Almost 12 years after its opening in Mizner Park, Boca Raton Museum of Art remains a beacon for art lovers showcasing a wide array of traditional and contemporary art. But the newest director, Steven Maklansky has gradually steered the artistic vision in an effort to broaden the audience and make the museum more approachable to everyone, not just art connoisseurs.
“We have an extraordinary museum for an area this size, only 85,000 people … to have a museum of our size and scope. The fact we are fiscally stable is something to celebrate, having an active art school is significant. We have a great base. The people who know the museum, love the museum. But I want to expand. A lot of people mis-perceive the museum as an insular art castle or omniscient, didactic, instead of open, engaging, thoughtful and clever. We want to make sure it appeals to people of all ages,” he said.
Maklansky, who worked at the Brevard Art Museum in Melbourne before this and for 20 years prior in New Orleans, among other locales, began to appreciate art as a child growing up in New York City and hopes to pass that on to his own children (aged 2 and 6) and the curious youth who step through the museum’s doors.
“I think the museum should be seen as a magical place,” he said. “Our museum always has something inspiring and engaging. It is not so much changing; it’s evolving. It has to evolve in order to respond to its environment and its time … much in the way art and artists do…”
Part of that evolution is bringing in fresh faces to the staff and new ideas.
Curator of 20th Century and Contemporary Art Marisa Pascucci started at the museum in June. She has worked at the Norton Museum, as well as Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Alabama, among other locations.
She feels that some of the exhibitions currently in the museum definitely expand what people think of when they think of art. Politics NOT as Usual: Quilts with Something to Say takes a medium usually thought of as arts and crafts and transfers it into an artistic commentary on society and politics. The collection by the Folk Art Museum in New York City gives perspective on everything from Union pride after the Civil War to calls for suffrage. It is the first time the 9/11 quilt has been seen outside of the Folk Art Museum. This exhibit will be up until Jan. 13.
Perhaps the biggest departure for the museum, however, is the Art of Video Games. Showcased through interactivity, film, history and traditional art mediums, the development of video games is explored from the most rudimentary Atari game to the more realistic games, spanning the generations from the 1970s to today. Besides having five playable games, historical kiosks and a montage of 20-30 games through the years to show how video games evolved, the Digital Media Arts College is teaching classes on topics like App development, storytelling and principals of animation.
The Boca Raton Museum of Art is the first museum to premier the collection after its showing at the Smithsonian. It will show here through Jan. 13.
“We requested it,” said Pascucci, saying that their open schedule coincided with the Smithsonian. “We are lucky to be the ones.”
She added that she hopes this collection will “make the audience think outside box [about the art of video games], the graphics of it, the creativity, development, story lines, characters and even music, from the “ping” to symphonies. The developers have to create not just how the characters look, but how they act.”
The display certainly will bring in more families, much like Big Art: Miniature Golf, which ran through Oct. 7 and featured 11 playable holes designed by artists.
Maklansky added, “Video games are a significant form of art and entertainment. One thing that intrigues me is its interactivity. Rather than looking at painting,with video games, ‘beauty remains in the eye of the beholder … but the experience is now affected by the hand on the controller.’”
A perfect pairing to Art of Video Games is Michael Zansky: Dance of the Cuckoos, which also shows through Jan. 13. Another out-of-the-box presentation, these oil on canvas paintings take an absurdist view of the world while implementing pop and classical iconography and backgrounds while utilizing optics, illusion and fantasy.
Curator of Exhibitions and Audience Engagement Kathleen Goncharov knew of Zanksy’s work and knew it would be a perfect combination to the video games collection brought in by Pascucci, especially because the titles of the pieces are named after games of chance. Zansky mixes vaudeville with Voltaire, Michael Jordan with Louis Armstrong – all under the umbrella of a Laurel and Hardy song.
Goncharov explains some of his iconography and perspective.
“He is more interested in the Egyptian and African point of view [thinking] that the Age of Reason is what got us in the mess we are in. He has images of Ramses [and others like Louis Armstrong, Michael Jordan] who he views as quintessential geniuses. Stan Laurel is always thinking, scratching his head. Harpo is the butt of the joke, but wins in the end. W.C. Fields [symbolizes] the underbelly of human existence. Degas dancer with the pink tutu shoes up. He uses found objects, like a clown doll, a reproduction of a Roman statute, a [figurine] of Moe and he lights them and paints them. Each is carefully chosen. There are references to Van Gogh, Giotto, El Greco … Objects or paintings rotating on turn tables are magnified by huge optic lenses. He is interested in quantum physics. He mirrors images a lot, but they are off a bit, parallel but skewed, like parallel universes,” she said.
She added,”Zansky works in film industry … in Scenic Arts for ‘Law & Order SVU.’ He is interested in optics. Glasses show up, spinning things, referring to planetary bodies … characters looking over the horizon, longing for what’s on the other side. That’s what sets humans apart.”
Goncharov has only been at the museum for 3 ½ months. Before that she was a freelance curator from New York, working with several museums and also was the U.S. Commissioner to Venice Art Biennale.
She has mostly been focused with organizing patron’s events, but hopes to bring in more collections and also installations into the museum to expand the audience.
In addition to adding new exhibits, Pascucci is focused on revitalizing the interior appearance of the museum as well.
“We want to change the gallery set up … change the walls, give it a new refreshed look … rearrange and reinstall to make the pieces flow more like a story, and add technical aspects, a scan code that can be scanned by a smart phone that maybe takes you to website or interview — as opposed to reading information about the piece,” she said.
“What makes us so unique,” she added, “is our location. It is a park-like setting. The Mizner Park Amphitheater has great concerts, author events … People can go to dinner, see a concert and go to the museum. They can see more traditional paintings, Pre-Columbian and African Art or [some of the new exhibitions].”
She added that there are classes and activities for kids, like Creation Station, which includes fun art creation on a drop-in basis. Kids can also pick up fun scavenger hunts and go on their own artistic adventure.
“The art school is down the street. It offers tons of classes and workshops in fashion, design, illustration, photography… You can download the 2012-2013 class schedule on the website,” she said.
Maklansky feels that the new collections and changes will bring in people who perhaps have never seen such artwork before.
“[We ask the question] ‘what does it all mean?’ I mean life in general. Most look to religion or science [for an answer]. If it doesn’t help us with the answer, it at least gives us insight into how [life] works; but what else beside art with a capital “A” can offer such important insight, perspective, reflection and documentation toward answering the question about what it all means. Art is not just something you hang on the wall; it provides epistemological framework. Hopefully, people will think of Boca Raton Museum of Art as this place where art is explored and has relevancy in their lives.”

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