September 21st, 2010 · No Comments
The way I feel about England’s museums (BM in particular) is the same way I feel about Tom Brady. They are both morally flawed, but too beautiful for me to honestly give a damn. So in that spirit lets forget about the mistreatment of Greece and Bridget Moynihan and just admire the physical beauty and inherent cultural value of the objects themselves. Sure, the jewelry collection in the Victoria and Albert represents the opulence, indulgence, and filthy wealth of the upper classes and royalty, but look how sparkly those diamonds are! The intricate cloisonne! The colorful enamel! The gemstones! Don’t hate the tiara because a spoiled rich woman owned it, admire it for its elegant design and exquisite craftsmanship.
Hair ornament in the form of an orchid, made by Philippe Wolfers, Belgium, 1905-7. Museum no. M.11-1962. Image from the Victoria and Albert Museum website
I also must say, setting aside moral issues and countrys’ bruised egos, what is truly in the best interest of the objects themselves is for them to be left alone. Art and artifacts should be handled and moved as little as possible to avoid damage and the acceleration of deterioration. Professor Earenfight, who curates the Trout Gallery and teaches the museum studies course at Dickinson, likes to say that art and artifacts are like the elderly. They are set in their ways, used to their specific atmosphere, and the best thing for them is to disrupt their comfort as little as possible. The bottom line is, virtually all of the objects in London’s museums are priceless and definitely irreplaceable. The transportation of any of these objects across countries and continents is absolutely horrifying from an art conservation/curatorial point of view.
In any case, how great is it that we can get into all of these places for free? Sure, government subsidization lends itself to government censorship, but the fact that I can just wander in off the street, as I am, and walk right up to Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait, or Joseph Wright’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, or the ship burial treasure from Sutton Hoo, or the Rosetta Stone and countless other treasures more than outweighs any negative aspects for me. London’s collections are among the finest in the world, and they are open to everyone. Now that’s beautiful.
Tags: 2010 Rachel
September 21st, 2010 · No Comments
The Brits pour money into their precious museums, further proof to my idea that the Brits hold their rich and storied history above all things in this fine country. The Museum of London is probably the best example; a simply laid out but large museum with easy access to the public and several treasured pieces of London history contained within its walls. Like the Museum of London, most museums are easily accessible and a majority of them are free to the public, however it seems like the museums they offer are catered to a good balance of Brits and tourists alike. While walking through a museum like the British Museum or the National Portrait Gallery, it is common to hear a slew of accents from every corner of the room. Italian, spanish, english, you name it, these people are in the museums. Of course this kind of museum experience can only come from the British government pouring tons of money into these places, making them into a piece of history themselves.
The history on display in the museums isn’t only that of the Brits, however. I am sure it took millions upon millions of dollars to acquire the historical objects contained in museums like the British museum. Perhaps this is a testament to not only the Brits appreciation of their own history, but also of the history of the world. London is without a doubt, one of the most international cities in the world. Tourists come from all over to see the sights and people from all corners of the globes live tucked away in various corners of London. All these points lead me to believe that Londoners also take great pride in acknowledging how they themselves are linked to international history and will pay big bucks for precious artifacts to be moved to their museums.
The museums themselves seem to operate like any other public establishment in the city of London. The feeling of being pushed around from queue to queue is ever present, even in a place like a museum. The result is that you kind of have to rush yourself from museums, or as a fellow classmate said in their blog recently you have to learn to “skim” museums. It took me ten minutes just to get a good view of the Rosetta Stone because of all the people crowding around, and everyone seems to have you on a two minute timer to have your look and then move on. Even in a place like the National Portrait Gallery, I got the feeling that if I spent too much time looking at a painting or sitting on a couch (the green leather was incredible) I was going to be the recipient of dirty looks from every direction. Despite being invisibly queued up in most sections of museums, there is usually enough to experience for you to get lost for days.
Overall, the museums are definitely a great aspect of London and I believe that the fact that they are subsidized is a very good thing. It keeps tourists coming and it keeps the English aware and proud of their history and their knowledge of others’. The museums of London helped me to appreciate (like a good Londoner) the value of a trip down history lane.
