Raw Material is an arts and culture podcast from the San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMOMA). Each season we partner with a different “podcaster-in-residence” to explore modern and contemporary art through a new lens. Along the way we bring you voices of artists and thinkers from around the globe who offer surprising perspectives on the world through their work.
Raw Material Mixtape: The Beholder’s Share is a presentation of podcasts that spans the arts and culture podcasting landscape, curated by Tamar Avishai of The Lonely Palette. The series is comprised of episodes of Art History for All, 99% Invisible, Bow Down, and Everything is Alive, among others, each of which focuses on an artist or artwork in SFMOMA’s permanent collection. The mixtape is bound by the unifying principle of The Beholder’s Share, a phrase originally introduced by art historian Alois Riegl to convey that a viewer plays an essential role in completing an artwork by engaging with it subjectively. Avishai’s insight is that this notion of the Beholder’s Share takes on new and poignant meaning during this time of forced separation from seeing artwork IRL; simply put, artworks miss us during COVID lockdown as much as we miss them. The series is capped by a brand-new episode of The Lonely Palette, commissioned as a collaboration between SFMOMA and Avishai. The episode looks at the work of Anselm Kiefer, specifically the iconic SFMOMA collection paintings Margarethe and Shulamith, and the Paul Celan poem that inspired the paintings. Avishai frames her unpacking of the paintings and the poem through a very personal lens—digging deep into her own experience of learning about the Holocaust via another cultural artifact: the film Schindler’s List.
The Beholder’s Share Mixtape was a resourceful pivot during a difficult time. Normally, a full season of the podcast would include 6 episodes of about 20 minutes each. This time around, we focused our energies on creating a single, new episode that clocked in at 55 minutes, while still licensing a suite of full, pre-existing podcast episodes from other producers as well. The Mixtape was a resounding success in that the partnership with The Lonely Palette significantly expanded Raw Material’s reach, while also amplifying the reach of deserving partners in the art and culture podcast space—not to mention offering licensing and commission fees to members of our creative community during financially uncertain and unstable times.
The Anselm Kiefer episode of Raw Material Mixtape: The Beholder’s Share does the hard work of interpretation: it takes something that difficult to understand and offers listeners a variety of ways in. One might not know French poetry or Post-War German Abstraction, but chances are they’ve seen—or at least heard of—Schindler’s List. By offering accessible, relatable points of entry, Avishai provides new inroads to Kiefer’s work. What’s more, by simultaneously positioning the artworks in relationship to high culture (poetry) as well as pop culture (Hollywood), Avishai shows how poetry, painting and pop culture can be hermeneutic friends, each not only offering lenses through which to view one another, but also changing and deepening the meaning of all three cultural products in the process. By tackling this difficult work via the podcast medium, and by doing so during a time when SFMOMA was closed to the public, Avishai enriches the perspective of so many people: people who have seen the Kiefer work in the past but who no longer can; people who have never seen the artworks but now would like to; and people who have never seen the artworks and likely never will but who are now able to have an experience, albeit remote, with them. Lastly, doing so via podcast allows Avishai to dig deep, 55 minutes deep, into the Kiefer works. Duration is the friend of complex, layered interpretation, and an in-depth exploration is not often possible via a 90 second audio guide stop, or ~5–minute artist interview video, but is perfectly suited for the long form podcast medium.