Oberlin Blogs

Impromptu Allen Visit

May 19, 2024

Ariel Roberts ’25

I often forget we have a whole art museum on campus. Since I’m not a Studio Art major and usually stick to north and central campus, it’s just not a place I ever need to go. But it’s a whole national destination, just sitting there! One day when I was in desperate need of a study break, I had a sudden realization of its existence, and decided to take a u-turn from walking towards my dorm and head over there instead. What resulted was a beautiful and refreshing hour of calm.

The Allen is the perfect place for quiet self-meditation and decompressing. I think as Oberlin students we get a bit used to its being there, so it’s usually pretty empty during the weekdays. But that’s nice when you want to take some time to yourself and enjoy a peaceful place. When you walk through the front doors, you are immediately brought into the space, statues standing at attention and paintings climbing up the walls. With a high ceiling, the museum is open and enveloping, with lots of space to breathe and take in the art. It’s easy to get lost in, to idle from room to room and exhibit to exhibit. I stood for a long time watching a digital installation of a piece by Yang Yongliang, mesmerized by the twinkling lights and illusory landscape. I remember once when I brought my sister to the museum, there was an installation with a pair of headphones for you to listen to, and we stood there for a long time with them on our heads, wanting to hear the whole recording. One of my favorite pieces they used to have was one of Yayoi Kusama's infinity net paintings, and I could've stood for hours following the paths of the dots. Even if you don’t go to the museum itself, you can pursue all of the works on their website and quickly get pulled into endless scrolling, though looking at art is a much better alternative to doom scrolling. If you really want to feel like you are there, you can check out the AR tour and move through the whole museum on your device. Though I have to admit, nothing beats the real thing.

After going to a museum once, you often think “Well, I’ve already gone there, I don’t really need to go again.” But museums are always switching out exhibits, and you never fully experience the museum in just one go. The Allen is no exception, and with its being free and open during the week, why not go as many times as you can? Even if I’ve seen a piece before, it’s always nice to look at it again, notice something I didn’t before, read the placard in more detail, or just take some more time to appreciate it. The Allen also has an app that gives more details or unique ways of engaging with the piece such as with audio tours and digital modeling, so maybe after going through the museum once, you might want to follow along in the app the next time. 

The Allen also has some “Mindful Meditation” events where you can participate in a meditation based on a piece of art. Led by a local therapist, it can be a great way to learn how to practice mindfulness and spend quality time with yourself. Especially if you are an art fanatic, you may find yourself moved by the ability of art to speak to the soul and foster thoughtfulness. Just walking by myself through the Allen feels like a meditation, a way to decompress and calm my thoughts. It’s a nice, quiet, echoey space where I feel like I can hear myself better, a space completely free of outside stress, unlike the library or my dorm room. 

The Allen will always have a special place in my heart. Since it’s on campus, it feels like “our” museum, the one museum in the world that belongs to us. When I went to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but think how much it reminded me of the Allen, even though the Getty is much more famous. What makes the Allen so special is that it’s not overwhelmingly crowded like the Getty, but instead quiet and open, but still with mesmerizing art exhibitions. It’s the perfect day date spot, expansive education resource, and meditative space. I’ll need to remember to take advantage of it more as the perfect study break.

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