On display now: Travel the world in an unusual way during the Birmingham Museum of Art’s latest exhibition


Ways of Seeing
Ways of Seeing: The Art of Travel, Trade, and Transportation is on display now at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Photo via Jacob Blakenship for Bham Now

Since the beginning of civilization, transportation has been the center of everything. It affects how we work, socialize and live our everyday lives. Tour 70 objects from Birmingham Museum of Art’s (BMA) permanent collection in Ways of Seeing: The Art of Travel, Trade, and Transportation to discover the necessity and joy of travel throughout different centuries and cultures.

Exploring the why behind every mode of transportation

People travel for various reasons—work, visiting family, going on vacation, etc. Looking back at the world’s history, we’ve also seen travel as a way to flee hardship, achieve economic advancement or globalized trade.

Ways of Seeing: The Art of Travel, Trade, and Transportation represents all these situations on the gallery walls. From a poignant photograph of men leaving for war—travel for necessity—to a portrait of tourists visiting Venice—travel for tourism—the exhibition contrasts these very different situations.

“Mobility begins with your physical person. Whether it’s crawling or walking or rolling in a wheelchair, all of these things are about mobility. We need to be mobile to feed, clothe and house ourselves.”

Dr. Katherine Anne Paul, The Virginia and William M. Spencer III Curator of Asian Art, Birmingham Museum of Art
Ways of Seeing
“Man on Motorcycle.” Photo via the Birmingham Museum of Art

Yet, despite the work ranging from the 2nd to the 20th centuries and featuring artists from China to Alabama, each draws back on the same theme. Travel, trade and transportation are all codependent on each other.

  • What: Ways of Seeing: The Art of Travel, Trade, and Transportation
  • Where: Birmingham Museum of Art, 2000 Reverend Abraham Woods Jr Blvd, Birmingham, AL 35203
  • When: Now throughout 2021
  • Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10AM-5PM | Sunday Noon-5PM
  • Price: Free

Armchair travel isn’t a new concept and it’s not going away

Believe it or not, social media wasn’t the first way people sought to escape to new places without buying a plane ticket. Photographs, portraits and books gave people ways to discover different worlds from their homes.

The exhibition does a deep dive into this topic, while also presenting as a form of armchair travel itself—learning about new worlds in a meaningful way. Through nearly every type of media, it will show you the different ways the inherent need, and desire, for transportation shapes lives and cultures.

The exhibition is divided into traveling by air, land and water. Photo via Jacob Blakenship for Bham Now

“One of the themes of the show is that it’s a kind of armchair travel. This is essentially what people get to do on Instagram and Pinterest—the exhibition is just another iteration. You get to come to a new place and go around the world by walking down the hallway of the museum.

Even the signage visually transports viewers as if we are already traveling through airports, cruise ship terminals, or train and bus stations.”

Dr. Katherine Anne Paul

Escape with Ways of Seeing

Ways of Seeing
Ways of Seeing features drawings, portraits, photographs, quilts and more. Photo via Jacob Blakenship for Bham Now

Ways of Seeing: The Art of Travel, Trade, and Transportation allows you to armchair travel, but it also shows you how people have been doing it since the early centuries.

“It certainly takes you away from crazy reality to a certain extent, because you do travel to escape—right? This is a form of a different kind of escape to travel.”

Hina ZaidiCuratorial Assistant, Birmingham Museum of Art

You’ll see a book showing the contrasting fashions between Portugal and France, portraits painted as souvenirs from tourists’ travels to show their families back home and various ways centuries before us consumed art as a form of escapism.

Become part of the exhibition through the Ways of Seeing Travel Guide

Ways of Seeing
Don’t forget to take a selfie and tag the BMA on social media before you go! Photo via Jacob Blakenship for Bham Now

There are two ways to immerse yourself in the BMA’s latest exhibition. First, check out the Ways of Seeing Travel Guide.

The virtual guidebook uses audio and video to feature different sections of travel, bringing the artwork from past to present.

For example, under the “Ride in Style” block, Dr. Katherine discusses the concept of hot air balloons as a method of travel since the 1700s. She also features hot air balloon travel today and connects it to a local event, the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic.

Second, while you’re visiting the exhibition, stop by the smartlab to share your travel photos using a selfie photo-op. Post them online, tag the Birmingham Museum of Art and watch your photos appear on an interactive display at the exhibition!

Don’t miss Ways of Seeing: The Art of Travel, Trade, and Transportation on display now. Stay informed on future exhibits by visiting the Birmingham Museum of Art’s website and following the Museum on Facebook and Instagram.

Be sure to check out Wall to Wall presented PNC, an interactive exhibit, found in the lobby and cafe areas of the BMA.

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