Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cross Pollinating: Uncommon Service and Conviviality

I am spending time synergizing Frances Frei and Anne Morriss' Uncommon Service with Wendy Pollock and Kathleen McLean's Convivial Museum.

It is at the intersection of these two works that I hope to be focusing some of my work in the coming months and years, assessing the balance and importance of the visitor experience and the "content piece."

It is the shared experience that seems paramount in the present day, and our museum field is telling us this, right?

On the other hand, what are we, if we are not educators?  Illuminators?

It is, in fact, at the intersection of these two things --conviviality and uncommon service that the transformative outcome can blossom.  This is the perfectly tepid-to-steamy bathwater environment where good things grow; where we are cleansed and revitalized.  From here, we can shock, teach through participation and invigorate.  

The quality of aliveness we see in these images is what we call conviviality. We chose the word "convivial" for several reasons. Its roots—together and being alive—characterize what we think is a major role and responsibility of museums: to be places where people can share their common humanity and to offer opportunities not only for learning and social engagement, but also for reflection and solitude in the presence of others. 
Pollock and McLean from Museum 2.0

Uncommon Service lays out a prescription for how to move your business toward a customer focused reality.  
To tell you the truth I am only 1/2 way through Uncommon Service, but the authors lay out a pretty clear set of goals and how to get there:

Great service, it turns out, is not made possible by running the business harder and faster on the backs of a few extraordinary people...Once you accept the idea of trade-offs -- and break the addition to service heros -- the inputs into service excellence are much easier to consume.  We lay out these inputs in a framework we call the four service truths...: a service offering, a service funding mechanism, and employee management system, and a customer management system. 
Frei and Morriss Uncommon Service p. 5

I discovered the book through recent, strong guest post on Museum Geek by Janet Carding.

Per Suse Cairns who runs Museum Geek, "This post is written by Janet Carding, Director and CEO, Royal Ontario Museum, who very generously offered to share some core takeaways from attending a Harvard Business School executive course on Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management."

Y'know, as another thought, one must be struck at how women are taking over.  And we are likely better for it. People speak of the ability for women to have multiple-minds -- a higher level of mindfulness all around.  This is what I think we all need to strive for - the mindful museum.  Janes has used this term, as has Gopnik.  Theirs is more about thinking, which is essential; and I think we need to augment that term with an enhanced understanding for visitor experience and customer service.

I shared this same line of thinking with an important teacher in the field and an admired colleague when we were catching up at the last Western Museum Association meeting in Palm Springs.  She said, "I think you have a big woman up inside you."   (In line with previous, well, dare I say, slightly back-handed compliments?) I was positively overwhelmed.

Having grown up in a home of strong women, I felt like I had perhaps reached a state of higher understanding - or at least perceived as much by trusted, professional friends. Thank you, Dr. Madsen-Brooks!

I am also interested to see what will happen when two extremely significant boy-toy corporations, founded in very different eras -- HP and Yahoo! -- are now being lead by two important women like Meg Whitman and Marissa Mayer.   They both have huge jobs presently -- to right those massive vessels.  What will we all have to learn from them and their experiences? For better or for worse.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Confessed Ignorance and the Ecstasy of Influence

Rob Gronkowski poses with his new cereal “Gronk Flakes” which are available at Stop & Shops throughout New England.
Rob Gronkowski’s new cereal “Gronk Flakes” hit store shelves on Tuesday, and the Patriots tight end was on hand to celebrate at a Walpole Stop & Shop.
Who is this guy?! He looks like Stephen Malkmus!

So I'm all "gronk?"  "Gronk?"  "What the F' is that phrase that guru and GLAMrous mentor Michael P. Edson uses?!..."  Gronk? Grunk? Grok?

GROK!  And so I learn it is from Heinlein:

grok664 up95 down
Taken from the book 'Stranger in a Strange Land,' literally meaning 'to drink' but taken to mean 'understanding.' Often used by programmers and other assorted geeks.
It took me a long time to grok Perl, but now I can read it without going blind!

I get it!  And it's beautiful!!  Drink to me only with thine eyes...

My brother read science fiction, I didn't.  Maybe because of that.  I never understood why I should.

I also had a tough time reading Eggers' Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (thanks, Adam, but -- sorry...I just can't do it...even if Eggers' time-space feels so much like mine...).

Now I find myself reading A Hologram for the King, which kinda feels like today-based science fiction.  I am likely to meet Dave Eggers in a couple of weeks, and I feel like I have to have read at least one of his complete works.  The novel is happening in a very American now, but it feels a little like science fiction, and I get the page-turning aspect and how over-arching, metaphor-like actions help us take one small step outside of our own lives.  This out-of-body sensation has us just far enough outside the psychic skin to turn around and look at ourselves or those in our close circles -- better to appreciate or criticize, emulate, learn or smolder in self-loathing or onanistic admiration.

