It's starting to look like deferring the internship a year would be a good idea. Now I just need to find a clear, concise (yet still enthusiastic) way to phrase my email to my would-be supervisor, in which I'll ask for the deferral and briefly explain why.
If I can manage this, I will feel relieved -- which is a sign, I think, that it is the right decision.
(If he says no can do, expect more angsting.)
I am also going to track down and see if this book is worth reading.
Work has been tiring this week. Partly it's been the frustration of dealing with interruptions, partly being short on sleep. I'm grateful that I have some flexibility in when I show up at work (any time before 10am is okay, so long as I work my full eight hours) but I'm not doing so well on the going-to-bed side of the equation. I should get out of the habit of doing crosswords in bed before sleep; it makes it hard to go to sleep without them, even when I've stayed up past my bedtime and my eyes are crossing from sleepiness.
The whole internship thing is wearing me out too in its quiet way. I am beginning to lean towards the advice of those who recommend asking for a year's deferral, even as I simultaneously send in a reservation fee for one of my housing options (maybe I can ask to defer it, too). Dorothea's point about it being hard to think big when one's financial situation is shaky is dead on. A year's grace would be good, in that I'd be able to set aside a decent nest egg if I work at it, and if I can't muster the discipline to save that money, it'd be a good indication that I don't care enough about the endeavor to pursue it.
On the other hand, I'm afraid of asking for the deferral and risking losing the opportunity entirely. Perhaps I should contact my would-be supervisor and explain the situation to him? Would this be smart, or annoying, or downright stupid?
Perhaps a slow year would be a good thing. Most creatures that metamorphose into different forms do so while resting, quietly, in a small space without outside demands. Why would I be different?
Mingei International Museum
Featuring "arts of the people," or mingei, art that "shares a direct simplicity and reflects a joy in making, by hand, useful objects that are satisfying to the human spirit." Organized around the idea that "Through the universal language of line, form and color, mingei speaks eloquently of the similarities and distinctions of individuals and cultures."
George Nakashima, Woodworker -- A Retrospective -- Complemented by Paintings and Drawings by His Friend, Ben Shahn
November 23 - May 30, 2004
Origami Masterworks -- Innovative Forms of the Art of Paperfolding
September 28 - January 18, 2004
Mingei of Japan -- The Legacy of Its Founders: Soetsu Yanagi, Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai
June 26 - January 2004
Heirlooms of the Future -- Art of Contemporary American Designer Craftsmen
June 10 - January, 2004
When I went to the Mingei, I had its current origami exhibit in mind. The publicity pictures I'd seen of some of the offerings were striking and, knowing a small bit about origami myself (mostly how hard it is) I wanted to see how the art form fared in the hands of master paper-folders.
I found both the exhibit and the Mingei overall to be beautiful but frustrating.
Partly this is a matter of philosophy. The Mingei is an institution dedicated to the celebration -- even veneration -- of handicrafts elevated to the finest refinement of design and form. As such it tends to remove objects from their historical and cultural contexts in order to display them as pure forms. Me, I prefer to know where the object came from, the conditions under which it was made and used, and so on. The Mingei's exhibits not only presume that the observer is uninterested in these things, but tend to discourage such interest.
Labels are sparing in their information and often hard to locate. The most informative of them list the artist, the materials, the details of acquisition and ownership and the title of the object. For a few exhibits there is an overview panel providing background, but with one exception (the Nakashima exhibit) these panels are no more than a paragraph in length. Their function seems to be simply to introduce the exhibit, not to educate the visitor in the larger significance of the exhibit's objects. In the origami exhibit, only a few lines served to introduce the visitor to the art form. Nothing about the complexity of the folds involved, or the type of paper used, or the shifting trends in the field was offered ? there were a few European artists, for example, and a clear divide between abstract and representational objects, that begged further explanation. (There is somewhat more information about the exhibits in the online descriptions, and presumably in the books about them.)
In other words, the Mingei tends to functions more like a gallery than a didactic museum.
Did it succeed on its own terms, then? In a mixed fashion. The layout of the Mingei is one of open space divided by oddly shaped walls along the edges and unusable space in the very center (taken up by a sort of lobby on the ground floor and an open space looking down on it from the upper). Sightlines are provocative; very few exhibits are isolated from the others and interesting juxtapositions are not only possible but at times seem deliberate. The lighting is subtle but effective -- a particularly nice touch (both from aesthetic and conservation perspectives) is the use of rice-paper blinds. The overall effect is one of space and movement and light.
