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Chris Thile on the artistic process

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Before the main event on Saturday evening, Chris Thile spent an hour with a smaller audience answering questions on the artistic process and the state of music in the modern day. Thile is a virtuoso mandolinist, singer, and songwriter, best known as a co-founder of Grammy award-winning Nickel Creek. A leading figure in modern bluegrass, Thile fit the image of the artist. He was dressed in worn jeans and a blue striped oxford, three buttons undone. His receding brown hair was tousled, and he spoke with a certain thoughtfulness, pausing to consider before answering questions.

He began by playing a cut from “Daughter of Eve.” Originally a nine-minute song, the sample was both funky and bluesy, shifting between highly technical plucking and impassioned strumming as the song progressed. After the initial riff, Thile began to sing “The Cherubim will name me / The most beautiful daughter of eve / But they will more kiss my cheek / Before Eden is open again.” The song is both simple and complex, hymn in form but poem in function. It asks us to consider the beauty we see around us, to question it. While the mandolin often produces a folksy tune, Thile somehow sounded modern, new and exciting.

As the song faded, Thile paused, then began to speak.

“What I want to talk about,” he said, “is the importance of constructing the lightning rod instead of waiting for lightning to strike. There’s a famous Faulkner quote that goes like this: ‘I can only write when I am inspired. Thankfully, I am inspired every day at 9 a.m.’” It’s not about waiting for artistic revelation; the revelation is found through long hours of hard work. He described the process of writing as “hammering indiscriminately away at a block of marble… until some shape emerges.”

Hearing Thile describe his rigorous and thoroughly artistic writing method was refreshing compared to a music industry that sometimes seems to have lost the art of songwriting. Thile defined the “genre of pop” solely as music written with the purpose of entertaining the masses. This purpose is what often dissuades artists from experimenting. Cultural and financial pressure often forces them to continue to work within the boundaries instead of taking risks.

In an age of limitless music streaming, Thile believes that there is a “potential loss of whatever the musical equivalent of dialect is and the beauty of an accent.” As an example, Thile covered the beginning of the fifth song on Nirvana’s second studio release “Nevermind,” “Lithium.” Played on the mandolin, the chords sounded sharp, short, and a bit folksy. Thile would say that was his dialect or his accent. He layers into the established song his own nuances, as the best covers do, and in doing so, he was able to both honor the song while making it his own.

Thile ended his discussion with three music suggestions. The first is a called “My Bubba,” a duet of two women, one Swedish and the other Icelandic. Their intimate harmonies blend beautifully over soft acoustic guitar. The second is the latest Tame Impala record, “Currents,” a mix of synthetic and pysch pop that is new and riveting. Finally, Thile suggests we all give Carolina Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize-winning a cappella project “Partita for 8 Voices” a listen.

“New is easy, and good is easy, and new and good is really hard,” Thile said as he tuned his mandolin.

A lot of music ends up sounding either too repetitive or too “out there.” The intersection of new and good is where the best music comes from. There, one can find the artists who take risks and experiment. Sometimes they are successful and break into the mainstream, but still often they are not, only there for those willing to search hard for the remarkable.

Gallery-Hopping in Old City

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For this week’s piece, I tried venturing outside my regular streak of museum exhibitions and visited a few galleries on North Second Street in Old City. Maybe you already know about this Philadelphia neighborhood, a lively trove of art, food, and history, but it was my first time visiting. To be perfectly honest, I always feel slightly out of place in neighborhoods like Old City, namely because of the bougie parts. A Roche Bobois (a high-end French designer furniture store), farm-to-table restaurants, and Yoga studios attended almost exclusively by white women are just a few things that tune me into this. Last Saturday, however, when I visited the galleries, I was pleasantly surprised and relieved by the cordial nature with which I was received. Everyone I met in the galleries, whether they were an artist or curator, was excited to talk about the art with me.

I’ve gone gallery-hopping in Chelsea, Manhattan, and you can always make a day out of it. The best part about these smaller galleries in Chelsea and Old City is that they are not only concentrated in one area, but they also do not charge for admission! Visiting these galleries is an excellent way to expose yourself to new artists you have never heard of, or see new work by artists you do know. It’s always ever so slightly draining, mentally and physically, but you can look at so, so much art in one day without paying a dime. It is, of course, difficult to forget about money entirely with the occasional price tag in commercial galleries artists have to make a living too!

