The Best Things In Museums Are the Windows
A Project with Harrell Fletcher
July 18–21, 2013
Where does the museum end and the outside world begin?
For Portland-based artist Harrell Fletcher, the process of exploration is happening all the time, all around us. In July 2013, Fletcher led The Best Things in Museums Are the Windows, a four-day trek that followed a line of sight from the Exploratorium’s home at Pier 15 on San Francisco’s waterfront to the summit of Mt. Diablo more than 40 miles away.
A pioneer in the Social Practice movement—a way of creating art outside the studio in a collaborative and public way—Fletcher designed this immersive, participatory project as an artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium.
“The title of the piece is a quote from the artist [Pierre] Bonnard,” said Fletcher. “The idea that you go to a museum and look at the paintings—which is great—but then you look out the windows and see how you can apply what you’ve learned in the museum to the world outside. You can see it anew because of that framework that’s been established in your mind.”
The Windows created a dynamic framework for discovery by gathering Exploratorium staff members and sweeping in members of the public as it moves across water, city, suburb, and country, building on the multidimensional perspectives of participants. Their path was seeded with Exploratorium-esque, inquiry-based experiences designed by members of the walking group, various Exploratorium staff, and partnering individuals or groups from a variety of communities, disciplines, and backgrounds. These stops included demonstrations, film screenings, talks, performances, workshops, or other forms of noticing, questioning, and discovery.
In an effort to encourage broad public participation, the trek loosely traced the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) line. By traveling over instead of underground, The Windows pointed to an infinity of things to discover by just looking around, asking questions, and following leads.
Like much of his work, the project reflects Fletcher's interest in artful investigation, community collaboration, informal learning, and shared experience. By extending the Exploratorium’s activities and ethos into everyday environments, The Windows worked toward the greater integration of a cultural institution within its surrounding community.
“As we’ve learned over the last 40-plus years, the Exploratorium isn’t simply a place, but is instead an approach—a belief that the world is an open classroom to be investigated,” said Jordan Stein, former Assistant Curator with the Center for Art & Inquiry at the Exploratorium. “The Windows carries our institutional talent, knowledge, and experience across the Bay and up to a point of reflection, literally and metaphorically bridging the gap between here and there.”