Wednesday, April 30, 2008

But Wait—There's More!

I just got back from the Museum of Contemporary Art and thought I'd share a few photos. I was particularly taken with the roof, with its incredible views and tiered garden. I also loved David Altmejd's mirrored room, complete with large-scale sculptural works crafted in reflective surfaces. The pictures of that didn't come out that well...

Thanks for Coming!

My second AAM Annual Meeting is nearly complete, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Four-plus days of total immersion with colleagues from across the country and around the world made for a rewarding, enlightening and exhilarating experience. My heartfelt thanks for all those who came to Denver and created such a wonderful atmosphere.

The greatest thing about working in this field is the fabulous people you meet. I talked to hundreds of interesting, committed people these past four days and have learned from each one. The insights we gathered in Denver will likely inform the coming year for AAM and better enable us to serve all of you.

Now, next week all of us at AAM will begin planning and thinking about next year's meeting in Philadelphia. I hope all of you can join us there. Come and find me; I'll be the tall guy with the beard.

The Fierce, Vulnerable Power of Imagination

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon strode onto the stage to give his keynote speech on Wednesday--jeans, black jacket, slight case of bed head, scruffy beard. Museums, he said, are to him a kind of imaginative space. He then spent the rest of his time on an eloquent essay/harangue about childhood: how the woods behind his house, though tame and urban, still held “unfathomable shadows” at night and how he freely ranged the “topography of childhood” on his bicycle.

He bemoaned that his was “the last generation of children that adults left alone,” offering several metaphors for, and illustrations of, the mental regimentation and orthodoxy that today’s kids face. Chuck E. Cheeses and the like are “jolly internment centers,” planned by adults; children ride bikes “armed as if for battle.”

Forms of children’s entertainment—and parents—should not be “unctuous butlers of the imagination,” he contended. Kids need “a gap, a small, enchanted precinct of adult disapproval, the deep, furtive pleasure of annoying one’s father.” All sports are now organized, kids treat-or-treat in school gyms and letting one’s children play in the streets invites abductions. We need, he argued, a line between a child’s world and an adult’s.

Chabon never mentioned museums again after his opening lines. I assumed his point was that museums can help give kids ammunition—information, ideas, experiences—for their imaginations. As two colleagues swifter than I am pointed out, though, he may also have been issuing museums a warning: Remember to give kids room for their imaginations to roam free.--Leah Arroyo

Because It Was There

The bus ride up into the foothills of the Rockies would have been enough. But two amazing experiences awaited those of us who went to Tuesday's evening event at the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum.

The first thing we saw when we entered--well, not the first thing; the museum store is always the first thing--was a gray climbing wall, 50 feet high. A fake vertical cliff, basically, with handholds and footholds conveniently placed. Lines quickly formed. Now, I have a fear of heights, but I went over to the bunny-slope line anyway. And do you know I went up that faux mountain like Spider-Man? Cheers rang out from below, as they had anytime anyone made it.

The other treat: Jake Norton--who has successfully climbed Mt. Everest not once but twice--gave a riveting talk, complete with videos, about the trip up Everest in which he and his team found the body of a legendary English climber who vanished in a landslide near the top in 1924 (we'll never know if he made it). The evening showed me all over again how museums can introduce you to new worlds and excite you about ones you'll probably never see.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Kids Again

Attendees were not bouncing off the walls at tonight's evening event at the Children's Museum of Denver. They were stuck to them. Once partygoers literally tore themselves away from the Velcro wall, they were spotted roping a steer, playing with blacklit bubbles, donning bunny costumes and boarding a fire truck—once they were done with their mac and cheese. The 2008 AAM Annual Meeting: Bringing out the adult in all of us.

Now, THAT'S Outdoor Art

The sculpture garden at the Museum of Outdoor Arts includes African artworks and bold modern works by Patrick Dougherty, but the overriding theme at Monday's evening bash was Lewis Carroll. To get to the reception area, we walked past a series of bronzes by Henry Marinsky portraying famous scenes from Alice in Wonderland: the Caterpillar confronting Alice from atop his mushroom, complete with hookah; the Mad Hatter's tea party; the imperious Queen of Hearts scowling down her nose. Real people in appropriate costumes played croquet. Over the loudspeaker, Grace Slick commanded us to go ask Alice. Even the water bottles read "Drink Me." You gotta love a literate water bottle.

But nothing could compare with the walk back through the sculpture garden once the sun began to set over the snow-capped Rockies. The modern art did its best to compete: Kaleidoscopic images were projected onto huge white globes; brightly colored lights flickered across geometric shapes. But guests who'd been hustling back to their buses stopped, stepped out onto the lawn and, in silence together, watched Denver's greatest art exhibition, on permanent display.

For the Folks at Home

Here are a few random pictures from MuseumExpo. I'm not a great photographer, but I thought those of you who couldn't make it would like a taste of what's going on here in Denver.