Unfortunately, that effect dissolves when one begins to actually move through the exhibits, particularly those on the north side of the upper floor. Here the layout becomes more intimate -- or, in the worst cases, cramped and labyrinthine. In the "Heirlooms" exhibit, the visitor has to pick a path among a range of glass cases containing ceramics, edge around textiles strung floor to ceiling, and avoid stumbling on large objects tucked between cases. A few objects are hard to approach, for no discernible purpose; for example, one case of small, delicate vases (something presumably warranting closer inspection) was wedged into a corner bracketed by a television cabinet on one side and large cases mounted on the wall on the other. To view the vases, I had to make my way past the chairs set up in front of the television and crane my neck past the wall-cases. The origami exhibit was similarly cramped.
Moreover, in both spaces the layout and the labels seemed to be at odds. The display walls tended to encourage movement along the edge (or at least my movement ? I've been known to go "the wrong way" more than once!) or a more free-form drifting from case to case. In better-designed exhibits of this sort, the curators encourage or facilitate such movements by either locating labels centrally or having duplicate labels on either side of a section. In the Mingei, the layout was omni-directional but the labels were unidirectional; moreover, their placement was neither consistent nor intuitive.
I also questioned the wisdom of having one label "bank",to describe up to 20 distinct objects displayed in their own isolated cases (this was in the Origami exhibit). If they had been part of a series created by a single artist it would have been tolerable. Instead, at least five separate artists were involved and each object (origami unicorns, crystals, wizards, trees, dinosaurs, etc.) really deserved its own label in close proximity to itself. Again, there seemed to be competing impulses at work. On the one hand, isolating the objects in separate cases implies that each is worthy of focused appreciation. On the other, treating them as a collection of more-or-less similar things (as the labels tended to do) suggests that the visitor is not expected to give them individual attention but rather focus on the art form as a whole. For the small jewels many of these origami objects were, this seemed a sad form of neglect. (Even worse, a few of them were poorly mounted in their cases and wobbled noticeably when someone walked near them -- eek!)
Another tendency I found frustrating was to have a dramatic yet isolated signature piece on display with no label nearby (like a single stone statue near the furniture exhibit) or to have an interesting piece perched up so high on a wall or cabinet that it could barely be seen (several masks, some origami forms, a few mobiles, a large beckoning cat sculpture).
Such display flaws were not universal. Someone on the staff has a real gift for constructing interesting, harmonious tableaus from disparate objects when given the space. The pieces deemed worthy of contemplation were often given special platforms on which to sit and the lighting was directed so as to draw the visitor?s attention to them. (Sometimes the effect could be odd, as when a small gold-paper origami bird was placed alone in a case along a dark wall and spotlighted; I could tell that it was ?important? but there was no label explaining why, and while it was quite splendid, so were many other equally impressive pieces that received lesser attention.) Textiles were consistently handled well throughout; I don?t remember any of them being hard to see or approach.
My feeling overall was that most -- if not all -- of the Mingei's flaws likely stem from the bane of most museums: too many interesting objects in too small a space. In a place like the Mingei, where each piece should be presented in a way so as to provoke thoughtful, intensive contemplation, such crowding presents a serious problem. The staff have done nice things with the exhibits featuring larger works (the Nakashima and Mingei of Japan exhibits were generally fine) but need to re-think their use of the cramped space on the north side of the upper floor, where the Origami and Heirlooms exhibits were displayed. It might be better to have fewer concurrent exhibits in that space. My guess is that visitors are attracted to the Mingei primarily by the temporary exhibits; all the more reason to make them work as well as possible. (Especially if, as in the case of the origami exhibit, it is "the world's first major origami exhibition.") There are wonderful things to see at the Mingei -- if you're willing to make the effort.
Over the last few weeks I've been thinking off and on about museum design and about the types of museum I'd be most interested in working for. Since I now can get in free many places (courtesy of my American Association of Museums membership card) I've started on a little exercise in museum observation and assessment. Basically, I go to one of the many museums in the area and check out how they do things, and what excites, interests, bores or frustrates me about each one. Afterwards I write a few notes to myself about what worked and what didn't.
Today it occurred to me that these jottings would be worth turning into something more coherent, and, as well, might be useful or interesting to other people. So... I'll be posting these "museum reviews" every now and then as the spirit moves me. Look forward to seeing reviews of the Mingei International Museum and the San Diego Museum of Man in the near future. Short version: I liked the Museum of Man much, much better!