The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.
The following podcast is the first installment of a two-part interview in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different themes and artwork from the Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s exhibition. For this episode, Student Ambassador Ata Chowdhry, class of ‘21, speaks with the Barjeel Art Foundation founder and Boston College visiting instructor in the Islamic Civilization & Societies Program Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi and curator Suheyla Takesh to compare and contrast the role of art collector and curator.
If you did not have the chance to catch our trailer for this podcast on social media, you can watch it here!
McMullen Student Ambassador Alex Hull, MCAS 2021, reflects on part of her winter break in Miami, Florida.
When I hear the words, “art museum,” I see paintings––ornate, revered paintings; I see rooms full of silent people, squinting their eyes and leaning forward, eventually deciding to lean over to the person they brought with them to whisper some theory they have about the piece; I see the beautiful, exterior walls which enclose the hypothetical place, which give its visitors an imposing first impression. My experience of viewing art within a museum has always felt somewhat sacred, and what a beautiful experience this has been for me. However, this experience of mine, this particular face of a museum, is one of many.
I had the chance to escape the Massachusetts winter over the holidays, and Miami was my first destination. After a few long, sunny days at South Beach, I headed into the city, to pay Wynwood, Miami’s energetic art district, a visit.
Here’s a little bit about Wynwood. Tony Goldman, a developer from New York who played a key role in making South Beach what it is today, invested time and money in Wynwood, Miami, an area previously filled with the empty, abandoned warehouses of a forgotten garment district, in the early 2000s, hoping that the area would experience an artistic revival. He started by opening a restaurant, and soon, galleries and shops popped up near it. However, what set Wynwood apart from other empty-warehouse-districts-turned-trendy was the introduction of several huge street murals, placed in a central courtyard open to the public and appropriately named Wynwood Walls. Goldman called this area of Wynwood a “museum of the streets.”
With over 200 of these street murals, Wynwood has now become the artistic hub of Miami, complete with private galleries and beautifully unexpected street art covering nearly every building and abandoned warehouse. The art district has also become a popular place for locals to gather, as tourists tend to flock to South Beach, especially during the summer months.
What I had missed completely during my previous visits to the Wynwood Walls was the fact that this place really was a museum, even though it functioned completely differently from what I associated with my personal template of a museum. This museum’s only walls were the canvases themselves; their sole purpose was to provide material for the artists to work upon. Instead of the walls enclosing the art inside of a building, these huge canvases are placed in a way that guides visitors through the courtyard, from one work of art to another. Thus, the focus is on the art itself. The walls become the artistic medium; they can be thought of as huge canvases that are set up to act as walls, that do so without boxing anything in or pushing anything out. The surrounding atmosphere rules this particular museum. The sunny weather, the groups of people chatting to each other freely, and the colorful notes of the murals together all make for an inviting, cheerful, and most importantly, accessible gathering space for those interested in art.
This museum model draws a larger and more diverse crowd as well. Everyone from gallery owners to small children to lifelong Miami residents is welcome to enjoy the murals, to stay as short or as long as they please, and to take photos of all of it. Wynwood, most importantly, is accessible to all people no matter their backgrounds in art. Both the experts and the newcomers gather here to celebrate street art and the artists who love creating it.
There are a lot of advantages to living in Washington, D.C., not the least of which is that practically everything is free.
Well, that’s not exactly true. Not everything is free, not by a long shot. But the monuments and everything associated with the Smithsonian is free, and that’s a pretty sweet deal. Every time I’m home for break and feeling a little bored, I can head to the zoo or the world-class museums downtown and my only expense is a few bucks for the metro.
I like to think I take advantage of all of these opportunities. I had field trips to probably every Smithsonian museum in elementary school, and ever since then I’ve loved going downtown to appreciate the art, history and culture. My favorite is the National Museum of American History—what can I say, I’m a sucker for the actual star-spangled banner. One of my favorite routines over holiday breaks is heading downtown with my brother or a couple of friends and checking out a museum.
This Christmas break, though, I was fortunate enough to see something I haven’t seen in person yet. My friends and I found a couple of free hours in our schedule and decided to visit the National Portrait Gallery. Now, there’s plenty of incredible art in the Portrait Gallery (including the Electronic Superhighway, which I’m pretty sure can hypnotize you if you aren’t careful), but we were focused on two pieces of art only: the Obama portraits.
I was studying abroad in Ireland last year when the Obama portraits were unveiled, but I remember eagerly reading the news about the ceremony and gazing at the portraits. There is something striking about the portraits even when viewed through a smartphone’s screen. In person, they are mesmerizing.
Barack Obama’s portrait hangs in the America’s Presidents gallery along with the portraits of every one of his predecessors. When I visited, there was a fairly long line of people patiently waiting to get their photo taken in front of the portrait. Visitors rushed by Kennedy, passed Reagan without a second glance and made a beeline for President Obama. The stoic look on his face, the vibrant green and the pops of colors with flowers representing important places in his life come together to form an incredible portrait worthy of a historic man.
Upstairs in the 20th Century Americans gallery, Michelle Obama’s portrait is the main draw. (I mean that literally. They had signs throughout the entire gallery directing people past the other incredible works of art and into the room where her portrait is hung.) Mrs. Obama’s portrait, like her husband’s, is enchanting. I admit that when I first saw it online, I didn’t immediately love it, but seeing it in person changed that for me. The pops of color in her dress really worked well. The room with her portrait was crowded with people milling around and gazing up at it.
As it turns out, my friends and I visited the Portrait Gallery just in time. The federal government had shut down several days before we visited, and just a few days later the Smithsonian museums followed suit. For almost a month, nobody at all could go in and see the Obama portraits. Now that the museums are open again (at least for now), I’m sure visitors are streaming in and out every day, eager to catch a glimpse of history through art. If you ever find yourself in Washington, I urge you to do the same.