This week, I chose to focus on two galleries that are actually located right across the street from one another: Muse Gallery and Larry Becker Contemporary Art Gallery. Right now, both galleries have contemporary abstract paintings on view, which might make them worthwhile to visit in tandem.

Founded in 1978, Muse Gallery is actually an artists’ cooperative, meaning it is run by and exhibits the same practicing artists without ties to a larger institution or corporation (like a museum). The cooperative was initially established with feminist underpinnings, which persist to this day with 18 of the 19 artists in the cooperative identifying as women. Currently on view until April 30th is “Disturbance in the Color Field,” a solo exhibition of Diane Lachman’s new paintings.

Lachman works in oil, watercolor, and acrylic, with some of her wooden panel paintings bordering on sculpture. Her paintings focus on color and explore it as a means of communication through abstract and geometric shapes. These shapes bear few if any ties to observable realities. The wonderful thing about color is that you don’t need to study art for years to appreciate it, so shows like this have the potential to be enjoyable for a lot of visitors. My personal favorites of the show were her watercolors; there’s something about the soft, ethereal fields of different hues that pleases my eye (and heart, honestly), something that’s innate to the medium of watercolor itself.

But others may find Lachman’s acrylic or oil on wood paintings more interesting, which, for me, evoke nostalgic memories of colorful wooden toy blocks. These oil on wood paintings, likely from her Color Chords series, apply concepts of musical expression and composition to painting and color. On her artist website, she writes about this series and the application of music theory.

“Like musical chords, where tension between different tones is resolved by their participation in the whole, I strive to compose harmonious paintings by carefully selecting color notes. I search for an exquisite chord that transcends the individual notes until I find the visual perfect pitch,” writes Lachman.

Muse Gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday, from noon to 5pm. If you are interested, the gallery will also be holding a reception celebrating the show on April 23 from 2p.m to 5p.m during which you can meet Lachman and the other artists in the cooperative!

Across the street from Muse Gallery is Larry Becker Contemporary Art Gallery. I was drawn to this gallery by the colorful Thornton Willis painting, “Stepover,” hanging near the window, having just looked at Lachman’s show. Upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised by the worn wooden floor (most galleries have this austere sterility to them, but not this one) and the gallery owners’ cat. The gallery’s current show “18: Six Artists [Some Paintings]” exhibits the work of Willis, John Zinsser, Peter Tollens, Tim Schwartz, Steve Riedell, and Marcia Hafif. There are 18 paintings, three per artist. This show will be up until May 6, and the gallery is always open Friday and Saturday from 11a.m to 5p.m.

I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted looking at the art, yet I distinctly remember each of these 18 paintings, which speaks to how memorable these works were. Willis and Hafif have been painting since the 1960s, with the other artists having worked for at least thirty to forty years, so in their newer work exhibited here, I felt I could see the honing of each artist’s style of investigation. Some artists are more concerned with color, like Hafif, while others seem to focus more on the materiality of paint, like Zinsser. The juxtaposition of these works with slightly different foci, however, allows us to compare what the various artists have done with the paint, and prod at the question of why they each did what they did. In sum, while this show exhibits artists some people may never have seen or heard of before, it also allows for individuals more familiar with the artists and their work to engage with the show as well. It’s fun for newcomers, but not boring for connoisseurs, in other words.

There are so many other little galleries to check out on North Second Street that I haven’t covered here, like Twelve Gates Art Gallery, 3rd Street Gallery, The Clay Studio Gallery, Pentimenti Gallery, and many more. I definitely recommend making a trip to Old City for these fun little art galleries. Go see this!

March First Friday

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On the first Friday of every month, galleries around Third Street in Philadelphia open up for free and feature special exhibits. “First Friday” is a public event that takes places in various cities around the United States on the first Friday of each month, bringing artists together around the country. First Friday started in Philadelphia in 1991 as an effort to host a collaborative open house in Old City and has now expanded to several bars, restaurants, and vintage stores.There is always something new to look at as you hop between galleries, the only common theme between the galleries being that they are all free and in Old City. Most of the events for the night happen along Third Street, making it easy to wander from gallery to gallery.

