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Documentaries on art museums offer different perspectives

Jan. 10, 2024 - 18:05 By Park Yuna

A still image from documentary film “Blind Mr. Shiratori Goes to See Art” (MMCA)

What brings you to a museum? The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea is screening documentaries to provoke people to think about why museums exist and how they contribute to society.

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Museum” at MMCA Seoul is screening five documentary films that deal with various perspectives surrounding art museums – “National Gallery” (2014), “The Museum” (2017), “The New Rijksmuseum -- The Film” (2014), “White Balls on Walls” (2021) and “Blind Mr. Shiratori Goes to See Art” (2022).

A still image from documentary film “White Balls on Walls” (MMCA)

The documentary “Blind Mr. Shiratori Goes to See Art,” directed by Ario Kawauchi, depicts processes that visually impaired art lover Kenji Shiratori goes through while on a pilgrimage of art museums.

“I am completely blind, but I would like to see the artworks. I wish someone would guide me and explain the works in words. Even for a little while, if you please,” Shiratori says in the documentary.

For about two years, the film's director visited art museums with Shiratori, who appreciates art through conversations with companions. The film makes the audience think about the meaning of art appreciation and different means by which to appreciate art.

“White Balls on Walls,” from director Sarah Vos, is about the process of change at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the collection of which was once dominated by male artists. A feminist artist group chanted the titular slogan “white balls on walls” in front of the museum in 1995, criticizing art history and exhibitions dominated by white men.

A still image from documentary film “The New Rijksmuseum — The Film” (MMCA)

Oeke Hoogendijk’s “The New Rijksmuseum — The Film” follows the extension of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam over a period of 10 years. The film shows the concerns and conflicts of various people surrounding the museum, which houses world-class works of art, such as paintings by Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, established in 1965, has a wide range of collections from ancient to modern times. The documentary “The Museum” shows how the museum is run by staff members of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds and religions.

A still image from documentary film “The Museum” (MMCA)

“National Gallery” was filmed by Frederick Wiseman during his 12-week stay at the National Gallery in London, featuring the huge institution of the National Gallery itself as the main character without particular events or interviews with people. The film follows daily lives inside the museum for three hours, including adjusting the lighting in the exhibition room, processing works in the preservation room and explaining an exhibition to visitors.

The screening program includes discussions with experts in art and museum architecture on Jan. 26, Feb. 23, March 15 and April 5. For the filming schedule, check MMCA's official website.

A still image from documentary film “National Gallery” (MMCA)