And I am right now into several essays of Jonathan Lethem's The Ecstasy of Influence.  Only to find that he was an avid science fiction reader, then writer.  When he writes about science fiction it brings back all these images of my youth and the deep libraries my brother kept of Herbert, Heinlein and the old science fiction magazines he collected.

I wanna write a great essay that connects Joyce's Ulysses and Pavement's Crooked Rain Crooked Rain.  They'se is the stories of my life written by better writers.  After I finish the Hologram book and the Lethem essays, I might go on to Lethem's 33 1/3 book on Fear of Music.  Will Lethem write about i Zimbra and the influence of Romanian Jewish avantgardistes like Tzara on Ball and others?  I digress... 

For now I'll leave this short post as a tribute to influencers in my life, and likely never get to science fiction, alas.  It seems like so many people I love do, so here's to them.  Thanks, Mike, to opening my eyes to Heinlein, martians, and drinking life in to the fullest.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Haftarah for Ki Tavo (Isaiah 60:1-22)

Arise, shine, [O Jerusalem,] for your light has come, the glory of the Eternal is shining upon you! Though darkness may cover the earth, thick darkness [the] peoples - upon you the Eternal will shine, over you G_d’s Presence will appear. Nations shall walk toward your light, and kings toward your sunrise. Raise your eyes and see! They are gathering, all of them, they are coming to you. Your sons shall come from afar, your daughters borne securely. You shall see it and beam with joy, your heart will thrill with pride, the sea’s abundance shall shower you, the wealth of nations shall come your way. A horde of camels shall cover your land, the young camels of Midian and Ephah, all coming from Sheba bearing gold and frankincense; proclaiming the praises of G_d! The flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nevayot shall serve your need - a sacrifice welcome on My altar, adding glory to My glorious house. Who are these that fly like a cloud, like doves to their cotes? The coastlands’ vessels wait for Me, the ships of Tarshish in the lead, to bring your children from afar, along with their silver and gold, to please the Eternal your G_d, the Holy One of Israel, who has given you glory. Foreigners shall build your walls, and their kings shall serve you. For in anger I struck you down, but in favor I show you love [again]. Your gates shall be open always, day or night they shall not be shut, to bring in the wealth of nations, their kings led as in procession. Nations and kingdoms that refuse to serve you shall vanish, their people utterly destroyed. The pride of Lebanon shall come to you - juniper, box-tree, and cypress together, to beautify the place of My sanctuary, to glorify the place where I rest. They shall come bowing down at the soles of your feet, all those who despised you. They shall call you the City of G_d, Zion, [abode] of Israel’s Holy One. As once you were abandoned and hated, with no one passing through, so now I make you a pride forever, the joy of all generations. You shall suck the milk of nations, suck the breast of kingdoms, and you shall know that I, the Eternal, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. Instead of copper I will bring gold, instead of iron, silver, instead of wood, copper and iron instead of stones. I will make Peace your government, and Righteousness your rulers. No more shall [the noise of] violence be heard in your land, desolation and destruction within your borders. You shall name your walls Deliverance, and your gates Praise. No more shall the sun be your light by day, nor shall the moon’s glow brighten [your night]; the Eternal will be your everlasting light, and your G_d [will be] your glory. No more shall your sun go down, or your moon disappear; for the Eternal will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. Your people shall be righteous, all of them, and possess the land forever: they are the shoot that I have planted, the work of My hands, to display My glory. The least of them shall become a thousand, and the smallest a mighty nation; I, the Eternal, will hasten it when the time has come.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

A FANTASTIC Roxy Music Documentary!

...thanks for sharing, Tosh and Tam Tam Books

now using goodreads

Museum Legs: Fatigue and Hope in the Face of ArtMuseum Legs: Fatigue and Hope in the Face of Art by Amy Whitaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"The ability of museums to be institutions of civic importance rides on their collective capacity for intellectual empathy -- their ability to speak to people in their own idiom and to bring in new audiences -- through tireless effort at customization of messages to different groups.  There are any number of reasons why this doesn't happen...Knowledge benefits from this kind of exuberant free trade -- the more it circulates, the more there is.  Obfuscation is a weird and obscure mercantilism, an isolationism that in an economy walls off a country, and in museums circumscribes a field of knowledge."
pp. 88-89

View all my reviews

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Technology, Photography and the Indian Spirit

It is impossible to seek out the face of Sitting Bull, and even more the knowing of Crazy Horse; for one, the photograph is never justice, nor his prime. The other never sat for a white man's camera machine.

