Anne Rudloff Stanton loves romance. She loves the way it looks, the way it sounds, and the way it smells—but only when it’s found in the margins of 14th-century books. The professor of Art History and Archaeology describes one example—a small drawing of a man leaving a woman—and she leans forward as if she were talking about a mutual friend of ours. “There’s this long sequence of the story of Moses, who, as you may not know, was married before he married Zipporah,” she begins. “He first married the daughter of the king of Ethiopia.”
Brush in hand, Lampo Leong carefully dips the pointed tip into a small pool of jet black ink. He quickly moves the ink-laden brush towards the dry rice-paper on the table, a thin, tan sheet held down at the edges by paperweights. A brief pause, and then Leong dashes the brush to the paper, the tip and side jumping and dancing across the sheet with intense, determined movements. As the brush reaches the end of the paper, Leong steps back, sets it down, and clasps his hands together. “This is cursive Chinese calligraphy,” he explains.
“We’re really fortunate to have the museum, because we’re material people, and nothing can substitute for going to see the physical object.” Stanton recommends visiting the illuminated leaves of manuscripts on display at the Museum of Art and Archaeology.
Not only does Leong create mixed-media paintings; he also assembles multimedia installations, such as calligraphy on translucent silk scrolls suspended in a space. He illuminates these suspended artworks with colored lights and video projections in order to create a three-dimensional illusion for viewers to walk through and experience on multiple levels.
Barker refers to a certain tension between curators, who have all this ‘stuff’ they want to communicate, and exhibit designers, who want to keep the exhibit as clean and simple as possible. “Ultimately, we want people looking at the art, not at the labels,” he indicates; but the Museum still wants to educate. In that spirit, the museum is experimenting with technology to showcase the art and the significance of art to everyone by creating MP3-based audio tours of the museum that can then be played on any personal audio device, including iPods, notebook computers, and even cell phones. Barker hopes this will allow greater flexibility for visitors, whom he imagines selecting a tour and walking through the galleries at their leisure while looking at the art and listening to the audio information, “instead of looking back and forth between the label and the art.”