View from the podium

January 18, 2007 at 10:54 pm (Uncategorized)


I spent all day in New Brunswick, NJ, which really isn’t all that bad to do – it’s a nice enough place to visit, and it was extra pretty with the sudden snowfall.

Anyway, I was there because I won one of the printmaking fellowships at the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper, aka the Brodsky Center. It’s great – they’re going to print an edition of prints with me, and I get to work with a master printer and in whatever printmaking medium I want. But I took this picture because lately I’ve been really interested at watching people and their body language, and the way there are all these unspoken rules about how to stand, how to act, etc., social cues that we absorb and don’t even realize it, and then how those things are extra magnified at a place like a gallery or museum.

So the story is, the director of the space called everyone together so that she could introduce the artists who won the fellowships. It was a fairly well-attended event, but the space was huge so there was certainly room for everyone. As soon as she tried to gather everyone up, they formed a semi-circle around her, with about 6-8′ space between the outer perimeter (which they were forming) and the center (the director) and then the artists behind the director. I could only sneak in one photo without being incredibly obnoxious, and given that all these people were standing around and politely applauding for me having won the thing… well, I really didn’t want to be obnoxious.

It was such a strange moment, though. I know they were doing it so that everyone could see and so that no one would be treated rudely, but it was odd – I mean, the semi-circle was near perfect, and it just formed spontaneously. That one guy who’s standing there with a soda or whatever was there for about two seconds before he started to feel really weird and stepped back a bit to join everyone else.

I’ve come to love watching people who go to museums and stare at the paintings on the wall while holding one of those recorded tour things to their ear. That’s got to be one of my favorite unconscious gestures ever. But this one comes pretty close.

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4 Comments

  1. Andrew said,

    Congratulations on winning the fellowship! It’ll be exciting to see what you all end up making!

    When I started to work trade shows and dealt with hundreds of sales a day, I noticed that I started becoming really keen on picking up on certain body language signals. 9 times out of 10 I could predict the outcome of a sale before it even happened.

    For instance, I’ve noticed that when people clasp their hands tightly behind their backs, it’s usually to indicate that they are just looking or are on a budget.

    I’ve noticed specific things in myself as well. When I’m in a gallery, I usually hook one thumb in my back pocket or on one of the back belt-loops, and the other one resting on my front pocket or pulled up to hold my shoulder.

  2. amywilson said,

    I find that so weird that we all do that stuff. For me, once I find out that something is an indicator of a certain kind of behavior/attitude, I tend to try to do the opposite. So, for instance, I heard once that rubbing your nose while talking to someone is an indicator that you might be telling a lie, and so I often catch myself telling the absolute, heartfeld truth… and rubbing my nose, because somewhere along the way I wanted to be contrary. (I’m trying to really stop doing this. It’s fallen under my list of things that only make my life more difficult and annoying.)

    Do you find that your gestures change as you see a work of art that you like or that you hate?

  3. Andrew said,

    The latest issue of Time Out New York is about telling lies and indicators of telling lies. A lot of it is common sense and pretty lame, but the article S-P-E-L-L-S it all out.

    Earlier this evening, I went to Triple Candie up in Harlem to check out the latest “Lester Hayes” exhibition. I didn’t have any background information except for the biography provided by the alternative space. I noticed that immediately, my arms crossed over and I kept adjusting my shoulder bag. I walked quickly through and noticed that I was looking more at architectural and structural elements of the building more than the actual art works. I think it is one of the only shows where I HATED the work, but eventually LOVED the show.

    One thing that I’ve noticed when people love the work is blank out. At MoMA, on several different occasions, people would be so transfixed by Monet’s Waterlilies that they would grab my arm and say things like, “Isn’t that amazing…” only just then realizing that I wasn’t their son, lover, or husband and apologizing profusely for the mistake. I can’t count how many times this has happened in front of Monet or Van Gogh or Klimt paintings.

    Speaking of reactions to artwork, there’s a psychological/psychosomatic illness called Stendhal Syndrome, which basically causes physical pain, confusion, renders the viewer catatonic, causes fainting, dizziness, or hallucinations from viewing a beautiful work of art.

  4. Yadir said,

    Degas was obsessed with dancers for a reason…

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