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'What Is A Line?' unites digital participation with artistic perception

Forthcoming Fralin exhibit allows museum patrons to vote on featured works

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Inspired by Paul Klee’s statement of “a line is a dot that went for a walk,” “What Is A Line?,” the Fralin Museum of Art’s newest exhibition, is scheduled to open next year, and will continue the museum’s long tradition of multicultural pieces — this time by examining a particular artistic technique.

As described by Lauren Patton, the Fralin’s docent coordinator, “What Is A Line?” is grounded in one of the most basic elements of art: the line. The exhibition aims to examine how the line manifests itself in a vast array of art.

The stylistic orientation of “What Is A Line?” certainly distinguishes it from other Fralin exhibitions. While some displays, such as “On the Fly,” focus on the works of specific artists, others, like “Realms of Earth and Sky,” are spatially exclusive. But by concentrating on such a bare essential of art, “What Is A Line?” evades cultural, personal and temporal boundaries.

To maximize audience experience, a majority of the content for the exhibition will be chosen by voters through an online poll. There have been four polls thus far, and the Fralin will continue offering them until the end of the semester.

“There is a lot of energy building around innovation and the idea of voter participation in museums,” Patton said. “[Voters can select from] works that span centuries and continents.”

By allowing the audience to become voters, the Fralin participates in a current, worldwide trend of audience interaction. Along with choosing select pieces, voters are given the opportunity to share the reasoning behind their selection. The Fralin plans to use some of these comments in the wall text of the gallery.

“[The line] intentionally leaves a lot of room for exploration and interpretation on the part of the voters, [allowing for] a certain kind of freedom that’s pretty different from what [the Fralin has] done in the past,” Patton said.

A quick glance at the first page of the exhibition’s current poll suggests the sheer variety of potential content for “What Is A Line?” While the first option, “Martha Graham” by pop artist Andy Warhol, uses screen-printing, the second option, “Sleeping Dancer” by modernist/impressionist Henri Mattisse, is rendered by lithograph. Other selections include paintings produced by monotype, etching and linocut.

According to the description on the Fralin’s website, the exhibition hopes to test the divergent perceptions of artwork, when viewed digitally during the voting process versus in-person, and give both the Fralin and the University an idea of the community’s values.

Patton said she hopes this new, interactive process of selection will forge an even stronger connection between the Fralin and the Charlottesville community.


“What Is A Line?” is scheduled to open at the Fralin in April of next year and will be accessible until early August. The voting, however, will conclude in mid-December and can be accessed on the “What Is A Line?” page under the “Upcoming Exhibitions” section of the Fralin’s website.  

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