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Play in the City 2013

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Anne Dalke's picture


Welcome to the on-line conversation for Play in the City, an Emily Balch Seminar offered in Fall 2013 @ Bryn Mawr College,  in which we are addressing the question of how we construct, experience, and learn in the act of play. How is play both structured by the environment in which it occurs, and how might it re-structure that space, unsettling and re-drawing the frame in which it is performed?

This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

Who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our course. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared explorations.  Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE

natschall's picture


For my final trip into the city, I was thinking of doing two main things: first, going to a Quaker meeting in the morning, then wandering from there to the Masonic Temple and exploring inside. I believe that both of these would encourage me to deep play and to stop thinking things through too critically, really to open myself up to serendipity. The rest of my trip until we meet up at Anne's I'm hoping to leave almost entirely up to serendipity, and to just let the city take me where it will while I explore.

Everglade's picture

A Diamond in the Dilapidated

I'd want to go to North Philly to see the North Philadelphia Beacon Project (Broad & Lehigh), a part of the Mural Arts Programs. The mosaic grids are portraits of people -- residence and participants in the program. I can't see the portraits in the photo, so I want to see the mural by myself. I think the portraits will talk to each other and talk to me.

I've always wanted to go to North Philly, the only direction I haven't been to. People say it's the area that you don't go, that you just don't go. But I believe it's not that scary, although I know the area is dilapidated. The mosaic is bright, eye-catching, and hopeful. I believe art can really change something even in that area.

Claire Romaine's picture


I intend to go to Rittenhouse square and the Rosenbach Museum and Library.  I'll head into the city around noon on the regional rail and spend the hours leading up to our gathering wandering around the area.  I thought (in the spirit of 'play in the city') I might spend some time playing in the park and watching how other people enjoy their city.  After this, I'll go to the Rosenbach Museum, which is quite close to the park itself.  Much like the Barnes, the Rosenbach is a private collection, but this time it is books and other rare manuscripts.  Knowing what we have learned about the value of private collections and how they no longer hold to their original principles, I want to look at this museum as we have looked at other museum institutions.

Taylor Milne's picture

Final Trip into Philadelphia

For my last trip into Philadelphia I plan on visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I had originally wanted to do something unique for my last trip, but even after two hours of research I still felt that this Philadelphia staple would be the perfect place for my last visit into the city. I wanted to visit the Léger exhibit anyways, so everything fits together perfectly. I am interested in comparing my time at The Philadelphia Museum of Art to the time I spent at the Barnes Foundation, and see how the two different environments change my experience with art.

AnotherAbby's picture

Look I finally learned how to properly link text! Just in time.

I’ve put a lot of thought into what I want to do this weekend in Philly, and I’ve come up with one conclusion:

I’ve got nothing.

There are so many amazing things I could do for my last trip, like going to what looks like one of the coolest events ever this Thursday, continuing on my mural adventures, or staring at paintings that make me think deep play might be possible. I could even go to the top of City Hall and survey the city like I’m Mufasa and everything the light touches is my kingdom. But, in the end, I know I would probably be happiest aimlessly wandering around the city, stumbling [serendipitously] across murals, spending an hour on a park bench watching people and eavesdropping on their lives,  and thinking more about what my place in Philadelphia is rather than what the coolest thing I can find to do is.

Clairity's picture

My final trip

I'm planning to go to the Love Letter Train Tour on Saturday morning. I've passed so many murals on the train, but I haven't noticed their connections and meanings. Although the tour sounds like a tourist thing, I'm really excited about the new perspective it's about to bring to me. After the tour, I'm going to see  The Dream Garden since it's really close to where I'll be. And I'll stop by the Washington Square around there. I feel like it'll be a deep play experience for me, and I want to be open to all the ideas, feelings and thoughts the city gives me. I'll play the believing game as I see all the love letter murals.

tomahawk's picture

Peter the Mint Eagle and Bird Watching

I want to go visit Peter the Mint Eagle and go bird watching in Philadelphia. I became interested in Peter shortly after watch the John Steward clip in which he argues that NY pizza is better than Chicago pizza. Although it seems as if Peter and pizza are not at all connected, they are. Both are/were symbols to a large group of people at one time. As we have discussed, cities encompass vast groups of people that do not always interact and rarely agree on the importance of one thing. However, most people in Chicago are willing to argue that their pizza is pretty damn good. Pizza transcends all of the city's internal boundaries. It is not only a source of pride; it is a source of agreement. I guess what I'm searching for is a better understanding of why Peter the Mint Eagle is important to a city, or pizza is. How are people able to settle differences over a bird or a type of food? I'm essentially curious about the production of meaning in cities.

Anne Dalke's picture

Planning y/our final jaunt


By midnight on Wed, 12/3, please attach a comment here, describing your plans for your final trip into the city alone: when-and-where will you go, in search of what, using what modalities/methodologies/lenses/p.o.v's & forms of simple, critical and/or deep play? Before writing, spend several hours checking out various websites and possibilities:
Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis, @ the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
KAWS @ PAFA. 118 North Broad Street.
Maxfield Parrish and Tiffany Studios. The Dream Garden. Curtis Center. 6th & Walnut (off Independence Square).
City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
"Particle Falls": Sensing Change. Public Art by Andrea Polli.

