Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Louvre visits Minneapolis

As a homeschooling mom of three in this economy, I am fairly certain Paris isn't going to be an option for a while. I was thrilled to hear that the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts had gotten an exhibit from the Louvre. The world's best known museum selected a selection of pieces that represent the evolving understanding of a masterpiece. While we have gone to regional art museums before, we have never explored the halls of such a fabulous one. Despite the massive snow and ice storm that hit us over the Christmas holiday and left a half an inch of glare ice over everything, it was worth braving both the roads and the sidewalks. With help, my mother was able to accompany my family. The best part of the experience was that we were left wanting to do so much more. The MIA is an enormous museum. My family has gone to the building for performances of the Children's Theatre Company, (their main stage is located off the lobby of the museum) though we have never spent any time in the museum itself.

The first room included many sculptures of Antonie-Louis Barye. Many were based on the Lion and the Serpent. The sculpture was able to reproduce and sell many pieces based on the success of the original in his time. It also had the Lion and the Medusa, a painting by Theodore Gericault. The painting was based on an historical event--the shipwreck of the French frigate, Medusa. Of the 147 men placed on the raft, only 15 survived the 13 days until rescue.

I heard people discussing merits of pieces and just a couple of others being extremely critical. I loved listening to some of them, but the others made me cringe. Legitimate critiques of a piece are valid, but it can go too far. Okay, you didn't like a piece--got it. However, debasing a piece (or those who like it) just to inflate your own ego is, well...not nice. Ah, what do I know? When it comes to art--I know precious little. As a history major I didn't need to know much, but I do know what I like. One of my absolute favorite pieces was The Astronomer by Johannes Vermeer. Loved it.

I also really loved Da Vinci's drapery drawing. Presumably used for a study for future work, the drawing was stunning. It was definitely outside most images conjured at the sound of "Masterpiece." Michelangelo Buonarroti's quotation, "Who would have ever said that I made this with my hands?" was a great addition to the display of his drawing,Virgin and the Child with Saint Anne. I also enjoyed Guillaume Voiriot's, Woman holding a booklet. It was a wonderful painting, but I love how the Louvre originally scoffed at it. Ironically, now it is the Louvre's possession and being displayed. Perhaps part of the appeal was the story behind it. I so root for the underdog. The story of the painting below also gave me the warm fuzzies. In Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres' piece, Portrait of Ferdinand Philippe Louis Charles Henri de Bourbon Orleans, Duke of Orleans 1810-1842 he painted a man who died at 30 in a road accident. The man fought a cholera epidemic without resorting to violence. This magnified his contemporary popularity.

As much as people could appreciate art--there was ample history. There were many sculpted pieces representing thousands of years including cylinders from Mesopotamia. Some reflected poorer work likely made in a provincial workshop while others may have been made under the Akkadian Kings. One part explained that art appreciation was a combination of acquired knowledge and personal taste. The more people view masterpieces, the faster they recognize it.

However, with appreciation come the increased likelihood that someone will fake others. Fakes are often intentionally lesser known works because they are less documented and recognized. Some fakes represent great art in themselves and become very famous in their own right. Other pieces exemplified how ordinary objects not intended as "art" are truly beautiful. I was saddened by the first century grave marker for a young boy. Depicted with his mother playing with him, time and culture were transcended to touch the hearts of those viewing it. The exhibit touched on definitions and the evolution of the idea of a masterpiece and works, how those artists who defy the traditional norms can expand art, fraud, re-attribution, and displayed art from around the world. I thought the exhibit was wonderful. As my kids want to come back too, I would say it was an enormous success.

**Cameras were prohibited in the gallery so I did not take the photos pictured in this blog posting. Since the images above are in the public domain, I have used them here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Titanic--nearing a century later

The Science Museum of Minnesota has a temporary exhibit on the Titanic. My daughter--a little Titanic nut around here, has wanted to see this exhibit since she heard it was coming a year ago. We finally went to see it on Sunday with my mom and a friend of my daughter. We once saw a Titanic exhibit at the Hampton Roads Marine Science Museum in Newport News, Virginia. I anticipated the exhibit to have much of the same materials. It was missing a deck chair discovered in an attic and verified years ago and a lifeboat. In many ways it did mirror the other--especially the large model and the cards assigning each visitor a person on the ship that left you wondering if you survived til the end. However, there were additional items that I thought were very noteworthy.

