Reflections on Framing by Maggie Merrell

The idea of “framing” as an exhibition focus began to develop when I stumbled across an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 2011 called Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century. Dutch art from this period integrates the physical frame to manipulate and trick the viewer, using oil and canvas and traditional technique to create a new language of space. 

Art is a reflection of the artist as well as a simultaneous reflection of the viewer; the way the piece is framed helps to select the audience that will respond to it. Following this thread, I began to think of Pieter de Hooch and other 17th century artistic contortionists. In A Couple with Parrot, de Hooch sets the viewer two rooms away from the subject of his work, a couple exchanging an intimate moment. Peering through the dimly lit closet and pulled back curtain of de Hooch’s painting, one enters the scene is through a veil of secrecy. There is no way to enter his world other than through the gaze he has constructed – the frame he creates.  Had de Hooch constructed his work in a different way, the meaning would remain but the physical response from the viewer would be different. We trespass, invading the privacy of the couple. There is no way to escape that feeling when looking at this work; it is a physical response, a visceral reaction.

Those who respond to a work experience an intense feeling: You and an artist somewhere in the world have connected in some unique and personal way. You’ve shared a mindset. You’ve shared a frame.

By Maggie Merrell, HAMS President, Class of 2014


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