Slow Art Day Fights Visual Grazing With a Deep Dive Into Museums

Slow Art Day Fights Visual Grazing With a Deep Dive Into Museums
(ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images)

A 2001 study showed that visitors to the Metropolitan Museum looked at individual works of art for an average of just 17 seconds at a time, a visual habit called “grazing.” Even the most iconic artworks in the world can’t seem to hold our attention: The Louvre discovered that visitors look at the Mona Lisa for just 15 seconds on average. In the age of the moving image and endlessly updated World Wide Web, works of art in more traditional media don’t get the focus they deserve. Slow Art Day, a three-year-old initiative currently ramping up for its 2013 event, is looking to change all that with an orchestrated long art-viewing session at museums around the world.

Once a year, Slow Art Day asks museumgoers to look at five works of art for 10 minutes each, practicing the kind of visual analysis more often taught in art history programs than art museums. After the viewing, Slow Art Day participants will meet to talk about their experiences over lunch. “The goal is to focus on the art and the art of seeing,” explains their mission statement.

The organization began after founder Phil Terry spent half an hour looking at Hans Hoffmann’s 1943 painting “Fantasia” at the Jewish Museum’s 2008 exhibition “Action/Abstraction.” Terry had no particular interest in art, but the experience sparked an idea to help those outside the art world better appreciate museums’ offerings. “People usually go to a museum, see as much as they can, get exhausted, and don’t return,” Terry told ARTnews. “Slow Art Day energizes people.”

Volunteers lead Slow Art Day events at participating art institutions all over the world. The 2013 Slow Art Day, scheduled for April 27, includes venues ranging from Brooklyn’s 440 Gallery to Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales, Florence’s Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, and Warsaw’s National Gallery of Art. More venues will be added as the date approaches.

Like the burgeoning slow food movement’s call to think more about where our meals come from and the emerging “slow web” desire to make us more thoughtful in our consumption of media online, Slow Art Day is about being more considerate of artists and work. It forces viewers to think through a single piece rather than zoom by, fighting the desire to graze and instead diving deep.

The annual event also brings to mind curator Hans Ulrich Obrist’s recently founded art movement “Posthastism,” a “collective impetus to go beyond haste… To de-accelerate.” We wonder, however, if Obrist himself has ever stayed in one place long enough to look at a work for 10 minutes straight. 

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