Kinetic art: Museums’ yoga classes combine exercise, art

Time to break out the spandex and mat and head to the museum.

It may sound like an odd ritual at first, but yoga sessions at art museums have become a common occurrence across the country, including at the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Haggerty Museum of Art.

For the past two years, the Milwaukee Art Museum has offered a monthly yoga class, Yoga @ the Museum, in its Windhover Hall with participants posing beneath the graceful wings of its Calatrava architecture. Yoga fans have a chance to take part in that event Saturday at 8:15 a.m.

“It’s a beautiful thing, and yoga has a lot of beautiful lines, and the art of yoga in that space really emphasizes all the beautiful lines of the building and the yoga,” said Krista Renfrew, the director of special events at the museum, who helped establish the program of stunning success.

“We had 45 people RSVP and and then 180 showed up thanks to social media; things like Facebook and Twitter got the word out. It was wonderful,” Renfrew said.

Yoga @ the Museum retained its popularity the past two years and currently averages around 170 participants at each session.

Part of the appeal is that each session is a unique experience with yoga instructors visiting from Milwaukee’s diverse yoga community to lead the groups. The museum finds instructors with the help of omTownYogis, a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading yoga throughout Milwaukee and the surrounding communities. Although the class is free, the museum suggests a $15 donation providing access to the museum for the day and splits donations with the organization.

“It’s an all levels class, so it’s a great mix of people from beginners to more advanced people and instructors and yogis. (It) has great energy,” Renfrew said.

This includes children who are invited to participate four times a year in a separate class, making Yoga @ the Museum an occasion for the whole family. Students also participate in the exercise at Marquette’s own Haggerty Museum of Art.

The Haggerty’s yoga sessions occur less frequently than those at the Milwaukee Art Museum but have been put on with Marquette’s yoga club the past two fall semesters. These sessions started when yoga club co-founder Rebecca Ratterman and member Annie Kelly were approached by Lynne Shumow, curator of education, about using the Haggerty’s space.

“I thought it would be an interesting place to conduct yoga because of the art and the space,” Shumow said.

Like its neighbor on the lakefront, the Haggerty also proved to be a hot spot for yoga, bringing in lots of students on the museum’s “Student Fridays,” which show off the Haggerty’s offerings.

“Often when students come, it makes them aware of the excellent exhibitions we have here for them,” Shumow said.

Both of the curator’s intentions with the yoga sessions were certainly achieved.

“It’s a cool environment to do (yoga) in, and it’s inspiring because you’re surrounded by the product of people’s hard work,” said Kelly, a senior in the College of Nursing.

These sessions unite the art of the paintings with the art of yoga forms, both of which involve striving for perfection.

While it may depend on your personal definition of art, yoga fits the bill for John Su, a professor of English who instructs a yoga seminar for honors students at Marquette.

“The idea of perfecting the self is central to so many ideas of art,” Su said. “If someone wants to express himself or herself through the body, kinetically, much the way you know a dancer might do that, there is no reason not to think of it as an art.”

It’s part of a cultural change that may help to explain the emergence of yoga in art museums in Milwaukee and across the country over the past few years.

“People are, I think, more willing to express themselves and their creativity kinetically than I think Americans have historically been comfortable doing,” Su said.

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