I started my night  with a small gallery featuring several paintings that were made to look as if they were stained glass. The artist, Rae Chichilnisky, used a relief outliner, similar to puffy paint,  to outline objects in her paintings. The relief outliner, which added an extra dimension to the painting as it popped off the canvas, made the paintings resemble stained glass.

The Center for Art in Wood was our next destination. The gallery was participating in “Small Favors: Think Inside the Box,” a series with The Clay Studio. The gallery featured a plethora of impressive pieces ranging from things as practical as an ice cream scooper to a wooden sculpture that resembled a tornado. Hanging above the opening to the main gallery space was a sculpture of a life size meteor that was illuminated from within. Attached to the meteor was a swarm of butterflies with wings made of laser cut wood.

The gallery was filled with people of all ages wandering around and commenting on the pieces. I was impressed at every turn and appreciated the volunteers that pointed out small but extraordinary details about each piece. One volunteer brought our attention to a wooden blanket that was made of delicately made wooden triangles glued to a silk screen. She sharedour awe and appreciation for the time and skill that went into the displayed piece.

The Third Street Gallery continually participates in First Friday. This Friday they featured ink drawings from Matthew Hall. “Fabricating Nostalgia,” the exhibit in the gallery, featured beautifully drawn scenes that demonstrated the complexity of everyday moments. He also shared the gallery with a photographer, Keith Sharp, who featured a collection of photos of scenes around Media, PA.

The Jessica Eldrige Studio was one of many participants in “First Friday”and presented a unique twist on how guests interacted with the exhibit. The gallery invited guests to bring any object that could fit into a zip-close bag. Then when guests arrived at the gallery, they could trade their item for one of the small pieces produced by the artist, Aly Giantisco.

In addition to the various galleries that were open, the night also featured a free concert at the Christ Church Neighborhood House. The Poor Richard’s Chamber Music Society played renditions of Bartok, Meyer, and Brahms’ to add to the First Friday festivities.

In addition to wandering through galleries and listening to music, there are several restaurants that participated in First Friday. Baril, a French restaurant known for their seafood, features their incredible traditional soup plate with a live performance by the jazz band, Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society. If you’re still thirsty and/or looking for First Friday specials, Olde Bar is the place to end your night. For First Friday, they featured a cocktail special called For Whom the Bell tolls.

The next First Friday will happen on April 7th and the list of events, participating galleries, restaurants and stores will be available online through visitphilly.com’s First Friday section. As the weather warms up the amount of participants will only increase, so it will become more exciting and fun.

Draw a picture, take a break!

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Midterm season is upon us and it’s easy to become too stressed or overwhelmed. However, we at the Phoenix want to stress the importance of self-care and the need to take a break every once in awhile.  We want to encourage you to focus on the bliss that will come from spring break after midterm season. Draw a picture of what you are doing over break and submit your drawings to the Phoenix! We will feature the winning drawing in our next publication!

Cooking with Dina

in Arts by

Dina Ginzburg ’18, from Berlin, is an artist who involves herself with radically different disciplines. She is a computer science major as well as a member of the band Calypso Baby! with Blake Oetting ’18 and Noah Lifset ’18.

Although this band and her solo work are closer to studies of experimentalism, a compositional practice that explores sensibilities and movement, she first became interested in music through classical music. 

“I’ve had piano lessons since I was seven, so I’m pretty classically trained. I had a Russian piano teacher. I can pick stuff on a guitar and I sing, but I don’t really like my voice,” Ginzburg said.

This classical training in piano has not manifested itself in musical pretentiousness. Modern technology has influenced her art and music.

“We’ve been talking about that in my Integrated Media Design class a lot because a lot of that has to do with using different mediums like projection. But basically it’s more tools for making art and if they’re the right tools for the idea that you have and the message you’re trying to get across, of course, use whatever you need, ” Ginzburg said.

However, she does believe that technology should only be used purposefully.

“Technology for technology’s sake is obviously pretty stupid,” said Ginzburg.

She dislikes the new culture of creating music with high-tech equipment and catered towards those who are familiar with specific types of music theory or practices. She believes that this type of culture is one that is exclusionary and also doesn’t really guarantee good or interesting music. Ginzburg herself is not trained in this way.