After the peak of finals season, I told myself I would spend every day of my winter break living my best life, hanging out with my friends, exploring New York City and all the magic it had to offer, especially during the holiday season. Unfortunately, my break didn’t pan out like I had imagined. I found myself with a raging fever and pounding headache on the day of my last exam, unable to remember the amazing plans I had meticulously concocted for myself during those cold and brutal study days.
Thus, I spent the first half of my break in bed as I scrolled through Instagram, watching my friends travel the world and embark on service trips as I quickly binged every episode of “The Office” and my only friends became Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe on “F.R.I.E.N.D.S.” I had never believed in FOMO – the fear of missing out – until I realized I had spent my last winter break holed up in my room while everyone else seemed to be having the time of their life. I promised myself that once I felt better, I would spend every single day trying something new.
Though it wasn’t financially feasible to travel somewhere new every day, I found my solution: trying new food in my very own neighborhood. Luckily enough, I live right by a strip of restaurants and bakeries that I often overlook. With my new plan in mind, and my renewed appetite, I was able to discover my city and the unique cuisines and restaurants throughout Queens.
I rung in the New Year with fresh calamari and warm buttery baguettes, stayed toasty in an “igloo restaurant” while eating fried chicken drizzled with lime, ate classic New York City bagels with lox and capers, and spent Three King’s Day eating mouth-watering pomegranate and walnut khoresh with Persian rice. In between, I satisfied my sweet tooth with pastries from the french bakery around the corner from me, trying apricot tarts dusted with powdered sugar, delicate pistachio macarons paired with thick espresso coffees, and flaky croissants.
Even though I didn’t travel anywhere, I quickly cured my FOMO by unearthing the hidden gems in my neighborhood and satisfying my sweet tooth before returning to my usual diet of ramen and El Pelon burritos. Now when friends and peers ask how my winter break was and if I went anywhere, I smile and say, with satisfaction, “No.”
Over winter vacation, I traveled to Japan to celebrate the wedding of a dear friend whom I have known since I was ten years old. During the frenzy of wedding festivities, I managed to find time to frequent a few of Tokyo’s many cultural institutions such as the Suntory Museum of Art and 21_21 Design Sight. Of the many venues whose art I admired, one remains most memorable: the Yayoi Kusama Museum in the Tokyo neighborhood of Shinjuku. Founded by Yayoi Kusama in 2017, the Museum presents two annual exhibitions as well as lectures and other events on contemporary art. Yayoi Kusama is an avant-garde artist. Born in 1929 in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, Kusama is best known for her techniques of obsessive repetition and multiplication of single motifs.
The Museum is comprised of five floors open to visitors. Upon approaching the futuristic building, an artistic piece in and of itself, one is met by a staff member who scans the museum-goer’s ticket (For those interested in visiting the Yayoi Kusama on their next, or first, visit to Tokyo, please make sure to purchase a ticket in advance).
Once inside the Museum’s reception area, I perused the items on display in the charming gift shop. I then began my odyssey through Kusama’s unique visual world, ascending the stairs to view her current exhibition “I Want You to Look at My Prospects for the Future: Plants and I” (on display until Thursday, February 28, 2019).
Photography was only allowed on the first, fourth, and fifth floors. Like most members of Generation Z, I took a plethora of pictures. The exhibition features different iterations of Kusama’s iconic pumpkin. One part of the exhibition includes a room in which visitors are initially enveloped in darkness. As time elapses, the room begins to light up, one “black-and-yellow-polka-dotted” pumpkin at a time.
The final segment of the exhibition is an outdoor sculpture of a pumpkin. In all its mosaic glory, the pink and golden pumpkin statue is candy for the eye and a pleasure to behold.
A visit to the Yayoi Kusama museum makes for a wonderful day. After experiencing Kusama’s modern art, I recommend going around the corner to the Natsume Sōseki Museum. Sōseki was a Japanese novelist best known for his novels Kokoro, Botchan, and I Am a Cat. Immerse yourself in the world of classic Japanese literature and indulge in some matcha at the museum’s CAFE SOSEKI. Enjoy!
Winter in New York is truly a magical time of year. Amongst some of the yearly holiday traditions, one can view the holiday train show on display at the Botanical Garden, take a picture with Santa at Macy’s on 34th Street, or see the Rockettes live at Radio City. This year I decided to enjoy a landmark New York tradition and see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. During the Christmas season, Rockefeller Center becomes a hub of wonders unique to this time of the year.
When going to see the tree, be prepared to encounter large crowds of tourists who are also drawn to one of New York’s gems. This year the thirteen ton tree was lit on November 28th with over 50,000 lights. I went to see it on the evening of December 25th, hoping that there would be a smaller crowd on Christmas Day. Upon arriving at 5th Avenue I also caught Sak’s Fifth Holiday Show. Its Broadway-themed light show,”Theater of Dream” is a dazzling and whimsical show for all ages. As I entered the plaza area into Rockefeller Center, I saw people ice skating on the rink, people taking pictures with the large toy statues right outside of Legoland, and the seventy two foot tree.
Whether you go during the day or at night, with friends or family, it is truly a special sight to see. After making your way through Rockefeller Center, you can enjoy a sip of hot cocoa at Rock Center Cafe, which is located just outside the rink. If you are looking for a less crowded option, the Bouchon Bakery, only a block away, offers delicious French-inspired pastries for a great price. So if you are ever in New York for the holidays, make sure to stop by Rockefeller Center and enjoy all that this part of the city has to offer!