A few years ago, I wrote a piece in which I had interviewed the then brand-new director of the Hood Museum, John R. Stomberg, who had taken the helm just as the Hood was about to close for three years for extensive renovations. What’s a director to do without a museum? I asked him. His response: “The Hood can’t go dark.” And it didn’t. Among other initiatives, Stomberg opened Hood Downtown in a converted former jewelry store on Main Street in Hanover where he brought in rotating exhibitions of international contemporary artists and their work.
The same can-do spirit is still alive at the Hood Museum, sadly shuttered once again only a single year after its grand reopening in January 2019. “It was very hard for us to close the Hood again,” Stomberg said. ‘We were really hitting our stride and had so much going on that the shock of closing was truly jolting. We had to pivot to an online course support model in a week--a challenge for a group dedicated to direct encounters with art. We did it though. . .” Describing the museum staff as upbeat, he added, “Look for us to maintain a healthy schedule straight up until the day we reopen--and then some.”
There’s no dearth of online programming for the community, and checking in on the Hood’s website and Facebook page are probably the best ways to stay informed. In addition to erudite and artsy lectures, there are some lighthearted options. The Hood (like the Getty) is inviting the public to re-create favorite artworks from its collection with bits and bobs from home. And you can “borrow” a virtual background, including one of the Assyrian reliefs, the museum atrium, or the northern facade at night, for your next Zoom chat (see photo, top, and immediately below).
Stomberg himself hosted a lunchtime gallery talk last week entitled Mediated Authenticity: Art and Experience Now. If you have never attended one of these midday presentations in person or online, they are near-perfect in scope and style. Sophisticated and approachable, they tend to run about 30 minutes with time for questions (there is an online chat function) after. Stomberg’s talk was a meditation on mediated experience, never so apt. In an email exchange, he reflected on what inspired the topic of his talk.
“I have been thinking about the loss of authentic contact during the quarantine. That led me to question myself about the difference between ersatz and virtual--with the latter being its own kind of reality while the former a lesser form of authenticity. Regardless of the language, it dawned on me how 9-11 had changed my life. The images and the experience were permanently hardwired into my being--really. But, I wasn’t there. The entire life-changing event was a media event for me. It only existed on TV and in photography. Well, it just seemed like a reasonable time to explore that idea with photography--especially when I thought of the Hood's collection of Nachtwey photographs.”
James Nachtwey is a world-renowned photographer whose archives have been entrusted to the Hood. He happened to be in New York City as the Twin Towers were falling on 9/11; he grabbed his camera and started shooting. Stomberg’s presentation began with one of Nachtwey’s photos of the Towers imploding behind a large, rusted cross. He went on to explore the work of several modern photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White and Walker Evans in questioning whether we can “see without involvement,” and whether what we see is “real” even though it’s “only” an image.
In the Q and A, one viewer asked what the iconic images of the present pandemic might turn out to be. Too early to know, Stomberg answered, but offered this as a possibility: the refrigerated trucks in New York City hospital parking lots, waiting for bodies to be loaded. (I might add to that the mask-induced bruises on the faces of medical workers. And as if on cue, the New York Times just ran an opinion piece, “Where Are the Photos of the People Dying of Covid?” by Sarah Elizabeth Lewis decrying—due in part to issues of medical privacy—the relative scarcity of images of this pandemic.)
Give yourself 40 minutes or so to learn something new about the art of photography and to ponder what it means (or doesn’t) when your experiences are virtual. Link is below, but for a fuller screen experience (recommended), head to Dartmouth YouTube by clicking here. Next up in the virtual Hood? MAY 13 12:30-1:30PM
Susan B. Apel is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in various online and print publications such as the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, Literary Mama, and Persimmon Tree, as well as Art New England, Boston’s The Arts Fuse, and Image Magazine. Her blog, Artful, in which she writes about the arts in the Upper Connecticut River Valley, appears regularly at https://artful.substack.com. She is an art correspondent for The Woven Tale Press and a former legal columnist for the newspaper Vermont Woman. She lives in Lebanon, NH.