Rebecca Solnit wrote about the Ghost Dance and technology. I have to look that up.

I've just come from Little Bighorn, and you cannot but cry and cry. Such nobility in its last. Ignoble.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tom Foolery of Dillon, MT

In the Montana Triennial at the Missoula Art Museum there was a piece by an artist named Tom Foolery from Dillon, MT. Also some Richard Notkins and plexiglas assemblages by an artist with the last name Autio. Lela Autio. Rudy Autio's wife? Daughter? And eye-catching large soft pastel portrait drawings by a woman named Jennifer Pulchinski.

Dwayne Wilcox at Missoula Art Murseum

There was a brilliant installation of drawings and sculpture by an Indian (Lakota) artist named Dwayne Wilcox at the Missoula Art Museum (MAM). They were earnest and ironic; scathing, insightful, childish. Drawn on Ledger Paper, and so at once borrowed and repossessed; the material was also highly personal in feel like you'd discovered a trove of a) drawings of a self-taught skilled observer b) a refined, highly-stylized project by an agent provacateur or c) the working thoughts of a 21st c. Indian artist navigating a new language for his own erudition.

I also couldn't not think of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith who means south to me.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Matters, Instinct, and Education: Need to Synergize Three Books

What I'm Reading...

I had tasked myself last month or so with reading three books that I then intend to synergize to answer all the questions about why museums are so important, broadly and to me especially.

The first is Denis Dutton's The Art Instinct: Beauty Pleasure, and Human Evolution.

The second is James Cuno's Museums Matter: In Praise of the Encyclopedia Museum. Cuno's was the first of these three that I read, and I was mildly troubled that Cuno appeared to be boxing his way out of a corner.

The third book, which I just completed is Putting the Arts in the Picture, from Columbia College Chicago.  Putting the Arts in the Picture is a compelling work about integrative arts education practice in the schools.

Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century, our book on arts education, makes a new argument for moving the arts, usually located on the margins of public education, to its center. By examining the role of the arts in education, investigating the cognitive benefits of learning in the arts, and suggesting practical solutions for improving education and learning, Putting the Arts in the Picture seeks to demonstrate that arts education is an effective strategy for improving education and learning opportunities for children and young people. In cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Boston, arts integrated schools are defying educational odds and expectations. Their stories, documented in this volume, show that arts integration can profoundly influence student achievement, and that it is a strategy within the reach of most schools, districts, and communities.

Now I look to synergize these three books into one essay, one life, one next year as I look to draw out different arrows at different times from the quiver as we move into battle.  It's a war out there people.

These museums...sheesh:
Artist John Baldessari resigned Thursday from the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art in the wake of the ouster of the museum’s chief curator and other recent changes at the Los Angeles institution.
The noted artist said in an interview that “to live with my conscience I just had to do it.” His departure follows the museum's ouster of respected chief curator Paul Schimmel and news this week that the pop-cultural slant the museum has taken under director Jeffrey Deitch will continue with an exhibition on disco music’s impact on art and culture. 
-  Artist John Baldessari resigns from MOCA board LA Times, By Mike Boehm, July 12, 2012

As we track the controversies at Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art, I am strengthened by the words published in a recent NY Times piece where  Maxwell Anderson, recently appointed Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, is quoted as saying:
It’s up to museum professionals to change the topic and measure what we know matters, not what’s easy to measure.
I feel so lucky to have the job I do, and feel that it is my responsibility to make sure others love the work we do equally as much.

And who doesn't love a good book?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Corcoran Concerns

Every important cultural institution in the United States faces almost insurmountable financial challenges every day, every year, decade after decade. The difference between the many that succeed and the few that fail is leadership, steady, enlightened, countercultural leadership that keeps an organization tacking upwind, no matter what happens to the economy.
- Philip Kennicott
Corcoran’s proposal to leave its historic quarters is laden with questions about leadership

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


CIMG0227, originally uploaded by levenj.

This gem was at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The WASP: Make Art (part III)

Now imagine the Internet.  And imagine Anton Vidolke.  E-flux and the French theorist and curator Nicolas Bourriaud – “The contemporary work of art does not position itself as the termination point of the ‘creative process’ (a ‘finished product to be contemplated) but as a site of navigation, a portal, a generator of activities.”

That’s what we do in museums, right?  We have an obligation to promote this state as culture workers?

