Sunday, October 31, 2010
Michelangelo Pistoletto - Takin' It To The Streets
One striking thing I have learned since I began graduate school last year is how many people are averse to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and other institutions of comparable size and scope. There are as many reasons as there are individuals, not limited to: the price of admission makes the museum inaccessible; the museum is neither representative of nor welcoming to people of color; the leadership of the museum does not prioritize serving the locals of its community, catering disproportionately to out-of-towners; or that the museum, its largest donors, and heaviest users are just plain elitist. Learning about these points of view so different from my own was an eye-opening experience. Even though I continue to be a lover of PMA and its programming, I have come to understand how the museum sits atop its hill, letting people come to it, rather than reaching out to the community to engage people where they are in an open and unimposing manner.
I state all of this to emphasize how important it is for the PMA to run programs like the recent reenactment of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Walking Sculpture (Scultura da Passeggio). We departed from the museum with an already sizable crowd, operating under the idea that, as we rolled the giant newspaper ball through the city, more folks would join our group. While there is no empirical way of measuring whether or not this actually happened, I do think that it worked. Based on my observation, the size of our group stayed consistent; though I know that some who started out from the museum did not complete the journey, I also witnessed new participants enter the fold along the way.
The planned itinerary took us down the Schuylkill River Trail, up to Chestnut Street, over to Rittenhouse Square, then down Locust Street and up South Broad Street to City Hall, before finally cutting through JFK Plaza to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with a small detour at the Rodin Museum, and ending back at PMA. Here lies a problem: the journey was more of a touristic flyby of fashionable and picturesque spots, not a truly inclusive route through residential areas. Did we reach anyone not already sympathetic to the museum and its modus operandi? Would it have been truer to the spirit of Pistoletto’s original work to hijack the ball and roll it through anywhere but Center City?
If it appears that I am being overly critical, I will conclude with this thought: what we all experienced that day was sheer, unadulterated fun. For the greater part of the trek, children were happily pushing the ball through the streets and you can hear their joyous laughter throughout the video. The artist himself was light and airy, dancing to music and playfully interacting with the children. Even the PMA senior staff members who made the trip seemed less than their usual austere selves. And when else would you see Gerry Lenfest out and about, rubbing shoulders with the man on the street?
The need for programs such as this one is great; institutions of gravitas and artists of renown have a mandate to provide them.