Tags: 2010 Benjamin
September 20th, 2010 · 1 Comment
I’m a slow museum goer. I like to read all of the text as I go through, and when at an art museum, I tend to find a few paintings to focus on for, say fifteen minutes each, looking closely, and then backing up again, trying to discover the secret to the artist’s technique in the brushstrokes. And so I’ve found the process of visiting museums in London frustrating for the same reason that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience: the collections at most of the museums I have visited here are just too expansive to see everything in a single afternoon.
The most extreme example is the Victoria and Albert Museum: each room is overwhelmingly full of objects, and almost every object is accompanied by a full paragraph of text. So fairly early in my visit there, I abandoned trying to read everything and even walked through some rooms without stopping, in order to use my time to really get a sense of the full extent of the museum. Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed the few exhibits were simpler, less cluttered, and more focused, such as the sequence of Peter Rabbit illustrations (which was a fun surprise). However, among the clutter I also stumbled on some amazing contemporary pottery within the Japanese exhibit, simply because it happened to catch my eye. In an entirely different part of the museum I saw some oil sketches by John Constable that looked surprisingly impressionist, compared to his typical, more realistic, complete landscape paintings. Over all, I was able to see plenty that I found interesting, despite skipping items and full exhibits along the way. However, the experience was somewhat stressful, since I knew that I had so little time to see so much.
In some of the art museums that showed mostly paintings I ended up needing to skim the collections as well. On my first visit to the National Gallery, I ended up looking at only the rooms that featured impressionist and post impressionist paintings since I love looking at paintings by these particular artists, and therefore spent a lot of time in front of each individual painting. (I discovered a new favorite Van Gogh painting, and a photo of it is attached to this post.) When I went back about a week later to see the rest of the museum, I still had to skip a lot of paintings and captions in order to get through see a variety. The skimming process inevitably led me to focus on finding the more famous paintings, such as Van Eyke’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait and Hogarth’s Marriage A La Mode series, and although these were not all that I looked at, I wish I could have spent time looking at more of what the museum had to offer. It’s a strange trade off to be in a museum with a lot of amazing art, but to not get to see all of it because of the sheer quantity and quality throughout. My experience in the Tate Britain was similar, though to a lesser extent: there was an entire wing devoted to Turner paintings, many of which were truly breathtaking to look at, and I found it difficult to decide how to ration my time in order to move on to other parts of the museum.
Van Gogh painting (photo from National Gallery website)
Turner Painting (from Tate website)
The Sir John Soane Museum was an exception because it was much smaller than the other museums that I visited and included very little text. However, I had little access to information about what I was seeing, so I left feeling much less satisfied than when I left the larger museums. I definitely prefer a museum having too much on display that I want to see, rather than not enough. I still cannot figure out whether most museums in London are more text heavy than those in the States, or whether I just read very little of it here simply because there is so much to see. Either way, I think that I could return to a few of the museums that I visited every day for a week, and still have more left to discover there.
Tags: 2010 Emily · Uncategorized
September 18th, 2010 · No Comments
The museums of London seem to all fall around one dominant theme: imperialism. Seeing that this defined the British Empire for a majority of the last three centuries, it is no wonder that one can see its influence in each place one visits in London. Every museum either boasts the riches and plunders of the imperial era or makes some sort of comment on imperialism by what the curators chose and didn’t choose to include. As imperialism is, in my mind, the central idea around which all these museums exist, I’m going to take a look at each of the museums I have visited as reflections on the topic:
The British Museum: Many have already commented about the BM’s collection of artifacts and treasures from around the globe. It’s hard not to look at the mummies of ancient Egypt or the Elgin marbles without wondering just how exactly the BM got a hold of them. For its part, the museum seems to take delight in owning a collection that many would not consider rightfully theirs. On the “History of the World in 100 Objects,” I noted the quip the curator made about the “four languages” on the Rosetta Stone (as “Captured by the British Army” appears in English on the side of the artifact). While the BM could just ignore England’s imperial past, it seems to be content with making quips about where these objects came from. Essentially, the museum feels like a chance to show off the spoils of imperialism to rest of the world.
