A Day at the Museum

January 11, 2013 - June 2, 2013
Exhibited in Washington, D.C. at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery

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A day at a museum might involve a whirlwind tour through a maze of galleries or hours looking at a single work of art. The experience is as varied as the museum visitor. The sight of a Renaissance masterpiece, the sounds echoing off vaulted ceilings, or a carefully orchestrated exhibition can trigger our imaginations, foster ideas, or spur memories, often at the same time.

Artists may gain inspiration and a sense of community from museums. Some travel long distances, meticulously plotting a tour of museums along their route. Others make repeat visits to their local museums. Some artists even work in museums as guards all day and then head home to focus on their own work.

This selection of documents reveals the role of museums in the everyday lives of American artists.

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Artist Interviews from the Archives of American Art

Museum of Modern Art postcard to Henri Gallery, 1973

Eleanor Antin on childhood visits to the Museum of Modern Art
(1.15 MB Mp3, 00:38 min)

As a child, conceptual artist Eleanor Antin visited the Museum of Modern Art with her mother and sister. In this excerpt from a 2009 oral history interview conducted for the Archives of American Art, she reminisces on these formative visits, “I used to pick one picture. I’d look around seriously and pick one picture that I would just study.”

Read complete transcript: Oral history interview with Eleanor Antin, 2009 May 8-9

Installation view of Lee Bontecou works in the Americans 1963 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, 1963

Lee Bontecou on a Van Gogh exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
(1.2 MB Mp3, 00:53 min)

Sculptor Lee Bontecou describes a memorable evening trip with her mother to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in this excerpt from a 2009 oral history interview conducted for the Archives of American Art. When they saw an exhibition of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings, “both of us were bowled over.  It was incredible...And we both just held hands and went through the whole thing.”

Read complete transcript: Oral history interview with Lee Bontecou, 2009 Jan. 10

Paul Cadmus, ca. 1944

Paul Cadmus on his preference of museums over nature
(1.2 MB Mp3, 00:42 min)

Painter Paul Cadmus loved museums. In this excerpt from a 1988 oral history interview conducted for the Archives of American Art, Cadmus describes his travels to Europe with painter George Tooker, “We went to see all the museums, of course, which is what I always traveled for. I never traveled just for the sake of travel.”

Read complete transcript: Oral history interview with Paul Cadmus, 1988 Mar. 22-May 5

Marvin B. (Marvin Bentley) Lipofsky Christmas card, 2007

Marvin Lipofsky on a memorable visit to the Art Institute of Chicago
(2.6 MB Mp3, 1:25 min)

Glass artist Marvin Lipofsky travels the world. In his excerpt from his 2003 oral history interview conducted for the Archives of American Art, Lipofsky explains that he visited many museums, but only remembers one transformative experience at the Art Institute of Chicago. “When I walked into the foyer of the museum, there were two huge ceramic pieces on display. And I looked at them, and I said, ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to do.’”

Read complete transcript: Oral history interview with Marvin Lipofsky, 2003 July 30-Aug. 5

Ben Shahn looking at postcards, 1956

Ben Shahn on a trip to the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum
(0.6 MB Mp3, 00:40 min)

During the Depression, social realist painter Ben Shahn received temporary employment from the New Deal’s Public Works of Art Project, which lasted a little more than a year. In his excerpt from a 1965 oral history interview conducted for the Archives of American Art, Shahn recalls the day it ended and he “wandered around the Cooper Union Museum for some unearthly reason.”

Read complete transcript: Oral history interview with Ben Shahn, 1965 Oct. 3