Modern Painter’s article on Vidokle (not this article) goes on to claim, “…the contemporary transformations of influence through social networks -  a truly distributed collective --   and the concept of he commons, in which no single person has control over resources and production but shares them among peers.”  And isn’t this what we are beholden to do with our collections on-line and all the more now on-site?

Vidokle says, “It’s kind of a dream that e-flux could evolve into some sort of structure like this, because really what the Factory produced were social relations, which produced this extraordinary artistic output…there was already this idea in the Russian avant-garde that life itself could produce art – in fact that unalienated life becomes so full of beauty that everything you do is in a sense an art work already.  I’m not under the illusion that I could do that, transform society.  But still this is interesting, and the Factory produced a lot of really interesting stuff.”

And let’s not forget the Factory as a distributed network produced The Velvet Underground.  Interview magazine.  A design esthetic that has had a profound influence on world culture.  Probably birthed MTV and the mass distribution of art, and a sense that all our lives have the potential for art -- or celebrity as Warhol saw it -- which cannot really be disentangled from life in his worldview.  But I am very much of the “Warhol is all” camp.

So what is the greatest challenge to access – in my mind – it is the funding.  How do we get all this paid for in the early part of the 21st century, in a museum industry that’s over built and highly competitive.  But in my world this is not a challenge.  It’s an opportunity.

America’s cultural funding model has historically been based on private philanthropy. Jefferson, Frick, Smithson.  Getty.  Weisman.  Right?  And we gotta figure out how to keep it going for the new and the now.  The Gen X, Y and millennials that will keep it funded, and take the time to rein in what we do, measure against what matters.  There is likely to be a little more attrition, folks.  Museums are over-built as an industry. We gotta make it matter like the veneration of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  And we gotta make it fun, even when it's pretentious.  It is the pleasure principle, is this the way to simplify? Right now, as Brian Eno points out:
Why is it that all of us here – presumably members of the arts community – probably know more about the currents of thought in contemporary science than those in contemporary art? Why have the sciences yielded great explainers like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Gould, while the arts routinely produce some of the loosest thinking and worst writing known to history? 
- Back in 1995, Brian Eno’s opening speech at Turner Prize award ceremony

And it is our job to make or work feel like Rock and Roll to them now.  Like when I get on my plane and I feel the Jim Morrison....reminding me of the earliest part of my life, so it resonates and feels like it will be important to others.

It can be popular.  Though it need not be.  Sometimes it's just necessary.  It just need to be sustainable unto its  purpose and context.

Let me tell you about Texas Radio and The Big Beat. Comes out of the Virginia swamps cool and slow with a back beat narrow and hard to master...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Greil Marcus in LA Review of Books - "possibly the longest interview in the history of the internet"

facebook status

Can't wait to dig into this!! Thanks for sharing Daniel Schifrin Los Angeles Review of Books - Simon Reynolds interviews Greil Marcus Like · · Share Ryyan LeBllanc likes this.

Timothy B Buckwalter it is possibly the longest interview in the history of the internet. Seriously. Yesterday at 2:11pm

James G. Leventhal know it's going to be long when it begins" "Let's start with your name..." Yesterday at 2:29pm · Like · 1

Timothy B Buckwalter Yep. And then it goes on for miles about his name. Yesterday at 2:47pm · Unlike · 1

James G. Leventhal ‎Gravity Goldberg whoops, it ends up California Dreaming would have been the tie in for Greil Marcus ;) GM: My wife always says I'm a California Jew, meaning I'm not Jewish at all. I didn't know any Yiddish. I have non-Jewish friends in New York who knew far more Yiddish than I do. I was born in San Francisco, my mother was born in Portland. Before that her family was in Hawaii. So I come from a very Western family, and Jews in San Francisco have always been assimilated. Eastern family members would come over and say, "Where is the neighborhood?" They just didn't get it. I grew up in a Jewish family that had Christmas trees, we celebrated Christmas, it was a big-deal family gathering. But I'm Jewish, there's no question about that. I went to services, I went to high holidays, I had a bar mitzvah. It's a big part of my identity, no question. Yesterday at 8:56pm · Like

James G. Leventhal midway through...and now realize I have to read the interviewer's book Blissed Out Mixing analysis with interviews, this study of rock music celebrates the "underg...See More 15 hours ago · Like

Timothy B Buckwalter If you are not super familiar with Post-punk, the best Reynolds book is Rip It Up. And I would loan you my copy, but I've already loaned to someone else (I forget who) and I don't have it anymore. It's a pretty straight forward history, so its a decent read. When he gets into analysis and essays, he begins to sound a but like Andy Rooney -- bemoaning how great the past was and sucky the present is. Which, obviously, it isn't. 12 hours ago · Like

