About Merilee Mostov

Merilee Mostov is Director of Inclusive Intrepretation for Columbus Museum of Art.

What is Wonder?

What Is Wonder?

One day this year, millions of people paused from their daily routine to experience wonder. On August 21, 2017 people from all over the country went outside, looked at the sky, and gasped.   If you were one of the millions who donned special glasses and rejoiced at the movement of sun and moon, then you already know what wonder feels like.

Wonder is a brief encounter with something awe-inspiring, shocking, or utterly unbelievable. Wonder is a fleeting encounter with something unexpected, yet unmistakable. A squirrel running across the road doesn’t inspire wonder. An albino squirrel sitting in your living room does.  

The tantalizing thing about wonder is that it catches you off guard. Every. Single. Time.

The sight of a funnel-cloud flirting with the horizon. Gasp! The first sounds of your baby’s beating heart. Gasp! The brush of a bat’s wing on a summer evening. Gasp!

The great thing about wonder is that it reminds us what it means to be alive, alert, and part of a larger world. Wonder shakes us out of our mundane routine. Wonder is our brain’s way of telling us to stop, even for a brief moment, and notice something new. If we’re lucky, that moment may inspire further investigation, learning, and understanding about ourselves and the world.

At CMA we champion the mysterious, multitudinous, mesmerizing power of wonder. Out of those moments, not matter how brief, great artists, and people like you and me, are motivated to question, investigate, and think anew. Gasp!

The new Wonder Room will open in CMA’s JPMorgan Chase Center for Creativity the weekend of October 28 with a special member debut on October 27 from 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM.

-Merilee Mostov is CMA’s Director of Inclusive Interpretation

Collective Voices


Let’s face it. A visit to an art museum can be overwhelming. There’s so much to look at and read about. So if you are game for a different kind of art experience, I have a suggestion.

On your next visit to CMA, try out some of our many Collective Voices audio recordings. While strolling the galleries, keep your eyes out for a label like this one.

Collective Voices Label

The Collective Voices label will give you all the information you need to listen to an audio recording on your cell phone. We’ve used this Guide by Cell program for a couple of years. But this year we’re giving it a facelift — a new name to match our new approach to the project.

At CMA we aspire to include people and ideas that represent the diversity of our Columbus communities. The Collective Voices project is just one way we can share diverse perspectives about art from people in different communities.

So how is this project different than what we usually do? Usually we provide written labels near a work of art. When you see those labels, you can be pretty certain that they were written by one of a handful of art historians, or curators, on our staff. Curators provide valuable background information and years of studied understanding about a work or artist.

Collective Voices is different. Sometimes you will hear a curator or the artist talking. More often, you will hear the perspectives, stories, interpretation, and wonderings of other people in our community – a local artist, entrepreneur, student, community leader, educator, politician, CMA member, or a CMA staff person other than a curator.

Zoe Leonard

Listen to Yolanda Harris, ABC 6/Fox News Anchor talk about this Zoe Leonard photograph, 614-448-5095. Press 22 #.

I’m leading up this project and I’ve had a great time hearing what different people think and wonder about the same painting. I’ve been brought to tears looking at a sculpture through someone else’s eyes and life experience. I’ve noticed new things in a familiar photograph. For example, Yolanda Harris, ABC 6/Fox News Anchor, makes me laugh out loud when she talks about a Zoe Leonard photograph. You can listen too by calling 614-448-5095. Press 22 #

And I’m warmed by nostalgia when I listen to Nichole E. Dunn, President & CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, remember her childhood in Minnesota in response to a Grandma Moses painting. Check it out by calling 614-448-5095. Press 107#.

Grandma Moses

Listen to Nichole E. Dunn, President & CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, remember her childhood in Minnesota in response to this Grandma Moses painting, 614-448-5095, Press 107#.

Listening to the new Collective Voices recordings reminds me that making sense of a great work of art isn’t about finding an answer. It’s about being open to the multitude of questions and stories it inspires.

Chocolate for Your Thoughts


This summer I am spearheading several gallery experiments in order to gather input from people like you for future and ongoing projects.

First up: The Label Experiment, which took place last Wednesday. The goal of this experiment was to gather feedback about the works of art currently on display in the glass case bordering the Wonder Room.

The Innovation Lab down the hall from the glass case was a perfect location for this experiment. I covered the Lab walls with photocopies of the objects in the glass case. Then I invited people to come inside, write their questions and wonderings about the featured objects on Post-it notes, and stick them on the photocopies. As a thank you, I offered candy bars to all participants.


