So much of what you notice when you people watch at a museum (which I can’t help but do even though I am simultaneously engrossed by the art) is a strong sense of disconnect. There are the academics or the appreciators who are not wandering in without a sense of purpose. They know what’s available and they are there to soak up the historical importance of the canvases hanging on the wall. They understand that curators spend weeks agonizing over tiny details. How many centimeters apart should these two works be? Is the lack of chronology confusing or informative? These two works share little historical context but within their own spheres are surprisingly alike – do I still place them together?
Across the divide are the people who see art museums as a tourist attraction on TripAdvisor’s Top Ten list. You can’t fault someone for not knowing the history or significance of the various collections, but to watch some of the glazed stares you might encounter at the Louvre or the Chicago Institute of Art is a stark reminder that many people just can’t be bothered to care.
The Vienna Secession sparked my interest as soon as I first encountered it in class reading. I care about this topic very much, and the passion that arises from a person writing about something they care about is both important yet banal – we have very nearly come to expect that sense of passion at this point. But the bigger picture here is that when I look at a moment as pivotal in art history as the Secession was, I want to make that context relatable to people who might look at a modern masterpiece and think, A kid can do that. It’s not possible to eradicate that saying entirely, but it would be nice to try.