How to be a museum curator

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What you’ll need: an art history degree

Songlist: Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer, The Art Teacher by Rufus Wainwright

Further reading: The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (but don’t actually read this one)

Monet's waterlilies curve around the specially designed rooms of Musee L'Orangerie in Paris

Yesterday my boyfriend and I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a family-friendly event called ¡España! I had been lured by the promise of flamenco guitar in the galleries. Since I was fairly sure I would know the guitarist(s)–the Twin Cities flamenco community is not all that big–I was more interested in the concept of looking at art with flamenco guitar as a backdrop than the music itself. After wandering around the galleries waiting to hear guitar strings vibrating in the vicinity, we finally just asked a docent where to find the guitarist. He pointed back the way we came: all the way to the end of the hall, take a left, and all the way to the end of that hall. We wound up in a bright white atrium–no art on the walls–facing an empty black chair with a microphone forlornly angled at the floor and a sign saying “Flamenco guitar: 12 pm-4pm.” I looked at my watch: 3:15 pm.

The day was not a total waste, though, because I always love wandering the Institute’s halls. We walked past old favorites–the easy to love Monet haystack and Van Gogh olive trees, the more violent Max Beckmann triptych that my mom and I discovered last April–and temporary galleries of photography and modern art.

It wasn’t always like this. When I was a kid and it was one of my parents’ birthdays or we had a visitor from out-of-town, we would invariably go to the MIA. I was not bored by the art at the time, but I always assumed beforehand that I would be; this assumption, voiced in protest to my parents, meant that I could not thereafter be seen enjoying myself at the art museum.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)

Perhaps it was when I visited London with my mom at the age of 14 that I suddenly realized how much I do enjoy being at art museums. We went to the National Gallery and I fell in love with two paintings there: Henri Rousseau’s Tiger in a Tropical Storm and The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. Because they were the first paintings I truly loved, they are still the paintings I love best.

And while I haven’t fallen quite so hard for any other painting, I have been strongly affected many times since while touring art museums: at Madrid’s Reina Sofia I stood shocked at Picasso’s Guernica and felt intensely nostalgic in front Dali’s Muchacha de Espalda. I felt awed by the gigantic water lily paintings that wrap around two ovular galleries in the Musee L’Orangerie in Paris. And I was giddy with excitement seeing Van Gogh’s Starry Night in person at the MoMA.

The best experience I had, though, was a thirty-minute jaunt through the Louvre on a Friday evening with my friend Hilary. Admission was free for those under 26 on Friday evenings, and we’d meant to get there earlier but had dallied. This also happened to be a night where musicians were scattered around the vast palaces. Hilary and I raced past a jazz trio playing in front of an Egyptian pyramid, a violinist in the Great Hall, a brass quartet by the Venus de Milo. It was this beautiful phantasmagoria of color and sound made more exciting by the fact that we were actually, literally, running through the Louvre to take it all in.

What I can’t fathom is how incredible it would be to work in these buildings, to patrol the corridors where incredible art hangs, to have meetings down the hall from John Singer Sargent or El Greco or Caravaggio. Does a curator become complacent about the scenery? It seems doubtful. I imagine that being in that setting day after day would be like a perpetual dream…flamenco guitar or not.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Airports big and small

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When a person (say…me) googles “world’s coolest airports,” she encounters several lists of huge, modern airports in some of the world’s most technologically advanced cities in the world. Think Singapore, Tokyo, Berlin, Hong Kong, Dubai. But, while some of these structures are indeed incredible, I tired quickly of their strikingly similar aesthetics. They’re all modern monoliths, designed to usher millions of travelers through their permeable walls in the most efficient manner possible. Yes, some of them include art installations or flora, but too much art occludes the primary functionality of the buildings.

Barajas airport in Madrid: more pain than it's worth

Take, for instance, Madrid’s new Barajas airport. This airport appeared on some of my google lists of “cool airports,” but I must say that the experience of trying to use this airport drove me crazy. Terminals are painfully far away from each other and, due to the open plan of the gates, there are no announcements over any loudspeakers (speakers are only used to pipe in bird noises). Passengers crowd around the departure screens instead and must wait–sometimes until just before their flight is boarding–to find out at which gate their plane awaits them (and then must go charging to a faraway terminal). Who cares about an innovative design if it makes me miss my flight?

Thus, I switched the operative superlative in my searches from “coolest” to “smallest” and “most dangerous.” Success! I found about about Courchevel airport in the French Alps, with such a short runway that pilots must land on an incline to decrease speed and take off on a decline.

Barra Airport: the red sign warns visitors to stay off the beach "when the airport is active"

And I was reminded how the runway of Gibraltar’s airport intersects a four-lane highway because Spain won’t let the British colony use its airspace (can we detect a grudge?) Thus, the highway must close every time a plane is taking off or landing.

And I learned of the world’s only beach runway in Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. You know why no one else has put their runway on a beach? Oh right, because the tide washes it out. Yes, Barra Airport only operates during low tide and, if there are emergency landings at night, helpful citizens have to come illuminate the runway with their cars, as Barra has no artificial lights. Now that’s cool.

Let’s take a look at a Courchevel Airport departure, shall we? The views, if you can get your heart to beat at a normal rate, are certainly lovely…