James G. Leventhal wha?!?! "Andy and Jon studied under T.J. Clark, the great art historian, who later became a good friend of mine when he came to Berkeley and taught here for many years. But he was at Leeds when he taught some of the people in Gang of Four and the Mekons, and he had been a member of the Situationist group in the mid-sixties." 2 hours ago · Like

James G. Leventhal still throwing quotes at ya Timothy B Buckwalter "I hated Ronald Reagan. I hated him as governor of California, when he was a much meaner, crueler person in his public persona than he was as president. But he was a cold, evil bastard and I hated him. I hated what he did to this country and I hated what he stood for. And I couldn't bear to look at the country — to seriously, intellectually, grapple with it, critically — in those years." loving this!! Am I actually going to have to wait til Sunday to read more???

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The WASP: Make Art (part II)

The ethics of accessibility are wrapped up in the intersection of two facts – art, at its highest echelons, greatest, happens within a system; and art is popular and meaningful to everyone when given over to its most natural state, mediated to achieve universality.

Art within a system. It is esoteric. Or "What I admire most about Paul McCarthy." Difficult. Scatological. Squeezing ketchup like a child, and tossing about in a tub. He is, in fact, riffing off of extremely popular tools – video, street life, pornography.

Somehow McCarthy always strikes me as the ultimate “operator,” the Cal Arts professor, the deliberate charlatan. It’s important for me because the phrase, “Art happens with a system” were notes I took from a Swiss catalog from a brilliant exhibition entitled Lost Paradise. The Angel's Gaze.

The Angel’s Gaze (Juri Steiner). The catalog created or well “curated” a brilliant exhibition inspired by Paul Klee’s Angelus Novelus and the related Walter Benjamin essay written about the Klee work, about the “new angel,” looking ever backward at the horrors of history.

A Klee painting named «Angelus Novus» shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one perceives the angel of history. His face is towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
-  Walter Benjamin

McCarthy’s work for the exhibition was an oversized pile of what appeared to be fresh dog excrement.  It made the papers!:

Complex Shit, a giant inflatable dog turd, escaped from its moorings at the Zentrum Paul Klee last week and brought down a power line and broke a window before landing on the grounds of a children’s home 200 meters away, the Guardian reports. Although the unintended flight happened on July 31, details emerged only yesterday.

On the other hand Juri Steiner’s “art discourse happens with a system…” is nested, nested beautifully, within a broader rubric so well articulated in Lynne Conner in her writing about the history of performance and coupled within a must-read in our field Tepper’s Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America's Cultural Life

The hierarchical idea of arts reception in which great art will automatically find its audience without mediation of any kind is behaviorally inaccurate… - Lynne Conner

Somehow, at some point, class and practice in America shifted art away from popular forms of reception. For the sake of propriety, people started to applaud. To applaud to keep them from participating. To contain heckling. To proscribe. To make quiet. In fact, to make certain people feel less welcome if they could not follow protocols.

Imagine Shakespeare. The Globe? Imagine The Doors...

...Imagine Duccio’s Maestà without popular reception? Without its first and foremost being paraded through the streets of Siena -- from the studio to the cathedral -- and before its eventual scattering to the western winds of distributed collections?


Thursday, May 10, 2012

The WASP: Make Art (part I)

I was on a plane out and there was this beautiful documentary about The Doors. A beautiful documentary, man. Mr Mojo Risin': The Story of L.A. Woman.


And, boy, it reminded me so hard about why I am in this. Why I am here. Why I keep on keeping on. And there’s art in there.

There’s a not-so-secret art. The art of Rimbaud. Back to the art of Baudelaire. Back to the Impressionists -- who spent more time painting brothels than any group of painters before them. Talk about your L.A. Woman.

Back to Edgar Allan Poe -- just as dense and heavy, faux philosophical, American, chauvinistic, expressive and dense as Poe.  Popular, enticing and sexy. Was Poe sexy? I mean why did they make all those Vincent Price movies?

Let me tell you about Texas Radio and The Big Beat.

And The Doors lead to Iggy and the Stooges, right? Echo and The Bunnymen. REM. U2.

Ray Manzarek borrows liberally from Chopin, equal as much as Kurt Weill and Howlin’ Wolf. Dionysian and Apollonian. Nietzsche and Disney.

“And the ancient Egyptians used to say, ‘If you say a man’s name he is alive. So I take the opportunity to say, ‘Jim Morrison,” Ray Manzarek says toward the end of the documentary.


Monday, January 16, 2012