“I don’t think I’m technically or formally trained, like I’ve never been taught music theory or had any training in how to play an instrument other than piano or been taught how to write songs or anything like that. And I recorded them on my laptop and I don’t care if I make mistakes or it sounds weird. So like depending on the constraints I have on what I’m doing, each album sounds really different,” said Ginzburg.

The aesthetic of each album’s artwork also plays an interesting role in setting the tone for the album. She described the reason behind  her album “cooking with dina.”

“This one is because I wrote all of these songs while I was here over the summer and I had just moved into my new apartment and it reminds me of home and being okay,” said Ginzburg.

She looked at another album called “RELG 008: PAtternsof Asian Religions,” and explained the album art:

“This one is just a photo from my Patterns of Asian Religion class. The professor would have photo slides and he would click and they would change.” She points, “this one is a reclining Buddha which has lots of meaning and I just thought it’s a really moving photo,” said Ginzburg.

She described the artwork for her first album, “for myself”, illustrating the influence from her time at the Harvard library.

“I was working at the Harvard library in the Judaica division. This one is from these postcards that we were cataloging and archiving, and also this album is vaguely about me getting over my high school boyfriend like two years later. I’m into more traditional gender roles when it comes to romantic relationships and like how that was shown here,”said Ginzburg.

Music can be a profoundly cathartic medium, one which Ginzburg appreciates both on a personal level and on the ways it can heal society.

“Music is very emotional and it’s a very visceral thing. You hear it and you immediately feel

it,” said Ginzburg.  

She believes that the empowering faculties of music are especially relevant in today’s time and that music can be a source of hope. Inspirational artists that spread messages relevant to modern times can play a crucial role in our future society.

“I feel like 2016 was such a good year for music and there are so many important albums like Solange’s album, and Tribe Called Quest’s. I just found this woman named Xenia Rubinos who is also amazing,” said Ginzburg.

One artist that Ginzburg loves is PJ Harvey, a female English musician, poet, and composer.

“I’m going to go see her in April in Philly alone. I’m going by myself and getting there early and will stand first in line. She’s really awesome. I really really connect with her, especially as a woman and the way she responds to femininity and the way she feels as a woman,” Ginzburg explained.

“Also, every album has a completely different style and different aesthetic, even the music videos and her live shows. She always feels very of-the-time. Her most recent album, which she’s going on tour with, is all about globalisation and capitalism and she’s moved farther away from the 90’s angsty girl music.”

Ginzburg is excited about the performance also because PJ Harvey deeply resonates with her at this point in her life.  

“She just came to me at a really perfect time. I just really think she’s so cool.”

Ginzburg’s funky taste in music and ideals of inclusivity show through in her own work. In the upcoming year, Dina and Calypso Baby! plan to record their albums in a professional studio, and to also direct music videos for their songs.

A new way to draw

in Arts/Uncategorized by

One of Peripeteia’s many workshops this weekend was a two-day drawing workshop in Kitao Gallery called Drawing the Movements, taught by Maisie Luo ’19. Jake Mundo ’18, a member of the Peripeteia planning committee, explains that the goal of Peripeteia workshops is to expose students to new and interesting things that they might not otherwise get the chance to explore.

“Everyone here has such interesting things to share, and ultimately what we want to do is give people a forum to share those things and provide the resources they need to do it effectively, ” Mundo said.

Luo’s workshop focused on a drawing method that she wanted to share with the Swarthmore community. The first day started with an exercise in which we closed our eyes and tried to draw our dorm room using charcoal. Rather than trying to draw what we expect the room to look like, our assignment was to capture the movement of the lines within our room. For the next exercise, we drew each other’s faces, using only geometric shapes and avoiding attempts to perfectly mimic the face we were looking at. Luo explained that this drawing technique was in effect more like sculpting, envisioning the many planes on a human face.

The next exercise was the bulk of Luo’s workshop: working with a moving human model. We were instructed not to worry too much about capturing what we though the model looked like, but rather to focus on the movement of her body, homing in on specific areas like her hands or nose. Even though drawing movement can be difficult, this workshop is designed so that everyone, from beginners to daily sketchers, can fully benefit from the exercise.  After the class, Luo explained her goals for the workshop.