Phase #1 of this experiment was a success. People of all ages – visitors, interns, and CMA staff – took time to compose thoughtful questions and wonderings about the works of art. I am encouraged and slightly overwhelmed by the amount of responses. Now it is my job to consider all of this information as I create labels and activities to engage visitors in meaningful ways with these works. It will be an interesting task and I am thrilled to have visitor feedback to guide me.

If you visit CMA this summer, chances are you may stumble across another gallery experiment. I hope you will make time to join in because your opinions matter. Your feedback will make an impact on our decisions.

And, besides, I still have a large stash of candy bars to share.

Experiments in White


Elaine and her daughter Lydia were engrossed in looking when I met them. The object of their sustained concentration wasn’t a work of art; it was a new sign in the Center for Creativity called Whiteout.

“We can’t find the spatula; we’ve found everything but that!” Elaine looked to me for guidance.

As far as signs go, this one is atypical. It’s a 4’x 4′ plexi-glass box filled with shredded white paper. Imbedded, or camouflaged, in the paper are 19 assorted all-white objects such as a spatula, takeout box, ping pong ball, and headband. A list of the objects is posted on the wall nearby and visitors are invited to find them.

I’ve witnessed many visitors (and CMA staff) who are relentless in their search for all 19 objects. The sign is a not a work of art, but it is a curiosity. People gather together to point out objects found and hunt for the most elusive objects, the pipe cleaner and Q-tip.

whiteoutsign2This particular sign has been on display for just a few weeks. In that time, I’ve chatted with several people engaged in the hunt for white objects and I am somewhat surprised by our conversations. Several visitors think this sign is, in fact, a work of art. Others admit that they didn’t realize that it is actually a sign. (The lower portion of the box has large dimensional green words that spell out Center for Creativity.)

As a result of these conversations, I have been rethinking the purpose of this sign and its sister signs. The Whiteout sign is part of an on-going series of sign experiments for the Center for Creativity.

When we opened the Center in 2011, we knew that run-of-the-mill signage would not serve our experimental, playful, and even quirky philosophy. Instead we made several large plexiglass box-like signs that can be filled with different materials. We change out the “filler material” whenever we have the time and inclination, or about every 9 months. The one defining feature of the filler is the color; it’s always white. So far we’ve used packing peanuts (clingy), string mops (heavy), plumbing pipe pieces (very heavy), artificial birds (creepy), paper, and flowers.

The Center for Creativity signs filled with birds and string mops.

The Center for Creativity signs filled with birds and a string mops.

I am frequently asked why we only use white objects in these signs. The answer relates to design and creativity. First, I like white. And white is an effective visual background to the green Center for Creativity letters on the outside of the box. But more importantly, I established this color limitation as a personal creative challenge. What else can I find that is all white, not too expensive, small enough to fit in the boxes, and (new rule) not so heavy that the box will fall off the wall?

In fact, these signs embody many characteristics of creativity. They exemplify a willingness to experiment and take risks. They require divergent and imaginative thinking. They upend what is normal and expected.  And like many creative experiments, they may not be successful for their original purpose; I am willing to admit that they may have be failures as markers for our Center for Creativity spaces.

Yet, something interesting is happening when visitors engage with these quirky experiments in signage. And, heck, the world is full of so many other white objects. So for now, we will continue with our experiments in white.

If you have suggestions for filler, let us know.

Encounters with Nudity

Wonder Room Diana sculpture

Navigating nudity in art during a visit alone or with family and friends can be challenging for many of us. Indeed, I have been uncomfortable making sense of some works that contain nudity on view at CMA.  For me, every work is unique; some works with nudity trigger feelings of discomfort and even anger, some are rather innocuous.

My position on nudity in art can be boiled down to a few basic statements.

  1. Many works of art depict nudity.
  2. CMA owns and displays works with nudity in the Center for Creativity, in special exhibitions, and in all other galleries.
  3. Visitors should expect to encounter art with nudity during a CMA visit.
  4. Some works with nudity are unsettling to some viewers.
  5. Discomfort is not always a bad thing.

In this blog I do not intend to address statement #1.  Let’s please accept this fact and move on.

I can speak to statements #2 and #3. I admit that CMA has not been explicit about our policy on nudity in art.  Recently, a visitor did express dismay to find works with nudity in the Center for Creativity.  Her comments did not explain why she did not expect works with nudity in the Center for Creativity.  Perhaps because many families with children congregate in the Center, she believes it is not appropriate to display art with nudity there.  Or perhaps she objects for religious reasons.  I cannot know for sure.

Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to be very clear about our policy on nudity in art.

Attention all CMA visitors:  You may encounter works of art with nudity in any gallery in our museum!

