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Slow Me the Way

Don’t race through that museum tour: Take your time, take it easy, and take it all in. At least, that’s what the Slow Art movement would like you to do. Here, Tom Clavin explains this burgeoning campaign that started with one artist in New York City, and is poised to become a phenomenon.   

The Slow Art movement aims to help the public look at art in a way that’s truly meaningful to them.

Next spring, a group will gather at The Museum of Modern Art to gaze at several works. They will not speak, nor allow themselves to be herded along to another section of the museum. Time will pass, minute by minute…

Is this an Occupy MoMA demonstration? The Walking Dead meets Abstract Expressionism? No, the museum will be one of many venues hosting the fifth annual Slow Art Day, an event that began in Manhattan and now has participants not just across the U.S., but also in Australia, Serbia, France and elsewhere around the world.

It may seem absurd to some people that there’s a day devoted to something they’ve never heard of before. However, “slow art” is not a newfangled concept—it can trace its ancestry back more than three decades, to when, in 1978, artist Tim Slowinski wrote on the wall of his Manhattan studio, “Art is a way of life, a method of being, a way of perceiving the world.” OK, not exactly the cave drawings at Lascaux, but this inscription sent the aptly named Slowinski on the path to what became the Slow Art movement.

It was, appropriately, a slow trip: Not until 1993 did Slowinski begin promoting Slow Art at his Limner Gallery, then located at 598 Broadway. “It was based on and related to my opposition to the fast-food business and the direction of the culture generally,” says Slowinski, whose gallery can now be found upstate in the city of Hudson. “My approach to life and art is devotional, and was founded on the idea that our desires should not be based on ego or materialism, but on activities that enhance human culture and the collective consciousness. Slow Art is a peace movement. After all, what could be more peaceful than standing and slowly contemplating a work of art?”

Over the years, Slowinski advocated the Slow Art concept, but often found himself a voice crying out in the wilderness of New York artists and entrepreneurs. “The gallery scene there didn’t contribute at all to Slow Art,” he says. “In fact, it’s somewhat the antithesis of it. The gallery scene is based on materialism and ego. With Slow Art, ‘art’ is the physical manifestation of human consciousness, its existence independent from the person who created it. It’s the manifestation of a spiritual force, a sacred object. That’s why it needs to be meditated upon slowly. In the New York art world, art is a commodity whose value is based on financial, marketing and advertising forces. This is the challenge Slow Art faces.”

And it might have succumbed to that challenge had it not been for Internet ace Phil Terry.

If Slowinski can be viewed as the St. John the Baptist of the Slow Art movement, Terry, the CEO of a Manhattan-based business-consulting company, could be its St. Paul, having had his own Road to Tarsus-type moment—though one that could actually be considered more Old Testament than New, as it happened to occur at The Jewish Museum of New York.

“I was there in 2008, on a Saturday when very few people were there, to see an exhibit of postwar New York School art,” Terry recalls. “I was standing before a painting by Hans Hofmann titled ‘Fantasia’—there was no plan, I just spontaneously decided to sit there and gaze at this painting for an hour. It was a terrific experience. Hey, I didn’t create the idea of looking at a painting for a long period of time—every art history teacher advocates that. But I was really struck by what an emotional and intellectual experience it was, in addition to a visual one.”

Click here to read the full article in the digital edition of Manhattan!