The Victoria and Albert Museum: This museum feels like a massive palace packed with valuables. In keeping with the British Museum, everything is thrown into areas based around vague “themes.” If you want to see jewelry, be prepared for a lot of rooms with a lot of randomly assorted riches. If you seek a certain historical artifact, you can probably find the right room based on the era and location of the piece, but after that you might have some problems as the rooms are randomly set up and gargantuan. Given the opulence of the collection, one cannot help but wonder how in the world the V&A wound up with all this stuff. The riches of imperialism are on full display at the V&A.
The Sir John Soane Museum: If the Victoria and Albert Museum feels like a massive palace packed with valuables obtained through imperialism, the Sir John Soane Museum IS a house packed with valuables obtained through imperialism. The place screams overkill, with walls of paintings that open up to more walls of paintings. I was particularly struck by the ivory chairs from India obtained during the eighteenth century: a very offsetting piece of the collection.
Natural History Museum: A few of us went through this museum after visiting the V&A, as the museum originated from the leftover collection at the V&A. While most of what one sees in the museum would not instantly recall British imperialism, some elements of the collection, like precious gems from South Africa, lead one to wonder just exactly how the museum got a hold of these pieces.
National Gallery: I really enjoyed this museum, but it is entirely Western European paintings. Given the Docklands Museum of London’s reference to the beauty of the arts in Africa before imperialism and slavery, why are none of these cultures, or those of the Middle East, represented?
National Portrait Gallery: I won’t go too much into this one, as several of my colleagues have already commented on the National Portrait Gallery’s imperialist nature. There is a stunning lack of racial or economic diversity in the collection, and I think a lot of that is a result of Britain’s imperialist past.
The Imperial War Museum: For a museum with the word “imperial” in the title, this museum actually had some of the least evidence of Britain’s imperial past of any of the places we visited. Only part of one wall was dedicated to all of the events surrounding the colonization of Africa, and I cannot recall any of the exhibits examining the struggles and fights for independence in any other former part of the British Empire. It is almost as if the curators wanted to sweep the entire history of British imperialism under the rug to focus on the glories of WWI and WWII. Based on the exhibits, one could easily come to conclusion that the Britain is embarrassed of its complete history. It was a cool museum, and I loved the section on British espionage (Who can’t love an exhibit that begins with James Bond clips?), but I found the museum incomplete because it ignored England’s imperial past.
The Cabinet War Rooms/Churchill Museum: My personal vote as the coolest museum in London, the Cabinet War Rooms show Britain near the end of the era of imperialism. Given the museum’s narrow focus, looking just at Churchill’s life and the struggle of the War Cabinet during the WWII Blitz, there was not much focus given to imperialism. One section of the Churchill Museum commented on the prime minister’s stance, early in his political career, in opposition to Indian independence. The part of the exhibit took a very apologetic tone, acknowledging Churchill’s mistake in taking such a position. Considering this museum is run in conjunction with the Imperial Museum, this part of the exhibit may provide an insight into the mind of the curators at that museum. Clearly, there is some sense of remorse on the part of the curators, evidenced by the Churchill Museum, for the British Empire’s actions, which could explain the lack of information about such events in the Imperial War Museum. Perhaps the curators are too ashamed to even broach the subject of British Imperialism.
Based on my observations, every museum I’ve seen in London is either indebted to imperialism due its bountiful collection of artifacts, or it tries to comment on the British Empire’s imperial past, typically by covering it up. Fifty years after the fall of imperialism, which is not that long ago, we still see its effects on the city of London.
Tags: 2010 Andrew
September 11th, 2010 · 1 Comment
Throughout our time here so far, I’ve been to museums that I’ve loved and loathed. Regardless of how I felt about the collections, each museum seemed to say something about England, as well as demonstrate amazing educational programs. (I’ve decided to tackle the issue of museums in two separate blogs. I’m not going to deal with repatriation and provenance, both issues have been on my mind a good deal at a couple of the museums, most noticeably the British Museum and the Sir John Soane museum, in a second blog. This one will be more general and focus a bit on educational programming within the galleries.)
Firstly, thinking back to over two weeks ago, the Greenwich Observatory was an interesting museum. It wasn’t one of my favourites, partly because of the collection, most of which I did not really care for. However, the excellent interactive bits throughout the exhibits were engaging. It did a good job explaining the importance of Greenwich time and it’s relationship to the development of shipping. (I probably know more about longitude now than I ever needed to know.) Unlike the other museums I’ve visited, the achievements it highlighted, were an integral part of the build-up to imperialism vs the spoils of imperialism.
