Ivi Fung

THE ROOM: Asian Art, 2nd Floor

THE MISSION: Sit and observe for “as long as you can bear”

It was tough confining myself to a single art/people-watching chair for this article. I felt a kind of kinship with the nearby security guard; I was a watcher and guardian of the arts, but also restrained to a single room — unable to go and examine the works of art tantalizingly only a few feet away from my eyes.

The experience involved, at first, an anxious self-consciousness. Was someone going to come up to me and ask why I wasn’t looking at the artwork? Why I was sitting here, typing, inscrutable? Was the security man judging me?

I noticed how faithfully he made his rounds, pacing through the room again and again. Does he do it just for the exercise, or does he get bored of standing in one place? Perhaps he’s trying to take in all the art from the corners of his eyes.

Aside from the art, the room really was set up for fantastic acoustic quality. There’s this constant squeaky noise in the room, like the noise that I heard last night while I was trying to sleep. I don’t think anything was happening with any mattress though…so what was squeaking? Maybe it was just the floor creaking? Air conditioner noises?

Footsteps were magnified, and even distant coughing and elevator chimes echoed like a scream in a cathedral. Basically, free ASMR.

In the space of an hour, I saw forty-four distinct individuals walk through the room. For the most part, they walked quickly through, not even bothering to stop and look at the sculptures and paintings. The only real conversations I managed to overhear were between the security guards, which were constantly interrupted by aforementioned creaky-squeaky noises.

A Transcript:

“We knew nothing about them.”

“What’s true…their government…never change.”

“I could do it.”

“It’s tough and they go from…no knowledge of it.”

In an art museum, even a mundane conversation can become abstract poetry.

There’s merit to this “sit in one place and look around” way of appreciating a museum.

I could see all these little details about the presentation of the room, observe the general layout in detail. It’s an unorthodox way of looking at things but there are benefits. It’s calmer. Less hurried. Less rushed.

Notes from 3:01 PM:

I’m going to take a picture of the statue next to me. I face his back, and I’m so damn curious about his face. I wonder why people don’t tend to put very many interesting things on the backs of statues. I think this is fertile artistic ground. 

Every time I look at this brush painting in front of me I notice something new about it. Could I see all these details more efficiently if I just went up closer? Yes, but I feel this lovely little burst of delight whenever I look at it and I notice where the feet are pointing, and how the green backlight illuminates the holes and rips and tears at the top of the painting.

Notes from 3:40 PM:

These statues look so out of place. Like they’ve been kidnapped from their natural context. It all feels unnatural. I guess all museums are like this. I’m not accusing the YUAG of art theft and I’m not saying that museums are inherently colonialist (although many are).

I’m just saying that in all museums I’ve been to, including this one, art is put on these neutral white/black surfaces, expertly illuminated to show all sides, carefully preserved and guarded — but it’s not what the original artist intended for them. These temple statues “belong” with a family of other statues; they weren’t meant to be solitary.

I’m assigning too many feelings to inanimate objects. I do feel so sorry for them. In “life” (can a statue have a life? Why am I calling a statue in a museum dead?) they regularly interacted with worshippers, they lived in temples, they saw festivities, they were for lack of a better term “in use.” They were situated properly in their cultures, they played a role, they were necessary in a larger system.

Here they are curiosities, barely understood without placards, and most people simply walk past them. They’ve lost significance. Museums are trying to preserve people’s sense of the past’s value, but it’s not the same.


THE RELATION OF TIME AND JEANS — As time went on, jean frequency decreased.

THE RELATION OF LOOKING AT ART AND JEANS — Small sample size, but everyone who looked at the art…did not wear jeans.

PEOPLE PER MINUTE: 0.733 people enter the Asian Art room per minute.

PEOPLE (in chronological order), from 2:45 PM to 3:45 PM

1. Old security guard; no jeans

2. Woman; jeans

3. Young woman; jeans

4. Stylish woman; no jeans

5. Old woman; no jeans

6. Old man; no jeans

7. Middle-aged man; no jeans

8. A man who looked young based on the shape of his body but had the head of an old man; jeans

9. Woman; jeans

10. Older woman; no jeans

11. Young woman; jeans

12. Another security guard; no jeans

13. Woman; jeans

14. Man; no jeans (good-looking orange pants though) Youngish, 30? Glances back to look at the art which is better than what I can say for some others.

15. A man in a cap took pictures with his phone. I approve of him. He had glasses. No jeans

16. Middle-aged woman with middle-aged man. She has jeans. She’s a photo-taker too but she’s not taking photos of the art. The man has jeans too.

17. A father and child. The kid is wearing something frilly and pink. Neither have jeans.

18. A man with very curly hair; jeans.

19. Woman; security guard; no jeans.

20. A woman in a purple dress (no jeans). She actually looked at the art.

21. A different man who also looks young but is old enough to go bald. Shorts, not jeans.

22. Another woman in a dress (again, no jeans).

23. A man wearing a flannel. Can’t tell if he’s wearing black jeans or simply not wearing jeans.

24. Another woman who has surprisingly long hair. She is wearing leggings, not jeans.

25. Another woman. She has a denim jacket, which I suppose counts as jeans. Her skirt is a work of art itself; it’s red and white and it has a garden’s worth of flowers.

26. A security woman; no jeans.

27. Eight visitors, one pair of jeans

28. Woman and man. No jeans.

29. A man in a hoodie — doesn’t even get to enter the room, asked to go down for a bag check. 

      – I saw lots of women with bags and they didn’t get checked…

      – Is this museum protocol for backpacks?

      – The guards are talking about “more action than last Tuesday”

      – Could I have stumbled upon a…scandal?

      – I don’t know what’s going on and I’m too shy to ask.

      – Assumed the best. His backpack was pretty big after all, bigger than the tote bags the women came through with.

    – The guards’ conversation has turned to cheese sandwiches and vegetables.

30. A man in an “I’m gonna miss you” Stormtrooper shirt. Cute. He actually stopped to look at a statue. No jeans.

31. The hoodie dude returns, sans a backpack. He enjoyed the art. No jeans.

32. Woman; no jeans. She stopped to look at a vase.

33. A very tall man; no jeans.

34. Two women, zero jeans.

Claire Fang | claire.fang@yale.edu