“I wanted it to be a good way for people to enjoy the process and gain a different perspective of how you can draw. The art department is art major focused . . . but this way, a lot of people who haven’t drawn before get a different perspective of how to see things and how to make marks.”

While this is the first time Luo has interacted with Kitao and Peripeteia, this isn’t her first experience with this kind of drawing. Luo said that she learned how to draw from her teachers in high school and read extensively about different ways to draw movement with your whole body.

“I’ve taught arts classes, mostly to elementary school kids, but not as advanced as this class. I wanted to let them focus on observation, and having fun making marks,” she explained. The workshop was designed for people from varying backgrounds, and Maisie believes that the diverse group of specialties in the workshop worked well with what she was teaching.

“The people in class were all physics, math, or psychology majors. And they found a lot of similarities between what they understood about their discipline and what we were doing,” she said.

One of the participants in the workshop, Sacha Lin ’20, is an intended environmental studies major and shared what she thought of the class.

“I actually don’t really draw. I’ve tried to get into sketching a few times before, but I’ve always been concerned about what it looks like to me. I figured this was a good way to just draw in a non-self-conscious manner, and I think it really helped me in the end,” Lin said.

When asked if she thought that the exercise informed her own discipline, Lin said she agreed with Luo.

“When you’re doing studio art, you really have to look. And I think that it increases your awareness of your surroundings and opens all these possibilities of things you haven’t seen. It makes you better at thinking about things in your everyday life.” she said.

When asked if she wants to return to drawing in the future, Lin said that she’d be interested.

“Yeah definitely, and I’d like to try doing my own Peripeteia.”

Lin’s response to the workshop is part of what Peripeteia wants from the participants. Mundo further explained why he thinks that Peripeteia is a great program for Swatties in particular.

“We feel we often fall into a trap of departmental compartmentalization, and we don’t get chances to be exposed to new and interesting things or share our thoughts, ideas, and skills with others who have very different perspectives and backgrounds,” Mundo said.

Luo explained that she was very proud of the workshop.

“In the end, I think everything went really well,” she remarked. She hopes to share her unique drawing method with other Swarthmore students and is thankful for her partnership with Peripeteia in her workshop. When she spoke to The Phoenix, Luo was enthusiastic about continuing to teach her drawing methods.

“I’ve read a lot of books on this, and there are plenty of exercises left to do. Maybe I can even start a club.”

McCabe Displays Student Studio Art Projects

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“Observations of a Box”, the current exhibit on view in McCabe library, presents the works of students in Professor Logan Grider’s Foundation to Drawing class. The students were assigned to design three-dimensional compositions with recycled cardboard and then to configure them within a box into which the viewer can look from a small hole on its side. Students were allowed to choose whether they wanted their work to be presented using natural light or a light fixture within the box which the viewer can turn off and on by pressing a button located on one side of the box. Upon the completion, students drew the scenes of their composition, which are also on view. The compositions were intended to be inspired by the works of the master painters such as Giotto, Poussin, Titian, and Caravaggio. Giotto was  an Italian painter, who is widely considered to be key contributor to the early Renaissance movement of the late Middle Ages. He was known for the remarkable and detailed postures that his figures took on in the paintings, which were intended to be as natural as possible. Nicolas Poussin was a prominent painter of the French Baroque style and usually painted history paintings depicting religious and mythological scenes. Titian, like Giotto, had a profound influence on Renaissance and made use of the power of vivid colors and non-precise brushstrokes. Caravaggio in turn influenced Baroque painting and is often credited as the key artist to introduce modern painting. He is known for his lighting techniques as well as focus on portraying a realistic human state.

Students looked at works by these artists and then sketched interpretations of them. These would later influence their three dimensional compositions. The scenes depicted in these paintings varied in subject, but based on the students’ interpretations, many featured scenes involving multiple characters involved in some sort of conflict. The decision to use natural or artificial light also played a large part on the final product of the work. Alice Dong ’20  visited the exhibit and said,

I chose natural light because I wanted to have less of a harsh difference in the contrast of the material. I felt as though since we had already spray painted the majority of the box white, I felt like the tiniest bit of natural light should be able to give enough highlight to areas of my project. I learned a lot about how different lighting changes and how to trust my hand to draw without having to look at the paper every two seconds. Also, I used four different mediums to create my drawings so I was able to compare how different it felt using each one to create light. ”

