We all know architecture can be art, though we are just as likely to argue for practical use ahead of beauty. Art museums perhaps have the most asked of them in that we expect art when we are outside the edifice, but still expect a pleasing experience navigating the collection. You could argue that art museums have it a bit easier once you pass through their portal because the collection will inspire and seduce you. What though of a museum whose collection is not explicitly art?
Cooperstown is a lovely Finger Lakes town with a downtown dominated by baseball, as the museum draws a lot of visitors year round despite being fairly far from major population centers. The museum is attractive enough from the outside, but something unexpected happens inside.
I will leave a discussion of the art involved in the act of sport for another time, but I feel comfortable saying that Ty Cobb’s bat is an object of historical interest (specialized at that) and not particularly artistic in and of itself (let the collegial debating begin). So, the museum must work harder for an aesthetic experience.
Allow me to digress. I cannot deny that baseball is intrinsically American and that the museum does little to place the sport in any sort of global context (with the exception of nods to Canada, Japan, and Latin America). So, the emotional pull of the collection probably does not carry over to those without a predisposition to be moved by the sight of Roy Campanella’s glove. If you fall into this category, then the museum is not going to work its magic in quite the same way, but the Jackie Robinson display ought to move anyone, just as his life transcended the sport. Of course, you are welcome to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or Tennis or, even, the Ham Museum, if that floats your boat.
Whatever the subject of your museum, the curators always aim to tell a story. In large, multi-subject palaces, the story is broken down into distinct galleries and those don’t always carry over from one to another. Like that display of Edvard Munch drawings next to the Medieval Icons… all right I could see someone making sense of that…
The Baseball Hall of Fame takes you through the history of the game with diversions into cultural history that place the game in the world that it traverses. Sure, the Ken Burns documentary on baseball was lovely, but the actual holy relics of the sport somehow carry a power that cannot be denied. These institutions always save the plaques for last. After you walk by Babe Ruth’s locker (and consider how many youngsters would have given their back teeth to stand where you are), you enter the holy sanctuary where the names and accomplishments of the elect line the walls.
If the museum does it right, the experience is akin to walking the labyrinth in one of the great churches. Maybe it is better than that.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 276 more to go.
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