The Tate Modern would be my next least favourite. I like some modern art, but it is not normally my first choice to spend an afternoon admiring. (Unless it is a Kandinsky show.) Throughout the Tate, I felt that some of the space had been wasted, especially on the floor where the membership room was located. The main galleries were nice, but offered very little in terms of supplemental didactic materials that could further engage the viewer- all of that was outside of the gallery. While the interactive bits were very interesting, they could easily distract from the art itself. (The seemingly endless reel of video shorts seemed to confirm this.) Yet, I admired the activities for the younger children which engaged them and put the art on their level. By separating the modern art from its other collections, the Tate seems to promote its standing: it is worth more than a gallery add-on in the main building.
The Tate Modern
The Guildhall Art Gallery, by comparison, offered very little interactive displays. By the time I had visited here, I was so use to in-depth descriptions, a wide audience, crowded galleries, and fun didactics, that the seemingly empty gallery caught me off guard. It was nice to see the Roman Amphitheater; the room’s set-up was incredible with recreations of the gladiators. However, the gallery’s art collection was lacking. It mostly seemed to be lesser works of second-tier artists or smaller copies of major artworks created later in an artist’s career. I believe that the gallery was trying to show the positives of British art in the last 200 years, but the gallery failed in this mission because it failed to hold one’s attention for long. Furthermore, the special exhibitions were too text panel heavy. (Balance seems to haunt this gallery.) The panels were informative, but when 3/4 of a panel is devoted to reproducing a picture which is hanging next to the panel, there is a problem. The viewer is drawn to the reproduction, not the actual artwork, defeating the point of the gallery.
The National Gallery is one of my favourites that I have visited, partly because of the Wilton Diptych and partly because there is one spot where my favourite Holbein and a Vermeer are both in one’s line of sight. The collection is outstanding and the works seem to represent the majority of art history. Well, my favourite bits at the very least. While there are not as many interactive activities, the didactics are engaging and there are educational options available. Instead of only seeming to be the spoils of imperialism, the collection has a truly British feel, partly because so many of the works are ones that directly relate to English history rather than the history of far off places. Furthermore, it’s easily accessible and not hidden like the NPG; it’s prominent position on Trafalgar Square also helps with accessibility.
The Wilton Diptych
(For more information: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/english-or-french-the-wilton-diptych)
The Victoria & Albert would be tied for my second favourite museum thus far with the National Gallery and the British Museum (which I’ll discuss in my other museum post). I spent almost 2.5 hours in the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, which were not only gorgeous, but held some incredible pieces. (Can I please just have one grotesque figure?! Just one…) Several people have noted that the sheer amount of stuff in the museum is overwhelming. Outside of the M&R Galleries, I would agree with this. Here, the museum seemed to be addressing this issue, trying to open up the galleries and spread out some of the pieces. Furthermore, the excellent listening stations found throughout the galleries were a perfect mix of in-depth and cursory information, allowing the viewer to pick and choose the information they heard based on their interests. (Highlight: listening to Gregorian chants while viewing the different altarpieces, all of which were stunning.) The V&A proudly displayed artworks which combined to tell the story of the world through art. Unlike the British Museum, it did not claim to be a solely British institution, which I think in some ways helped make the museum a more open place. Furthermore, because it is an artistic school as well, it’s collections are all educational, adding to a different responsibility for its didactics and what is should be collecting. It filled gaps through its amazing replicas gallery, which included some of the most famous works ever created.
Misericord, Victoria & Albert
When taken together, the museums not only provide one of the most stellar examples of museum education in practice, but also serve to tell the triumphs of the British Empire and to highlight the triumphs of the larger artistic international tradition. If London is a city of the world, then its museums reflect this.
Tags: 2010 Stephenie · Museums
September 15th, 2009 · No Comments
I went back to the National Gallery and was blown away by a painting: The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velázquez. The painting shows the the naked goddess Venus, looking at herself in the mirror, which is being held by her son, Cupid. Every time I went to the National Gallery, I passed it by. I do not why, but this time, I looked at it, and I just thought it was so powerful. I wondered why I had not seen it before. Why didn’t I noticed it the first time I visited London some years ago? I think sometimes, as we change, so is the way we observe things. Maybe, I was not ready to see it at the time.
