not certain can be fulfilled. It is a bitter cry, or at least a wake-up call, to the true nature of seeking the elusive good life.


Created with images by BotheredByBees - "plasticine labyrinth" • Hans - "wood painted rods"

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