Locked out of the lecture room and other tales from the opening night reception for “Small Arms – Children of Conflict: Photographs by Michael Kienitz”

September 10, 2007

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were two questions people kept asking one another Friday evening at the Chazen Museum of Art: “Did you get in to hear the lecture before they locked the doors?” and “Have you ever seen such a large crowd at an event like this?”

The occasion was a public reception for the opening of “Small Arms – Children of Conflict: Photographs by Michael Kienitz,” held from 6:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. in the museum’s Paige Court, adjacent to the Mayer Gallery, where the photographs are on display. The reception was preceded by a 5:30 p.m. lecture by Kienitz, held in an auditorium on the lower level of the museum.

When I arrived at 5:30 p.m., a crowd of people was swarming up the stairs leading to the lower level. For a moment, I worried that something had happened to Kienitz and the lecture had been cancelled. But within seconds I encountered some familiar faces and heard from these friends and former colleagues that the lecture room was full and the doors had been locked from the inside to prevent any more people from trying to squeeze into the room.

So most of us wandered upstairs to the Paige Court, where the refreshments were just arriving and the champagne had not yet been uncorked. At least we’d be able to take a leisurely look at the exhibition before the crowds arrived from downstairs. But we were already a crowd and more and more people kept arriving at the museum. When the lecture concluded and those lucky enough to get a seat began swarming upstairs and into the Paige Court, we were all soon cheek to jowl.

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For almost a decade, a different kind of opening night dictated my schedule, so I haven’t attended that many openings at the Chazen Museum (and most of them were when it was still the Elvehjem.

It was clear to me that the size of the crowd was so large because in addition to the usual group of aesthetes, art lovers, faculty, and people who know the refreshments at the Chazen are so diverse, tasty, and abundant they can make an evening meal from the buffet table, it contained scores of local professional photographers and print media people who respect and admire Kienitz’s work.

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If this were way back when and I was auditioning to be the next Louise Marston or Mary Brandel Hopkins – i.e., a legendary Madison society editor – I’d tell you, for instance, that I saw Wisconsin State Journal photographer par excellence Joseph Jackson III and his wife; photographer Zane Williams, creator of Double Take: A Rephotographic Survey of Madison, Wisconsin; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Maraniss and his wife, Linda; busy professional freelance photographer Andy Manis; Dick Zillman of Zillman Idea Design and his wife Mary; and Stuart Levitan, author of “Madison: An Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Volume I, 1856–1931.” Of course, we no longer have local society editors, and I’d flunk the audition anyway because, alas, I can’t remember Joe Jackson’s wife’s name right now and my investigative powers are failing me at this late hour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGiven the crush of people at the opening, I really didn’t have a good opportunity to view Kienitz’s photographs in a leisure manner with an unobstructed view. I plan to go back to the Chazen Museum one day soon to look closely at the exhibition of Kienitz’s work, so I’m really not going to write about it now. Maybe later. However, there are lots of good articles and blog posts you can read if you want more information about Kienitz and the exhibition, which runs through October 28, 2007. Here are some links:

Note: While the photographs accompanying this post are less than wonderful, I think they do provide some idea of how large the crowd was at the opening night reception for “Small Arms – Children of Conflict: Photographs by Michael Kienitz.”

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