Laura Waller, known for her Port of Tampa series, recently embarked on a new project. Waller’s Museo series takes us somewhere many of us haven’t been in months – art museums.
“I’ve always been a person who loves museums,” says Waller. “My husband and I, whenever we go someplace, whether it’s in the country or out of the country, we always gravitate to their art museums. It’s a way of learning about the country through someone else’s art.”
As we neared the end of Florida’s stay-at-home orders, Waller asked herself what she missed the most. “I miss restaurants because that’s where I met all my friends,” says Waller, “The other thing I really miss is having contact with people, or even with other artists, alive or deceased, through art museums.”
So she started going through photos and found some of her most recent favorite museum moments. “That’s where the impetus [for the Museo series] came from,” says Waller, “beginning to step out from coronavirus isolation into a space that I’ve always enjoyed more than most other places.”
Waller launched the series with a painting of Lesley Dill’s Red Ecstasy Dress from the Museum of Fine Art’s Art of the Stage exhibit. The MFA, Waller tells me, holds a special place in her heart for many reasons.
When her granddaughter was much younger, Waller used to take her to the MFA every Saturday. “They had what I called a hunt, where they would give a picture of one of the paintings in the museum and turn [the kids] loose to find it.” Waller remembers the one time her granddaughter was handed a copy of Georgia O’Keefe’s Poppy. After the kids found the painting, Waller tells me “they had to sit down on the floor and draw it and paint it.” This way, they really got to know that painting.
Another time, when Waller visited the MFA with friends, she chanced upon an engineering class from Florida Technical College. “The professor, as part of his curriculum, takes his class to the museum, puts two people at a time in chairs in front of a single painting, and makes them sit there for 45 minutes to an hour without speaking,” says Waller. “At the end of that time, they’re allowed to talk.” Like the hunt, this exercise forces students to really look at a work of art and consider what it means to them.
“Once you really study a painting,” says Waller, “it’s like running into an old friend whenever you see it again.” Museums provide the stage for that focused study to happen.
“We’re not able to go into galleries as much as we used to,” Waller tells me. “The whole world is changing right now, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all works out. Even though you can look at a piece of art over the internet, it still won’t be the same experience as walking into an art gallery and falling in love with a piece of art, or walking into a museum and falling in love with a painting before you.”
Museums, like so many of Waller’s favorite subjects, are a world unto themselves. They’re a special place, free of distractions, where you can truly get lost in someone else’s art.
“We can’t afford to lose museums,” says Waller. “We can’t afford to lose the galleries.”
Find out more about Laura Waller’s
work at laurawallerart.com
Explore the Museum of Fine Arts online