Museums in smaller cities and towns, and even small sized museums in larger cities or towns, never cease to amaze me! These places give you a close glimpse into a world you never knew existed, showing work by locals (in the case of Pennsylvania "locals" include the likes of Andy Warhol & The Brothers Quay!), the collections of locals (from someone's personal unicorn collection to donations from a wealthy person, usually made wealthy by a regional export), presenting traveling exhibitions (an old tradition that has been increasing in popularity, probably because of the obliteration of arts budgets across the globe) and often curated by someone who understands & reflects their specific location. Small museums tend to feel cohesive, informative and personal in a very touching way, even when the galleries are filled with giant ideas that are far from local!
When Brent & I were in Dublin we stumbled on a tiny museum in an old castle crypt dedicated to the history of taxation, a small New York Public Library gallery schooled me on art of the Edo era, a good friend of mine runs the local history collection in an attic exhibition space above a library in southern Vermont -- all little microcosms of someone's vision of a particular subject, informed by research of course but definitely catering to a geographic place and often with a singular person's curatorial idea as opposed to the bureaucracy of major museums. Late last week, as I mentioned before, I headed over to The Reading Public Museum (pictured at top!) in Reading, PA where two exhibits managed to encapsulate huge subjects in the smallest of spaces, skillfully curated to the broadest viewership and acting at opposite ends of the artifice spectrum.
The Prints of Andy Warhol is a traveling exhibit hailing from the (stellar) Warhol Museum of Pittsburgh and
everything about it was perfect! The huge array of prints (somehow managing to cover almost every phase in Warhol's printmaking!), the concise
yet informative wall text, a darkened room with a few of his (celebrity) Screen Tests (short 16mm b&w silent film portraits from the mid-60s),
another small gallery room featuring Silver Clouds (mylar pillow balloons) -- such an all encompassing overview! This exhibit really seemed to be accessible to
the widest group of people possible (a range in Reading that consists of the crime favoring to Taylor Swift to art school students), a range that the massive Warhol-ian catalogue, and pop art in general, are probably well suited for! Signs warned against taking pics of the show but...I did manage to snag one of Nico eating a
chocolate bar- I couldn't resist! This show is up through June 17th and I heard rumor it is the last stop on the tour so if you happen to be in the Reading area... go see it! Especially so more things like this can come through town!
Jim Dine exhibit, a few
galleries of world history artifacts, a couple perfectly wondrous Keith Haring pieces (an actual Reading, PA native! pic at bottom), early American landscape oil paintings and things like that but, in a tone opposite of that of the Warhol show, Theresienstadt's Children and Their Art was also a stark memorable experience. This exhibit featured art made for or by
children in the WWII ghetto/concentration camp Theresienstadt in what is now part of the Czech Republic. I am still haunted by an Anne Frank exhibit at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. that I saw
as a kid whose sound design included sudden, intense bursts of barking dog packs on the hunt and the ongoing piercing sounds of shattering glass representing Kristallnacht, but this exhibit was harrowing in it's silence: a simple, small child's scrawl of pencil on
paper depicting a cartoon-ish face obscured by barbed wire set beside text relaying the last
known train that the child boarded. Other artifacts on display, like a version of the board game Monopoly reclaimed by ghetto inhabitants and handmade
marionettes for children's puppet shows (both pictured above), painted a true picture of humanity in a time
of ultimate sadness; a culture created to signify hope, art as a means of survival.
When you see a gallery filled with the spirit of life in the face of the most devastating acts of humanity while another nearby gallery is full of images of iconic pop celebrity idolatry it can really make you see the basic need for every kind of art: propelling people forward in every way possible, an agenda that I think is at the heart of every little out-of-the-way museum in the world! My recommendation is to put your location into google maps and search "museum," I don't know what you will find but chances are something will turn up, something that might possibly be a memorable eye opening learning experience that will, in the words of the Reading Public Museum, educate, enlighten and engage!