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I walked a long way today, first on the Runyon, at the back of Hollywood and then I walked about eight or nine kilometers to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). I spent half an hour in the children’s  gallery painting with Chinese brushes and had a lovely conversation with two grown ups who go there often to paint. Then I went on an ancient art tour – an hour spent with a divine, knowledgeable guide whose rhythm suited my sensibility (today anyway) and an exquisite selection of objects from ancient Egypt,  Iraq and Iran. What a pleasure to have her setting the stage for us to get to know the objects, which were all functional in initial intent, but are now of course apprehended as rare and refined art objects of great mystery representing great spiritual power. Story was the key today and refreshing our memory about the ancient myths and illustrating those myths by drawing attention to particular objects created a traditional although beautifully delivered learning experience in a gallery context. When delivered to this level of excellence there’s nothing wrong with the traditional model of gallery tours, for a certain sector of the gallery going audience. In this case, she led us on a well thought out pathway through the exhibition which matched the tour description and our expectation. In Egypt it was all about the after life and immortality, crossing into the next world and meeting Osiris. What do I remember from  the tour – do I remember the objects, do I remember the stories, do I remember the guide, do I remember that a curator was having her picture taken in the adjoining gallery and she was talking so loudly that she drowned out our guide for a moment. I’m thinking hard. What was the first object we saw: Ah ha! a map of the middle east with ancient and modern names in different shades of grey. Then …. ah yes, a small but divine Osiris, standing in a formal pose legs together, arms across the chest (mummy like), and an elegant face with a neat tubular beard which is an identifying feature of this God. We went on to view a coffin, a ….. tablet created for a tomb with a hieroglyphic  inscription, two wooden ‘mummy tops’ – facades that would have been laid over the mummified body, pots with long spouts – probably ceremonial, an Ibis staff head. Is it the detail of the objects or the pleasure of the conversation that delighted me? Thinking through this question I decide it was the narrative that I loved, the living organic ephemeral spoken word – but it was a narrative that needed the object as the catalyst. And it was a narrative that needed an attentive audience for the exchange bear fruit. I guess as gallery educators we rarely know which seeds are falling into fallow ground, but we always hope that something of what we deliver will water the green shoot of curiosity in the audience. My next question – does a pleasurable conversation facilitated around an art object always water the seed of imagination, is it essential that it does? Or does it all act as organic matter adding to the rich compost of our lived experiences and creating fallow ground so that when the ‘right’ seed falls the tree will grow?
…I think it’s all compost and I think I added lots of organic matter to the compost of my particular memory today – and it was rich and pleasurable and satisfying.