As a former museum archivist, I understand the need to preserve artifacts. Light and camera flashes can be very damaging to materials. In this respect, the museum's policy on no cameras makes sense. However, as a visitor, reporter and blogger--it was killing me. I LOVE my camera and taking photos. There was an opportunity for people to stand in front of a green screen and have a photo taken. Of course, the picture was available for purchase at the end of the exhibit where a special gift shop had been set up. People could pay six bucks for a single photo or get four for twenty five. I purchased four pictures. Merchandising may be inevitable, the photos a tad cheesy, but to an avid scrapbooker, it seemed totally reasonable. There was no way I was walking out of there without something for the scrapbook.

The exhibit shows the lavishness of the ship with a reproduction first class cabin and a dining room nook. People walked through stands of artifacts that were recovered from the site. For me the best part was a darkened room that had a backdrop of lights set up to resemble the night Arctic sky. In front of the lit cloth set an enormous block of ice that people could place their hand on. It was cold. Everyone knows ice is cold. As Minnesotans, we grow up throwing snowballs if we have gloves on or not. But to hold your hand on this enormous block of ice was an intimidating experience. Even more so when the fact that salty sea water freezes at 28 degrees--lower than the 32 degree freezing point of fresh water. Most of the people who died in the catastrophe did not die from drowning. Hypothermia was the major killer.

The exhibit discusses the tragedy of the deaths and the futility of the half empty life rafts. It also explains the miracle of the Carpathia radio man getting the plea for help at all. It speaks of the tragedy of how so many died--how horrible it was for people to say goodbye and ripped from loved ones. It speakes of the testament of love when the founders of Macy's refused to part. Mrs. Strauss refused to leave--"so they lived, they would die: together." Nearly a century after the great tragedy, the event was still powerful and moving. A section of the exhibit explains the rescue role the Carpathia played and the devastating wail of widows. The Carpathia shared the fate of the Titanic, sinking a few short years later during the first world war. The science behind the recovery is remarkable. Many times, iron, protected and destroyed by the sea simultaneously, can explode if exposed directly to the air when retrieved.

We finished the visit with a viewing of the omni movie: Titanica. My daughter really would love to go to the Titanic museum in Branson, Missouri; the museum at Nova Scotia and of course, the those in Liverpool and the Southampton. There is an online museum, (a search will bring many good ones) that has some interesting photos in case St. Paul is too far from you. We look forward to the upcoming exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Science Museum's annual Omnifest where many films are played during a few weeks. This year's films include: Africa's Giant Elephant, Into the Deep, Van Gogh: Brush with Genius, Greatest Places and Ski to the Max.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Winter break cramming...

The last time I posted--sometime in August, my family was excited to be participating in the fair. My kids did well--bringing home many blues (and a few honorable mentions--the pink ribbons right behind the champions) both for 4-H and the Open Class. It was an exciting time for them. It was also a time of great change in my home. My daughter prepared for her first semester as a PSEO student at the local college.

PSEO--the Post Secondary Enrollment Options program is a dual enrollment option for juniors and seniors. Only public school students were allowed to enroll years ago when I participated. However it has been opened to include all students now. It is nice--she can go to campus and do all the college things. It should not be confused with Advanced Placement classes taken at school. She is currently a full time student at the college. It is most wonderful because the state covers all tuition, fees and books. What a blessing that is!!

The downside to that is a major time commitment. We have had a major change in our lives this past fall that coincided with other issues. It has been a challenge and we have experienced growing pains--but I would not say that the past several months have been bad even in the slightest bit. We have been able to do more fossil hunting, see a good football game, attend some classes and see a dance performance. We have not done many of the traditional things we have grown accustomed to doing in the fall--but I think the change might be a great thing.

Because of our busy schedules, we missed several museum exhibits. It was a delight to see my kids' excitement when they discovered that each got a gift of a museum membership and exhibit visit. This winter break will be filled with many wonderful days--a cramming of sorts that we have been putting off for quite some time. I am excited for the new year. We have another schedule that will once again allow us to have "field trip Fridays" and allow me to return to my blogging. I look forward to chronicling our visits again--with Titanic, the Louvre and Sue the T Rex, I hope our visits will excite others as well.