I did not know this was international Museum Week until I read about it in Monday's Guardian: "This community event runs from 23-29 March and has two main goals: to encourage the public to participate in a fun community initiative and to bring a global dimension to this event.... Instead of shouting at rule-breakers with camera phones, more and more museums around the world are starting to embrace the Twitter crowd by removing their restrictions on photography and by providing free institutional wireless access so we can snap-and-live-tweet photos of their collections. This was an important decision because everyone knows that a few tweeted photos can provide only the tiniest taste of reality, and for that reason, often serve to lure in more inquisitive people rather than fewer."
As of Thursday, 2,827 museums from 76 countries were taking part in #MuseumWeek, including New York's Morgan Library, which tweeted: "Books on books! The walls are lined with bookcases fashioned of bronze and inlaid walnut." For many reasons, I've long associated being a bookseller with some of my best museum experiences, so #MuseumWeek represents a perfect melding of complementary obsessions:
- In 1999, I saw the brilliant "Van Gogh's Van Goghs" exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, just before BookExpo America began.
- I was a bookstore remainder buyer for many years and regularly attended CIROBE, spending extended lunch breaks exploring the Art Institute of Chicago's permanent collection, as well as special exhibits like "Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South" and an extraordinary Juan Munoz retrospective in 2002.
- A few years ago at the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association fall conference in St. Paul, I visited the Science Museum of Minnesota to view fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I recall being overwhelmed by the concept of words defying time.
- In 2013, I saw the Frick Collection's "Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis," featuring "Goldfinch," a 17th-century painting by Carel Fabritius that plays a key role in Donna Tartt's bestselling novel. The exhibition also showcased Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring," which drew art lovers as well as fans of Tracy Chevalier's bestselling 2000 novel.
- Since BEA settled in New York City for its annual trade show, my membership at the Museum of Modern Art has provided welcome, brief respites from the crazy carnival of books at Javits Center.
I'm not the only bookseller who feels this connection between books and museums. On Facebook yesterday, Berkeley Books of Paris posted: "The bookseller grew up just before the Internet arrived, and sometimes there are these moments. They consist of pure wonder bordering on awe, and would not occur if I'd been raised with the Internet. It's not the technology itself, but how people use it.
"Had one of these moments yesterday because of Twitter. The bookshop has a Twitter account, and follows mainly museums, indie publishers, and other bookshops. This week has been designated Museum Week, and museums around the world are showing off their pretty things.
"Yesterday afternoon the Musée de Cluny, the medieval museum here that is located in Roman ruins, threw down a challenge. The Louvre and the National Library picked up on it right away. They proceeded to have a battle of rooftop views over Paris, which morphed into a battle of the doors. When I was done rubbing my eyes, I still couldn't believe what I was seeing. The upshot is, the great museums were very playful yesterday, and your faithful correspondent grew giddy. If you use Twitter and want to see what I'm talking about, see #BattlePortes #Battletoits."
The post reminded me of a pleasant stroll I took a few times two years ago in Paris from the Louvre to the Musée d'Orsay to Shakespeare & Company bookstore, and what a perfect, cobbled little path winding between art and literature that proved to be.
And I thought of British artist Tom Phillips, whose love for words and literature infuse his work ("After Henry James," "Iris Murdoch," "Curriculum Vitae," "Samuel Beckett," "A TV Dante"). "I love the smell of a library and the feel of books," he once observed. "Most of all I love the serendipity and the aleatory quirks of browsing.... Every book, however unpromising, will turn out to have its day."
Happy #MuseumWeek! --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2473