Art Flight

“A painting in a museum probably hears more foolish remarks than anything else in the world.”
    Edmond De Goncourt

In October (2019) we made our semi-irregular (as in “every two or three years” unless its not) visit to Pat's sister and her husband in west-central Michigan. While these trips are never entirely about making photographs, I’ve had unreasonably good photo luck with weather and fall color in other Octobers, 2008, 2012, and 2013. With that in mind I packed a minimal kit of gear, Pat packed everything else, and we flew off to Grand Rapids. Our flight arrived in wind and rain and dark, too late to do anything but crash in a local hotel. During our three-day visit the dark came and went as it tends to do, but the rain and wind persisted.

Our ride north to Big Rapids arrived after breakfast the next morning. On the 50-plus mile (80 km) drive I could see the foliage color looked good, if not great, but the leaves wouldn’t last long in the strong wind. Because it's on the way we stopped for a tour of Meijer Gardens, and after lunch there under a big Dale Chihuly installation we continued the drive to the in-law's home.

We spent the days doing what relatives do during visits like this: hanging out, shooting the breeze, and eating. I took a couple of walks with bro-in-law around their 60-acres of wooded property. In the wind, and to the flat gray sound of October rain, of course, but I enjoyed the walks. We all had a very nice dinner, with a pair of mutual friends, in the in-laws’ newly-expanded three-season porch, making for a terrific evening. We also had a meal in what may be Big Rapids’s best restaurant, a real treat, and we could watch the rain pour down outside the large front windows. And we couldn’t miss the requisite tour of the town’s co-op art gallery, Artworks, and saw some excellent work among the expected so-so stuff. Artworks is a large gallery exhibiting a diverse array of art, along with some craft and other work, and is always worth a look.

At nearby Ferris State University we visited an exhibit of multimedia pieces made to look like greatly enlarged printed circuit boards, very abstract and geometrical. I enjoyed it, having worked with real PCBs for most of my working life. Typical of circuitry from the 1980s and earlier, the simple, wide trace lines on colorful backgrounds, most about two by three feet (50 x 75 cm), made an interesting display.

Our in-laws returned us to the Grand Rapids airport, but with our return-home flight set for mid-afternoon we had most of our departure day to visit a couple of the city’s art museums.


The gorgeous Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), our first stop, featured an exhibit of the work of David Wiesner, whose “wordless stories” are nothing short of stunning. The exhibit consisted of a number of original illustrations for Wiesner’s books, with plenty of explanation and some interactive exhibits. His drawings are intricate in both concept and detail, and he puts them together into fun and engaging stories that can be “read” over and over. We spent a couple of hours going through it, and I’d have done it again if we’d had time. Fun stuff.

Interior views of the GRAM.

'Architectural' pictures made, just for fun, inside the GRAM. Click or tap the image for larger versions. (Smartphone photos)

It didn’t hurt that the exhibit hung in a lovely and very modern building. The urge to make and present photographs is strong, and I couldn’t help myself; I pulled out my best camera (the “best camera” is the one you have with you, in this case, my phone) and made a few pictures of some of the interior architectural detail. This isn’t the kind of work I do, so I don’t know much about doing it, but the strong geometric lines combined with the light and shadow of muted sunlight through the windows helped highlight the the design goodness, making obvious some of the compositions. Shown here is a small sample of three photos. On this cold and windy Wednesday morning we had the place largely to ourselves, sharing it only with a docent-led tour of perhaps a dozen people. This allowed me to make some people-free photos. I think with proper equipment and know-how one could produce a book entirely of images of the GRAM’s facility. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s already been done.

Our next stop, a few blocks away at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, provided a range of modern art from the interesting, to beautiful, to weird, to huh? Compared to the GRAM the UIAC is a much more industrial-looking facility, with exposed concrete beams and wiring conduit, and an exterior metal grid framing glass panels. Some displays consisted of only a few pieces, while others filled entire rooms. “Memory Map: Roof Line - State Street,” a several-story-high display of “colored braids of repurposed textiles strung into planes floating in space” (per the UICA’s Web site), while fun to view from various levels in the building, was one of the more puzzling installations, especially when viewed in the context of the museum’s over-the-top description of the work. It may be art, or it may be something else, but to make up for that the museum dedicated an enormous space to it. “On the Scene,” a display of life-sized cut-out human silhouettes set against photographed backdrops seemed more like amateurish sets for a grade school play, but these too occupied prominent space in the museum. Another installation, “Spectra,” made from thousands of small colored squares affixed to three free-flowing 3D wall-mounted surfaces evoked (for me) psychedelic posters from the 1970s. It must have taken months to create, and I thought it the best of all the installations on display.

Short and Sweet

We left Montana on a Sunday and returned very late on Wednesday (the wee hours of Thursday by the time we made the 70 mile (113 km) drive home from the Missoula, MT, airport). A short trip. I saw a few things I’d like to have photographed, in particular an interesting barn we passed several times. But thanks to the wind, rain, and gloomy sky, I never touched my camera (except for the phone’s, in the GRAM). Still, an enjoyable trip filled with museums and galleries and art and sometimes not-so-art. There’s always a silver lining.

Thanks very much to the in-laws for all the planning, work, and driving!

November, 2019

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