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Tacoma's Museum District

Sunday, 13 October 2019 17:03
Section of River at Lavacourt by Claude Monet Section of River at Lavacourt by Claude Monet Photo: Portland Art Museum

by Matt Wakefield

I end up going to a lot of museum exhibition previews, and individually, each one is some degree of interesting.

But last week, I started looking at the slate of exhibitions that just launched or are about to launch in the Museum District as a whole and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a roster that collectively could act like a snapshot of what Tacoma is to me. It’s full of unapologetic juxtaposition, weird combinations that just somehow work, new perspectives and an inclusiveness that says it doesn’t matter who you are; if you bring something new, different and powerful to the table, we’re here for it.

Degas meets Bart Simpson

Tacoma Art Museum literally has an exhibition of the Impressionist masters (Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Their Circle: French Impressionism and the Northwest) in a gallery next to an exhibition about the art of The Simpsons (Bart at TAM: Animating America’s Favorite Family). Record-scratch stop. I’d bet this is the first and last time Degas, Renoir and Monet share a museum roof with Bart Simpson. The PR guy in me is tempted to write something like “impressionism and The Simpsons are both celebrations of the Everyman, in reaction to the prevailing currents of their respective eras that glorified the noble and the exceptional” only, not really. It’s an unapologetic mismatch of two unconventional exhibitions, and TAM didn’t let the contrast stop them from putting them side by side.

History through hemlines

You want to make people pay attention to history, show them the hemlines of dresses in the 1960s. Then, explain what was happening in American society that made them so short. They could have made it gimmicky, but Washington State History Museum didn't. Their new Little Black Dress: A Fashion Evolution exhibition is captivating without crossing the line. The exhibition follows the design trends of the Little Black Dress from the 1880s (when it wasn’t so little – about 25 lbs.) to modern day, keeping the historical context at the forefront. Maps, sepia-toned photos and artifacts will always have a place in history museums, but I love to see a Tacoma museum taking a chance and looking at history through a completely different lens.

Total transparency

Museum of Glass is presenting Transparency, the first exhibition with works produced exclusively by artists in the LGBTQ+ community. Studio glass is a new(ish) medium, only a few decades old. Tacoma is on the forefront of that medium, so MoG has a giant platform to help decide what’s important. With this exhibition, they’re saying “If you bring a unique experience and tons of talent to a young art form, we’ve got gallery space for you.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 October 2019 10:50


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