Last semester, we recorded an episode with three graduate students who interned with the McMullen Museum and played a role in our Fall 2022 exhibition, American Alternative Comics, 1980-2000: Raw, Weirdo, and Beyond. Alexander D’Alisera, a Ph.D. candidate in the History department, interned for the McMullen during the Institute for the Liberal Arts’ inaugural internship program. The following summer, Rachel Speyer Besancon, a Ph.D. candidate in the History department, and Troy Woolsey, a Ph.D. candidate in the English department, completed their internship and prepared the museum for the opening of the exhibition. In this episode, they talk about their experiences working at the McMullen, learning more about the comics world, the behind-the-scenes of a museum, and their favorite pieces from the exhibition.
Although the physical exhibition has moved on from the McMullen, you can still see the entire show by viewing our virtual walkthrough here.
On Sunday, October 15, the McMullen hosted Museum Hack, the New York City-based renegade group whose team aims to give “unconventional tours of the world’s best museums.” The company is based in several locations, including Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago and L.A., providing over 20 tours per week and consulting with over 50 museums around the country. Among some of these uniquely-crafted tours are the “Badass Bitches of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” a feminist tour celebrating depictions of women and women artists in the museum, or “The Un-Highlights Tour at The Getty Center,” which features untold stories behind the museum’s art collection with an off-the-beaten-track tour.
Museum Hack representative Hannah Saloio, who is based in the Washington D.C. division of the company, discussed how the company got started and how it crafts unique tour experiences. Following a Q&A discussion, Student Ambassadors gave tours of the permanent collection as well as interdisciplinary tours of the exhibit through the lens of different majors, including philosophy, economics, communications, and environmental studies.
Saloio offered constructive feedback and advice on how to give an engaging tour as well as attract a wider museum audience—particularly the millennial generation. Here are some of her most notable tips and tricks of the trade:
Have a goal in mind when you look at a painting. What catches your attention? Why is this interesting to you? Your passion and enthusiasm for a subject will make what you’re saying more compelling to those listening.
Catching yourself saying “I” as you talk about a work is likely a good sign, as this means you are relating the subject to your own experiences, which in turn, means the work overall is relatable.
Use faces in paintings to craft a good story. Telling human stories allows people to engage on a more social level. People mostly remember a good juicy story rather than dates.
You don’t need to point out the obvious. For example, to explain “this is a picture of the Madonna holding Christ set in a landscape background” is superfluous, as people viewing the painting can see it for themselves.
Create a fun game you can play with people on your tour. Saloio uses the example of asking visitors to seek out faces in works by famous artists, after which she asks them to share with one another and craft love stories between the faces they’ve found.
Challenge yourself not to use the word “interesting” when describing a piece of art. It may be interesting to you, but not to others. Explain the interesting things about it and let the visitors decide if they think it’s interesting or not.
Set descriptions and explanations in a modern context. Using pop-culture references, for example, will help people better understand what you are talking about.
Saloio concluded her talk by reiterating that these enlivening, unique tours do not point fun at objects or subjects in museums. On the contrary, it elevates museum collections by by reinforcing a stronger human connection to the stories being told, creating a memorable experience for visitors. After all, “You don’t need to be a millennial to have fun. People [including adults] always want to have a good time.”
The Terrace is excited to feature a new weekly segment that presents our Pic of the Week in connection with a work of art outside the museum—be it, film, photography, music, etc. These McMullen Musings, as they will be called, are meant to serve as contemplative, creative writings that allow our readers to bring pop culture into the museum’s glass paneled walls.
This week’s Pic of the Week is Théodore T’Scharner’s Landscape with Pond featured in the Nature’s Mirror: Reality and Symbol in Belgian Landscape exhibition. The work, oil on canvas, illustrates an open plain surrounding a pond reflecting the sky’s bittersweet visage. The sun subtly peeks through the dismal clouds, illuminating the surrounding area and shining down on the body of water below.
The painting emotes peace and tranquility while touching upon the somber air of loneliness. The foliage isn’t very lush, but earthy and tough; not an image of paradise, but of solitude. All of the aforementioned immediately bring Emiliana Torrini’s soft “Serenade” to mind.
Torrini’s voice, just above a whisper, sings hypnotically while a guitar’s strummings envelope the airiness left. As she sings, “New world forming / Picturesque in its stance … For the dark finds ways of being / Engraved in the light,” one can imagine the acoustic lullaby setting the soundtrack for the melancholic picture.
The focus of the painting seems to be that the sun is shining in spite of the weather; it is a gallant effort for the light to break through the hardened walls of darkness. The lyrics seem to allude to the painting once more as Torrini sings, “I can hear my name be reborn / On the cloud within the sky beneath the dawn.”
Art has long since been fascinated by nature and these two examples provide a landscape narrative like none other. It is one thing to merely offer a representation of what you see, but another completely to urge the observer, or the listener in Torrini’s case, to feel something. This is the intersection of all art: the truth, the feeling, and yourself.
Be sure to check out this Pic of the Week here at the McMullen and look out for next week’s segment of McMullen Musings!