photo by Michaela Flonard

Philbrook gives “backstage pass” to museums

The Philbrook’s newest exhibit, “Museum Confidential,” provides an interactive and informative look on how museums work.
If you’ve ever stared at a piece in a museum and wondered exactly how it made the cut, then Philbrook has a new exhibit that’s perfect for you. As for everyone else who’s happy with how museums are laid out, well, the exhibit will confirm how they do it so well. From now until January, the Philbrook has a special exhibit, “Museum Confidential,” that provides a behind-the-scenes look at museums.

Before you even make it into the exhibit hall, a video from the director of the museum welcomes you in, explaining the premise. You’d best get used to him; he’s a familiar face throughout. Most of the exhibit explained how an exhibit is put together, but also featured an artist’s preparations for his mini-exhibit that’s housed within and a small section on the life of the Philbrooks, the family who lived in the mansion.

In its finished form, the artist, Andy Ducett, put together a motel front office—a small shack with a desk inside. Behind the desk was a map of the U.S., giant room keys and a series of sketches, presumably done by Ducett. This exhibit, while an interesting concept that I wouldn’t have created, was possibly the least interesting part of the exhibit for me. Examining his sketches and planning for what his piece would be was a different take on the museum experience, and seeing backstage is always fun, but the finished product didn’t catch my eye.

Along one wall was a series of paintings, ranging from a beautiful coastline to a striking painting of a bear. Splitting the set of images was a video and a task: museumgoers are invited to vote for one of the three paintings on the right to be included in the curated set on the left. On the opposite wall, people can place their votes and explanations for their choice. This section of the exhibit provided an interactive experience that was geared towards adults, which is generally a rarity. While it was rather difficult to decipher why the left set of paintings was supposed to go together, being able to add another was a fun exercise in interpretation.

Along the opposite wall was a mess of paintings, with no unifying theme or style. Instead, these paintings were the “95%,” the bulk of a museum’s collection that the public rarely sees, for one reason or another. Some of them were beautiful landscapes, and considering they were so rarely seen, I would’ve instantly volunteered to take them home. Others were propaganda posters that didn’t fit into war exhibits, and were thus rarely shown. There were even a few baskets hidden at the top of the exhibit. The clustered nature of the works was a bit overwhelming at first, but brilliantly conveyed the point: Philbrook has a lot of art we don’t normally get to see.

Sitting in a glass case by itself was another item the public rarely sees: a set of Japanese armor. Why? The sign explained that museums may have items they can’t group with anything else — “lonely” items. Next to that display was a setup seen in almost every crime drama — a set of photographs and notes tied together by string representing the connection. The setup portrayed the museum’s search to know more about a Native American headdress in their possession. The headdress in question wasn’t even displayed, as the museum wanted to know the origins of the headdress and have permission from the Southern Cheyenne before it did so. Other individual pieces allowed museumgoers to see all sides of a painting, including the back which had various notes from its previous owners, or explain why the subject of one painting could not be identified.

This exhibit also featured photos and relics from the previous occupants of the house, the Philbrook family. As someone who’s not that into old memorabilia, I didn’t find this too interesting, but the collection of lamps set near it was very pretty and eye-catching.

Finally, there was a small box, entitled “Little Things,” where viewers could step inside and see the tiny pieces of art the museum had collected. The squishiness of the room, combined with how low some of the items were position, emphasized the size of the items. There were a collection of vases that glowed an iridescent, neon green when hit with the right light, a set of miniature, toy circus pieces and other small, beautiful items.

“Museum Confidential” runs until May 2, so TU students have plenty of time to check it out. And since the Philbrook’s free for TU students, only time and transportation are stopping you. If you get there before November 12, they also have a small collection of propaganda art from World War II in a side gallery.

Post Author: Michaela Flonard