Very similarly, I went to the National Portrait Gallery and realized I had a totally different experience than when I visited the place for the first time. I also went to the exhibit “Londoners Through a Lens” at the Getty Images Gallery near Oxford Circus. Comparing the two, I felt that portraits spoke to me much more than pictures. Not only should I mention that they are incredibly well done, but also, that they express so much more about the actual person, because you can just see how the painter views him or her. I specially enjoyed the portrait of Germaine Greer, a feminist advocate. I like how none of these portraits are condescending, but speak only the truth about those in the image. They also catch the subject in his or her natural habitat. There is nothing artificial about them, even if they are not pictures.
The main comparison I wanted to make in this post though, is between the Imperial War Museum and the Royal Air Force Museum. People usually think that the Imperial War describes English military history (there was even a big debate on whether to change its name or not). However, except for a few tanks displayed in the centre, most of the Museum deals with how the population suffered because of wars, particularly through the Holocaust gallery and the crimes against humanity gallery. Of course there could be a debate here over whether the a Holocaust gallery in an English museum is coherent or appropriate at all. Without getting into Holocaust Studies and how Holocaust museums have been created and grown almost exponentially in the past few years, I want to ask myself: Is the Museum trying to claim that England is in some way responsible for the Holocaust ever happening? After all, many would say that the Second World War was a direct consequence of the First World War which had its origins in imperialism, and England as the main empire. This is certainly very debatable, but it was just a thought…
Very differently, the Royal Air Force Museum displays a vast amount of military artifacts and describes English military history and technological advancement. The Museum does not include civilians at all. However, they are both free, and they both deal with war.
As we see, we can draw many conclusions by comparing museums which have a similar theme. I also enjoyed comparing the programs for children and family that these museums have since I work at the Education Outreach office of the Trout Gallery at Dickinson, and I always like getting new ideas.
September 14th, 2009 · No Comments
I can’t really say that today’s trip to the National Gallery was a highlight of my time in London. As great as it is that the museum offers us a chance to view some of the world’s greatest paintings, it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Personally I would have rather gone to the British Museum again. Physical artifacts interest me much more than paintings. Still, I won’ t pretend that I wasn’t moved by certain works of art. They were few, but those paintings that did move me to some emotion other than vague interest I will always remember.
As one goes to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, one goes to the National Gallery to see the impressive collection of Monets and van Goghs, and of course the immortalizers of the English countryside, Constable and Gainsborough (though perhaps the collection at the Tate Britain is more complete for these two). I’ll admit that upon entering I did make a beeline for van Gogh’s Sunflowers. It has long been one of my favorite paintings and seeing it actually sitting on a wall in front of me was an exhilarating experience. His technique is just so interesting. It’s almost pointillism (for those of you familiar with painting technique, or Sunday in the Park with George). The few pieces of da Vinci’s artwork made me feel small, almost unworthy to be looking at them (you have to understand, for me da Vinci is a god).
However, I think what made me the most happy about this museum was one painting: A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal by Johannes Vermeer. Perhaps I simply love Colin Firth too much (plays the role of said artist in the movie version of Girl with a Pearl Earring. watch it. it’s fantastic) but there is just something about Vermeer’s paintings that makes me want to crawl inside the frame. Perhaps it is the fact that all of them have virtually the same background (he painted them all in his attic studio), or perhaps it is his use of color and the play of light against the figures in his work. Perhaps it is the simplicity of the scenes themselves, the normalcy of everything. Whatever the case, his work inspires me to go home and pick up a paintbrush. His figures just seem so real, like people the viewer has met before but can’t place. This work of art is what made me look back on this trip as an enjoyable one. It’s hard for me to describe just how much I love his work, so seeing it was amazing.
According to the Pitmen Painters art is supposed to make us stand up and take notice. It’s supposed to make us feel something, something indescribable that is unique to the person viewing it. Though I didn’t feel that way about many of the paintings in the National Gallery, the few that did left me feeling winded. I’m not sure I would go back again, but I will definitely remember the feelings I had when viewing those paintings for a long time to come.
