About the Holiday
International Museum day was created in 1977 by the International Council of Museums to raise awareness that “museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.” The theme for this year is “The Power of Museums.” Museums are not just repositories of the past. They are vital and active members of the communities they serve and as such can be leaders in tackling some of society’s biggest issues. This year the International Council of Museums aimsto “explore the potential of museums to bring about positive change in their communities through three lenses: the power of achieving sustainability, the power of innovating digitalization and accessibility, and the power of community building through education. To learn more about these initiatives, visit the ICOM website. Celebrate International Museum Day by visiting a museum near you – or visit many world-famous museums through today’s book.
The Ultimate Art Museum
By Ferren Gipson
A blurb on the cover of this astounding book sums up the lofty goals it achieves: “40,000 years of the world’s most amazing art in one dream museum!” Indeed, once readers open the cover and accept the “ticket” offered, they can peruse the museum map that lays out the three wings, 18 galleries, and 128 rooms, plus a cafe and garden, that await them. An note from author Ferren Gipson introduces readers to the range of ways art can influence and reflect their times and the people who lived during different eras.
Gipson’s conversational style follows visitors to this unique museum from page to page, prompting them to look, consider, understand, and make connections. On some pages, a question or comment marked by an eye sends readers to another gallery or room to compare artworks, subjects, or themes across time and cultures. Some of these give a page number to consult, while others allow readers to study a room or gallery to find the artwork referred to.
Wing 1, appropriately, presents “treasures from the world’s earliest civilizations and the earliest art ever made.” Here, children and adults will find cave art; figurines carved from ivory, bone, and stone; treasures from ancient empires, carved reliefs, the painted, sculpted, and gilded wonders of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The intricate art of the Byzantine, early Islamic, and Medieval worlds demonstrate important aspects of these cultures as do works from ancient East Asia well as South and Southeast Asia. Readers then cross the Atlantic Ocean to discover the pottery, sculptures, and fabrics created by Native societies of North and South America. Each artwork is accompanied by a paragraph that will draw children in with clear, concise, and fascinating descriptions of the artwork, what it means, and, sometimes, even secrets that it holds.
Time for a break? Turn the page and enter the Café, where the “menu,” consisting of “Snacks, Mains, and Dessert” offers delectable choices depicted in paintings and sculpture. Refreshed, readers can step into Wing 2, where the galleries hold treasures from the 1200s to the 1800s created in Asia, including book illustrations, a palepai cloth, a puppet, scholar paintings, porceline, folding screens, carpets, and even the Taj Mahal.
The Renaissance comes to Europe with an impressive display of curiosity and learning that resulted in many changes to society and art. “Artists came up with better ways to mix oil paints and began to paint on canvas for the first time. And what scientists learned about the human body helped them paint and sculpt people who looked very real.” The subjects of artworks expanded too to include “portraits, mythology, and everyday life.” Dragon lovers can take up the challenge to compare two dragons – one created by an Italian master and the other found on a Chinese vase from the Yuan Dynasty.
From 1600 – 1850, dramatic and lifelike paintings became popular. Dark shadows and highlighted areas gave paintings an atmospheric feel that invited viewers to look closely. In one of Diego Velázquez’s famous Las Meninas painting, all of the people portrayed seem to be looking out from the canvas at you. But who are they really looking at? The answer can be found reflected in a mirror on the back wall. In addition to realistic family and town life, landscapes also became popular during this time.
Moving to another room, readers will find that the art of the Pacific Islands is distinctively different in its depictions of “images of gods, spirits, and ancestors of the people who lived there.” Those works created from stone and wood have survived through the ages while “others, such as objects made from delicate spider webs or flowers, have disappeared.” Art from the continent of Africa is up next. With its many unique kingdoms and communities, Africa has produced unique artworks that “celebrate leaders and tell the stories of Africa’s great empires and civilizations.” Clay, wood, metal, ivory, and cloth have been used to “create art with spiritual and practical purposes.”
Ah! Time for a walk through the garden. Which path will you take? The one past Georgia O’Keefe’s “Red Poppy” or one where you can see a moth and a caterpillar on the branch of a citrus tree? Perhaps you’d like to stroll through a hurricane with a tiger on your trail with Henri Rousseau’s “Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised)” or maybe you’d like a fragrant walk through Gustav Klimt’s “Flower Garden.”
Wing 3 takes readers to modern times, when “almost anything is possible in art!” In this wing, visitors will see “art that does not have a set purpose.” Instead, the artists represented here “created works that were experimental and personal. They used unusual materials and tried exciting techniques.” In these rooms, readers will encounter the Impressionists, who were interested in capturing a moment in time, and Post-Impressionists, who experimented with color, techniques, and subject matter. Readers will no doubt recognize paintings by Mary Cassatt, Vincent Van Gogh, and Georges Seurat.