I am not suggesting that we intentionally plan for works with nudity in every gallery.  In reality, here is what usually happens:  a curator selects a work because it is innovative or representative of a particular movement, style, or theme.  And sometimes this work includes nudity.  For example, Diana is a sculpture that is currently on view in the glass case adjacent to the Wonder Room.  I selected this elegant sculpture because of the subject matter; Diana, Roman Goddess of the hunt, is typically associated with the forest and animals.  The Wonder Room showcases many works with a woodland theme.  I admit that I did not consider Diana’s small, unclothed breasts when I selected this sculpture. But as a result of this visitor comment, Diana’s breasts have been on my mind. So, last week I wandered through the galleries in the Center for Creativity to chat with other visitors and gain more insight.

As luck would have it, I met a lovely family looking at Diana and the other sculptures on view in this case.   I directed my most important question to mother Amy and 9-year old Gavin, “So, tell me how you feel about the nudity in this sculpture. (I pointed to Diana) I am asking you because a visitor expressed concern that we placed this sculpture here.”  Amy laughed.  She shared this story.  On the drive to the Museum, Gavin asked, “Will there be naked people?” She explained to him that there would probably be some naked people in the art.  Amy also added, without provocation, that she welcomed and supported her son’s “curiosity.”  She wants her children to be curious about the world.  She pointed out that Gavin was comfortable looking, talking about, and even taking photos of the Diana sculpture.

Here is what I noticed: Amy and her family expected to encounter nudity during their museum visit.

Cezanne Bather

I said goodbye to Amy and her family and met another family. Jim and his two children were drawing in the Big Idea Gallery near Cezanne’s Seated Bather.  The “bather” in this painting is a naked woman nestled in a woodland setting. Chatting with Jim, I learned that he, like Amy, expected to encounter nudity during this visit with his family.

I applaud Amy and Jim for preparing their families for one of the almost universal truths of an art museum visit:  Many works of art contain nudity and art museums display these works.  Amy and Jim were comfortable with this fact. But what about visitors who aren’t comfortable with seeing art depicting nudity during a visit?

Certainly, I encourage every visitor to gravitate towards works that have personal relevance or interest.  I want every visitor to have a positive and meaningful experience.  But I also hope to encourage every visitor to approach our Museum as a safe place to explore ideas and topics that may be challenging and uncomfortable.  Why?  Because great works of art are chock full of imagery and ideas and stories that shine a light on difficult issues, such as nudity and sexuality.

This reminds me of the advice offered to me regularly by my massage therapist, “Pain is our best teacher.”  I know what she means. Most days, I plod through my daily routines without paying much attention to my weakened joints.  I’m lazy about the way I get out of the car or sit in the chair.  But when I’m in pain; I must pay attention.  The discomfort forces me to confront some issues I would rather avoid or ignore about myself.  My pain shines a light on my habits, my approach to living, and well, my vulnerabilities.

Great works of art can be like my pain.  They can alert us to some serious issues that we would prefer to ignore. In the course of our daily lives, we may not have to think seriously about poverty or violence or our sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly naked bodies. Most days we can avoid these issues that cause us discomfort.  But a visit to an art museum can be akin to ripping off a Band-aid. Prematurely.  We can quickly feel exposed and vulnerable.  At CMA, many great works of art on view do address difficult topics. These works challenge us to pay attention, to be aware, to take notice of the things we may or may not want to think or talk about.  But like my experience with back pain, if we take the time to be mindful about what triggers our discomfort with issues like nudity in art, we can learn a thing or two about ourselves, our friends and family, and our communities.

Dear CMA Visitors

Dear CMA visitors,

I want to properly recognize your valuable contributions to our museum. Because of you, inspired visitor, CMA not only showcases the creative output of established artists, but also reflects the imagination, ingenuity, and attitudes of our community.


Thank you, CMA visitors, for sharing your ideas and talents during your visit.  And thank you for trusting us with your creations:

  • your elaborate twist-tie sculptures
  • your ingenious bird nests
  • your drawings
  • your experiments with paper and tape
  • your ideas
  • your musings
  • your thoughtful comments squeezed onto one 3”post-it note
  • your point of view

Your ideas matter.  They matter to me and they matter to other visitors.


Do you ever wonder why CMA galleries look a little different than most other art museum galleries?  It’s because of you.  At CMA, we design exhibitions so that you and other interested visitors can experiment, make, and do.  And we incorporate places where you can share your opinions, investigations, and creations alongside those of great artists and art scholars.  Perhaps you noticed that many visitors (and CMA staff) spend time perusing the comments and creations posted by you and others.  Your thoughtful contributions shape our exhibitions.

Thanks to you, intrepid visitor, CMA is a hub for community-generated, crowd-sourced creativity and critical thinking every day.