Mindy Lu's picture

Apples from Heaven


Wondering in the largest and historic library in University of California Berkeley, I noticed the sculpture on the wall, thinking about that how strange it was, which named “Apple from Heaven: The Armenian Alphabet” with, actually, three pomegranates inside instead of apples. Laughing slightly because of such a ridiculous mistake of this artwork, I broke the silence in the library and felt a little bit embarrassed.


Keeping watching this sculpture, I was absorbed. The letters were too abstract to be recognized, but they looked artistic and seemed to have deeper meaning than it looked like. The content was the Armenian Alphabet, boring, but the style that it was built was extremely interesting. Each letter was created by warped iron belts, which gave me a strong visual shock. As I knew, Armenian is a state which owns long history and high-level ancient civilization. This alphabet, as the most necessary element of language, was a symbol of the flourish Armenian civilization. Thus, the warped letters, I guessed, represented the immemorial and mysterious history of ancient Armenia.


Taylor Milne's picture

Re-Reading Barnes

After watching the documentary and reading the articles, I realized that as I rewrite my paper I would like to put a greater focus on Barnes, and what he meant for the art, and connect that back to my viewing of the painting. I found myself thinking more and more about his approach to viewing art, and looking back to how he arranged the paintings, and how it was not just about one piece, but rather a whole experience. 

I also feel like I need to do a deeper analysis of my painting, and then connect hoe my experiences with this painting mirror the initial intentions of the Barnes Foundation.

playcity23's picture

I'm Sorry Anne

As Anne mentioned in class last Thursday, I probably did not spend enough time with my painting. I also did not know what Barnes wanted us to experience when we looked at his collection. 

That being said, I’m not very keen on trying to unravel Barnes’s expectations and wishes for us. I am more interested on the history of the collection post-Barnes and how it affected my perception of the works themselves. How did all the tangles of bogus lawsuits, greedy political motives, and Merion station vs. Benjamin Franklin parkway somehow make all the works more profound? 

Use this as a segway to one of my favorite documentaries of all time: The Rape of Europa. It’s a detailed movie of how Hitler purged European art to meet his own standards during WWII and how the works have changed because of it.

lksmith's picture

The True Value of Art

After revisiting the Barnes Foundation through the movie and articles and through the class discussion, my reading of the visit has been provided with a new context. The first time trough I through I thought only of the Seurat painting that I chose to spend time with. Re-reading this experience, it is clear to me that I need to look at that painting not only for what it is on its own, but for how it fits into the grand scheme of the room and the rest of the works in the collection. The way Barnes put everything together, it was meant to be viewed as a part of a greater whole not as an individual piece.

Another Idea that we discussed at length in class is the true value of art. In a rewrite of the essay I wrote, I would talk about how the true value of art comes not from what you see in the piece, but in how you experience it. Through this perspective, the art collected in the Barnes Foundation should never have been moved from its original location because the place where the work is held and the way in which it is displayed is a huge part of how it is experienced. Every last detail is significant in determining the value of the artwork. Moving the collection redefined the true value of the art into something that Barnes (the original creator of this collection’s true value) did not intend, changing not only the value of the art but, by extension, the art itself. 

Student 24's picture

Characterisation: Magnates, Disproportionate Persons and People Figures

At what point in time after death does a person become a figure? A legend? A character?

In my rewrite of my essay, "The Tree's Solemn Warning," I'm going to explore a few ideas. I'm going to move more into the three neighbouring portraits that surround Utrillo's painting. This will introduce the idea of large, close-up images of individual persons versus the small, basic people figures depicted by Utrillo. So, who's a figure? Who's an image? Who's a person?

I reread the articles and essays, and I think I'm mainly going to stick with "The Barnes Foundation, RIP" article, which gave me some great ideas. I haven't fully organised them all, but they are something along the lines of: looking at Barnes as a figure - about whose depiction I am mainly learning from this article - and as a character who carries symbols and meanings in his story. These items would include his history as a wrestler, his career as a "pharmaceutical magnate," and his intentions of creating an educational institution. After his death [the point where he now becomes a character] his story more strongly tells of economic and business incentives in the mask of others' educational intentions.

Cathy Zhou's picture

rereading Barnes

If I'm to reread barnes after I know all the history behind it, I will focus on the museum itself instead of a single painting. I want to try to imagine what Barnes expect when the visitors see the building. I would also take a look at the stucture of display in the museum, and find out the meaning behind it. It would not be a normal museum for me.