American realist painters took city scenes, sports events, tender moments between family members, and many other topics. The Cubist period began when some artists experimented in showing their subject from a variety of angles at one time. Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque are just a few of the famous artists who “chopped up and rearranged images” to make a new style of art.
Visitors will also learn about the Dada movement, Expressionism, and American Regionalism. Photography took center stage as cameras became lighter and easier to use. The art of the Harlem Renaissance by Black Americans is reflected in a painting of Harriet Tubman by William H. Johnson, a bronze bust of a boy by Augusta Savage, and a quilt by Harriet Powers – one of only two that still exist.
After visiting a room of modern works from India and Mexico, readers enter the dizzying world of the Surrealists. Surrealism “shows real objects but in a completely fantastical way. It explores how dreams, imaginations, and the inner workings of the mind can be shown in art.” A train emerging from the “tunnel” of a fireplace, a fur teacup, saucer, and spoon, and Salvador Dali’s “drooping” clocks are a few of the works you’ll find here.
In Wing 3, readers will also learn about Collages, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Conceptual art, and Op art that boggle the eyes and mind with their optical illusions. Pop art, Installations, contemporary sculptures large and small as well as Alexander Calder’s mobiles and artwork created from light stand side-by-side with Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s outdoor wrapping installations, Aboriginal Australian art, Feminist art, Chicanx art, performance art, video art, contemporary art, and so much more. If you’re a fan of selfies, you’ll want to stop at the Hall of Selfies and see how four artists anticipated and/or reflect this very modern art form.
Helpful maps accompany each wing and gallery change to show readers where the art in that gallery comes from or its influence. A smaller map inset often orients readers to where the region represented is situated in the world at large.
Back matter includes an Author’s Note, a map of 54 major museums around the world, a glossary of terms found in the text, and an index.
Ferren Gipson is the “cool” docent every visitor wants as their tour leader on a trip to a museum. Full of enthusiasm for art and its impact, gifted with a wealth of knowledge, and quick with a fun fact, a humorous aside, or an intriguing nugget of perspective, Gipson will wow kids and adults alike with her love of all kinds of art. Open The Ultimate Art Museum to any page and readers will immediately be absorbed by whatever style of art or time in history they’ve hit upon and will eagerly wander from gallery to gallery, room to room, page to page to learn more.
The Ultimate Art Museum has applications for strong cross-curricular study for teachers and homeschoolers, expertly connecting history, art, changing societies, and more visually and textually. Gipson’s entertaining and thorough treatment of her topic will get kids excited about visiting museums of all kinds, and arm-chair travelers will wile away many happy hours wandering its pages.
The Ultimate Art Museum is a must for classrooms and school and public libraries and would be a much-loved addition to home bookshelves or coffee tables.
Ages 8 and up
Phaidon, 2021 | ISBN 978-1838663780
Discover more about Ferren Gipson, her books, work, and podcast “Art Matters” on her website.
International Museum Day Activity
Create a Museum Exhibit
Every item has a story. Maybe there’s a funny anecdote behind that knick-knack on your shelf. Perhaps your favorite serving dish holds sentimental value. How about your child’s best-loved toy or a drawing or craft they’ve made? A fun and educational way for kids to learn family stories and interact with their own history is to create a museum exhibit of objects in your home.
For teachers this can be a fun classroom activity that incorporates writing, art, and speaking as well as categorizing skills. Students can use objects in the classroom or bring items from home to set up museum exhibits. This activity can be done as a whole-class project or by smaller groups, who then present their exhibit to the rest of the class.
- A number of household or classroom items
- Paper or index cards
- A table, shelf, or other area for display
- To get started help children gather a number of items from around the house to be the subjects of their exhibit. An exhibit can have a theme, such as Grandma’s China or Travel Souvenirs, or it can contain random items of your child’s choice, such as toys, plants, tools, even the furniture they see and use every day.
- Using the paper or cards and markers, children can create labels for their exhibit items. Older children will be able to write the labels themselves; younger children may need adult help.
- Spend a little time relating the story behind each object: where it came from, how long you’ve had it, when and how it was used in the past, and include any funny or touching memories attached to the item. Or let your child’s imagination run free, and let them create histories for the objects.
- When the labels are finished, arrange the items on a table, shelf, or in a room, and let your child lead family members or classmates on a tour. You can even share the exhibit with family and friends on social media.
- If extended family members live in your area, this is a wonderful way for your child to interact with them and learn about their heritage.
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