The simple materials and methods that the students were permitted to use offer a contrasting perspective to the original sources of inspirations, which were often highly elaborate and ornate, featuring vibrant colors and textures. These contrasting perspectives demonstrate to the viewer that even when the ornateness is torn away, one can impose an equally strong image onto the viewer.  Dong  commented,

I really enjoyed this project as it challenged my ability to physically create something as well as my imagination in order to transform the inner parts of the box into a more natural-looking setting rather than just a bunch of pieces of cardboard. I also really liked that it didn’t matter that much how well you could make your box, but more so how well you could interpret your box of items that you made and transform it from 3D onto a piece of paper in front of you”

At the same time, many elements of the sources of inspiration remain. All of the painters discussed in the class were masters of light and portraying dynamic human interaction, and such themes were depicted in students’ compositions as well. Caravaggio’s paintings in particular depict dramatic scenarios in which a whole cast of characters are caught in an web, each character gripping another. These same dramatic scenarios appear in the students’ works. The box in which the compositions appear adds another layer of dimension. The viewer is prompted to engage with the work in an intimate way, demanding one to literally lean in to the work  peer in. Only one person can look in at a time, further making it an individualized experience.

The box requires the viewer to observe the art from a single angle chosen by the artist. This allows the artist to take control of the viewers perspective, empowering them as they expose their work to observers. From the outside, the box itself becomes the piece of artto an outside viewer. This fall, Pippilotti Rist’s exhibit at the New Museum in New York featured these same boxes, . Looking at the sea of boxes ahead, these became as important to the artistic experience as the actual video inside of them.

“I loved the way that the box itself became part of the artwork. It made it a really interactive experience.” said George Menz ’20 about the work. She added that “the boxes disguised the drama of the scenes at hand, so that the unsuspecting viewer was surprised when she peeked inside.”

There is Light

in Campus Journal/Philly Beat by
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Hello, friends. I hope you are all doing okay. As I write this pre-election, thinking about what tomorrow holds, all I can think to say is that I sincerely hope you are okay. There’s a weird energy on campus today; and we’re right at that peak of time when the sensory overload is exhausting and everything feels surreal. There is light, though, I promise. And I’m here to talk to you about it. The first order of business being “MOONLIGHT.” Did you know that there is a indie movie theater in the Old City called Ritz East? I’m planning to go back to see Nocturnal Animals, which you should look up the trailer for it’s coming out soon and it’s directed by Tom Ford! Moonlight is absolutely stunning in every aspect. Treat yourself. This isn’t a movie review, but I’m just here to tell you that, if you think it might be something you are interested in, it is worth it a hundred times. It was breathtaking and heartbreaking, yet it didn’t leave you feeling empty as some movies tend to do. I don’t remember the last time a movie left me with this kind of excited awe.

I also had the opportunity to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see its current exhibit, which is open through Jan. 8th Paint The Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950. It was my first time seeing Frida Kahlo paintings in person, and it was wonderful (also, if you haven’t watched “Frida” (2002) yet, it’s on Netflix). I could’ve lost myself all day amongst so many striking works of art embedded in the social fabric of change. I was yelled at by a security guard for getting too close to a painting because I was fascinated by the detail that went into the colour gradient on a woman in a painting. There is an entire colourful gift store specifically for this exhibit, which I grudgingly left with plans to return before actually leaving the museum (which didn’t happen because, even though the people in the store said they were still open after the galleries closed, we got kicked out when I went downstairs to get my wallet. I’m still salty).

After leaving the Mexican Modernism exhibit, we made our way upstairs to the New South Asian Galleries through rooms within rooms, with walls draped in Persian carpets and decorated with Persian tiles. I never realized how huge this museum is, and the curation in the New South Asian Galleries is truly impressive. When they kick you out of the museum at 5 o’clock, you should go out the back entrance where there is a little walkway and two gazebo-type structures that overlook the water. The light will be golden. Perfect for impromptu photoshoots. Go sit on the benches and revel as the sunlight turns you to gold. Look at the sky. Take pictures. Talk about everything or nothing. Figure out the spaces where you find your clarity, and seek those spaces out again and again. They will keep your soul happy and your mind at ease, and that’s so, so important. Especially now.  

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