Muni's picture

significance in art

"Some pictures are unattractive and significant, some paintings are insignificant and attractive. This is both unattractive and insignificant. " - a guy in the movie

I was a little bit struck by how unfair a claim this is. I understand the "significance" of a piece to be equivalent to its historical relevance, and I can see how art historians have a very distinct idea of what art is relevant to them. Yet, a piece of art could have historical significance that isn't from as limited a perspective of an art historian's. It could have been passed down throughout the generations of a family, or created by a friend or loved one. Then, there's the "attractiveness" of art. Generally, certain things are more pleasing to the eye than others--complementary colors, good framing of the subject, etc. But if the subject perhaps reminds the viewer of the viewer's friend, that particular viewer might find the piece to be quite attractive. I think that certain elements of attractiveness can be attributed to taste. Despite this, I think there is some validity to the statement, in that the painting might not have been attractive or significant to Barnes. I'm actually pretty sure Barnes would argue that the emotional connections to the painting that I speak of are from a lack of training in the viewer, and that the emotional connection should be found after having analyzed the painting from a more educated point of view.

I'm still not sure what I want to write about next week, but I would like to keep in mind that to a certain degree, art is subjective.

nightowl's picture

Barnes as a Piece

When I went to the Barnes I was attracted to my painting because of the sense of joyful movement that it gave me. I would like to think of this first attraction as an  “esthetic” experience, which I managed to have in an environment that was not how Barnes originally intended. Even in an overcrowded room with upper-class people, encapsulated in a modern box and in a nice neighborhood the art was not completely stripped of its potential to allow people to think in some of ways that Barnes planned. After Barnes’s death I don’t think either location would ever have attracted a crowd that wasn’t skewed towards upper class, especially considering that the old Barnes was located in a rich neighborhood. In my revision I want to look at the new Barnes as a pieces of artwork in itself and try to read it using Barnes’s principals.

Phoenix's picture

Tell Me a Painting

What struck me most in reading the articles and watching the movie was the long history of corruption involved in the care of the Barnes museum. It was not a case of faithful following of Barnes' will up until the point where it was suddenly moved to Philadelphia out of a lack of funds, it was far more complicated than that. However, I find this would not be a useful piece of information for writing a paper. To write a paper on how the Barnes Foundation was cared for, I would need to essentially summarize the movie, and I do not remember all of the different people who were in charge of it. Most of the story of the actual school/museum does not affect my reading of the painting itself. Since I knew before going to the Barnes Foundation that Barnes intended for us to read the painting in terms of what else was on the same wall, I included this approach in my original reading. The only thing I find different is that I am even more struck by the sense that I am not supposed to be there, visiting the Barnes, than I was before. Barnes didn't want Bryn Mawr students to come to his collection, even when it was practically in our backyard. He didn't want us to be able to simply go in on any day. He especially didn't want us able to research any given painting and looking into its background, as was provided by the audio tours. However, I see no way I can use this to grow my paper.

tomahawk's picture

The Barnes Foundation and Intellectual Property

I would like to focus on intellectual property and human rights in my upcoming paper. I will be reading some of the novel Intellectual Property and Human Development and I will be exploring utilitarian arguments concerning intellectual property. While watching The Art of Steal I thought about one of the proponent's (of the move of the Barnes Foundation) arguments: that art should be accessible to large groups of people. Although the film did not emphasize this argument, the argument is a good one, and at the core of it are the issues of intellectual property and human rights. So, is art the property of the person who buys it? Or, is it human property? Since Van Gogh's art influences massive amounts of people, does it belong to humanity or to the sole owner of the Van Gogh? I think it would be a mighty feat to answer these questions and I doubt I'll be able to do it. But, I hope to explore these issues and the questions they raise.

Everglade's picture

rereading Barnes Foundation and final trip

Barnes Foundation gave me an impression of expensive when I entered. The minimalist architecture, the coat and bag searching, the well-dressed visitors, and the large empty space felt expensive. It smelled expensive. So I thought "well, another Parkway building". But I came back and watch the documentary, and realized that this was exactly what Barnes didn't want. So maybe I'll write about the different experiences one would have in the old and new building.

As for the last trip, I'm interested in Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, specifically The North Philadelphia Beacon Project, because it decorates the most ramshackle area of Philly. 

mmanzone's picture

A Dead Man's Wishes

Having grown up in the area I knew a little about the Barnes Foundation going into this assignment.  I knew, for example, that it was not just paintings but rather paintings and sculptures and furniture and other odds and ends that Dr. Barnes thought to be significant.  It was only after watching The Art of the Steal and reading the articles that I realized that he was also a grumpy and picky old man.  But I feel that if he was alive right now he would be extremely upset.  Upset not only with the move of his foundation but upset with the assignment set before us now.  

We talked about Barnes with sympathy; after his death many of his wishes (including his will) were totally ignored.  We talked about how this was a mean thing to do.  But aren’t we doing the same thing?  Would Barnes want us (Bryn Mawr students) 1) being at his foundation in the first place and 2) spending time with one single piece of art?  His entire dream for the foundation was for it to be a place of learning, not just of art but of the connections in art.  By having us spend more and more time with this particular topic, I feel that we also are the mean bad guys who disregarded a dead man’s wishes for their own benefit.