Case Study #1: Chrysler Museum’s Ever Changing Genres

Header image: CB w/L, T and Pickles (The Cheeseburger, curly fries, plate, coke, with ice and straw). 2002-2012. Blown and Assembled glass. John Miller. American, b. 1966. Photo take by Star LaBranche.

Chrysler Museum’s Ever Changing Genres – Case Study #1

The Chrysler Museum of Art is a complex example of how genres come together and interact within the visual arts. The museum has both a regular collection, parts of which move to accommodate temporary exhibits, and then hosts featured works, which become their own genres. Between the museum’s collection and the visiting artwork, it allows for the art to be grouped in many different genres. Not just by the curators who arrange the exhibits but also by the patrons who visit the museum.

Chrysler has many obvious genres within its categorization of the visual arts. A map of the museum shows how the art is grouped by floors; bottom floor ancient art; top floor, modern art. The art is then grouped by style or period. For example, in the bottom floor all of the Egyptian art has its own space, as well as the porcelain glass. Within a section, for example the glass galleries, the pieces are again broken into further genres; ancient glass, 19th-century glass, Tiffany glass, and contemporary glass. One way to tour the museum would be to enter one of the contemporary glass exhibits, which offers an introduction to what glass is and how it is made, then to view the rest of the collection chronologically, from ancient glass to the second contemporary glass exhibit. A visitor touring the exhibit will most likely categorize the exhibits in their head, based on personal tastes and preferences. This creates new genres throughout the displays and gives individual meaning to the genres grouped by the curators.

Intersections within these networks can be as simple as the transition from one room to the next. When a guest on the second floor walks from the American impressionist works to French impressionism, the physical doorway works to differentiate one room to the other, but also shows how the pieces are related by their close placement. The separate rooms provide a flow to the museum experience.

Other nodes can be seen in temporary exhibits. Occasionally pieces from the permanent exhibit will be used in a temporary feature. For example, several paintings were used in the Artist’s Garden exhibit. This connects not only the similar genres of art to each other within the exhibit, but links the permanent collection to the temporary one.

The curators themselves act as nodes within the museum as they choose which pieces go to which exhibit and what order the guest will view them in. Their work as nodes are key to a coherent and enjoyable museum visit. This agency gives the curators the ability to shape a visitor’s experience and provide them with a smooth transition from one form of thought-provoking art to the next.

Agency is also given to the guests who can view the museum at their own pace and choose what to look at and what to walk past. Although a tremendous effort has been made to present the collections in a certain fashion, the guest ultimately has the choice to view the pieces however they see fit and shape their own experience.
These different types of nodes take on many different roles within the network. Inside the museum itself the curators have to work in the space they’re given to shape an exhibit as not only a stand-only collection of art, but a cohesive piece of an entire museum collection that spans several thousand years. I earlier discussed how the physical building served as transition points between the exhibits. The building itself is generally static, although the museum did remodel a few years ago. However, the space inside of the permanent walls is often painted or has exhibition installations built into it in order to accommodate the art. Barriers are sometimes constructed to keep curious museum goers from interacting with or damaging the displays. Other nodes include the collections themselves and the curators who arrange them. With the human node, the collections and exhibits nodes take form. Each curator’s vision transform disparate pieces into a coherent collection for the guests to view and appreciate.

The relationships between nodes in the Chrysler museum vary in their type and direction. While the curators directly interact with the building itself and the collections it houses, the guests will generally only interact with the collections (they hopefully will not interact with the building as that would probably result in damage). The museum, however, does stage and promote events where artists, curators, and others discuss the work being shown, talk about the decisions made in the collection and display, and give a fuller experience to guests who attend events. These events include Third Thursday or gallery openings or any other special occasion.

The ultimate success or failure of an exhibit or collection is going to be based on the guests’ enjoyment of it and their willingness to support the museum, whether financially, through good word of mouth, or by returning, either alone or with others. There could be a perfect museum exhibit, but if no one goes to see it, the meaning is lost to all but the staff and curators. Which is arguably not completely lost, but definitely not what the museum intended. The collections themselves can bring together a variety of voices and points of view, some very different and some contradictory. It is the responsibility of the curators to ensure the best representation of the work is given through the collections. The guests are then left to decide what they like, what they don’t, and how they want to process the information which has been shown to them. As visual art is not always representational, and even when it is, is still up for discussion, everyone who views it has the agency to come to their own conclusion about the piece and decide how it personally effects them.

Networks within the Chrysler Museum are constantly changing. As temporary exhibits move out, the museum replaces older exhibits with newer ones. Staff also acquire new pieces for permanent collections and the museum is frequently being rearranged to hold and display more art. One of my favorite pieces in the museum is called CB w/L, T and Pickles. It’s a large, glass cheeseburger in the modern art section with curly fries and a coke flanking it. On a visit, I decided that I wanted to write about it and wandered around the modern art section, unsure of where it had gone. I found a staff member who told me that it had been put into storage in order to arrange for a temporary exhibit, but would be back soon. The next time I returned, the burger was back in its usual place. The piece had been removed from its genre, to make way for another genre, and then was returned. The genres created by Chrysler are flexible and accommodating. This ensures an interesting experience for guests and also gives them a reason to return again after seeing the museum.

Genre theory is hard at work within the Chrysler Museum of Art. The genres of art, as well as the intersectional nodes, work to bring many different genres and styles together in one building, while creating a coherent and enjoyable visit for the guests. Grouping collections by genre helps to make art more accessible and understandable to the visitor.

Note on the photo: This is a photo I took of the glass burger I mentioned in the paper. I believe this is an interesting piece, because it is not with the rest of the glass on the first floor, but instead has been grouped with modern art on the second. Showing this overlap in genre strikes me as intriguing.

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