September 14th, 2009 · No Comments
And now, the thrilling conclusion to the epic saga that is Andrew’s London museum experience!
The British Museum
Because the British Museum is so darned enormous, I decided to stay within the comforting walls of the ancient Greece and Egypt exhibitions. Greece was fascination. As one of the few students in my major who actually enjoyed ancient philosophy, it was oh so cool to see the world in which some of the most important thinkers in history lived within. Part of the Parthenon was on display. The Parthenon! This building is the most significant symbol of democracy in existence. Throughout time, different civilizations used the structure for their own purposes. In the 6th Century, it was a church. During the Ottoman occupation, it was a mosque. It was unearthed by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s, and now resides, in part, in the British museum.
There is a major debate going on now about whether the Parthenon remains should remain in the UK or be transported back to Greece, its original location, where another segment of the structure is preserved and on display. I believe that it belongs back in Athens. After all, a puzzle missing half the pieces is much less decipherable than one only a quarter. The closer archeologists and historians can come to complete recreation of the Parthenon, the better. So get it out of London and back to Greece!
Egypt was as expected. Some statues. Some mosaic. Some mummies. I saw Cleopatra, which was cool. I’ve seen Egyptology exhibits in the Smithsonian and Egyptian art in the Met in New York. The British Museum didn’t offer me anything new and exciting, so I don’t have much else to say on the topic.
The National Gallery
As The Pitmen Painters made clear, art is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes the beholder’s eye just isn’t sharp or refined enough. When I look at the countless portraits, landscapes, and still lifes I don’t have the same emotional response connoisseurs of the arts seem to undergo. I cannot seem to get past the raw aesthetics of most paintings and appreciate their apparent value.
Take Van Gogh’s seminal Sunflowers, for instance. This work is so loved, so well known, and so damned valuable and I just don’t understand why. In fact, Van Gogh once said that this particular painting is his crowning achievement. To me, the barbarian, “Sunflowers” is a beautiful rendering of a vase full of sunflowers against a black background. Why on Earth a Japanese man paid almost $40,000,000 for a version of the painting is beyond me. Maybe one day I will have a Pitmen Painters-esque revelation and understand, but until that day I remain in the dark.
That isn’t to say there aren’t any paintings that did stir me. Cézanne’s An Old Woman With a Rosary is a portrait of just that, an elderly woman clutching what seems to be a broken rosary. To me, the work encapsulates all the bleakness and sorrow of the world within her dead, black eyes. It seems transport you into the mind of the woman and forces the viewer to feel her pain. She knows that her life is almost at an end, so she desperately hangs on to her religion for salvation. Perhaps she has lived a life of sin and is afraid of what awaits her beyond the grave. Maybe she is trying to force herself to accept Jesus and repent for her sins in order to avoid damnation. Cézanne’s rendering of the woman’s eyes affected me most – a sea of darkness in which no one can escape. There is no light or color, only horror, pain, and sadness.
Ok, so maybe I can appreciate painting. Thanks, Mr. Cézanne.
Whew. Just when I was starting to think, hey, maybe I can appreciate and understand the visual arts on a deeper level, modern art punched me in the gut. I’ve never taken an art history or appreciation class and simply don’t know what to look for. When I see something by an artist by, say, Cy Twombly, all I see is colors and shapes on a background. Considering my laudable capacity for music appreciation, struggling so much in an art gallery is remarkably frustrating. Paul McCarthy’s sexually explicit video art strikes me as a petty cry for attention through shock value.
That said, I have always had an affinity for the surreal and absurd in literature, film, and especially philosophy. The Tate Modern has an excellent surrealism section showcasing artists like Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp. I found myself losing myself in the strange worlds of the artists’ creation. Dalí’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus pervaded my mind with a breed of thought only accessible through a surrealist lens. And then you have something like the Lobster Telephone that you can’t help but laugh at.
While the National Gallery was too concrete, much of the Tate Modern was just too abstract. Surrealism and Cézanne aside, my current capability to appreciate the visual arts is lacking. Art history majors, help me!
To conclude, I leave you with a photograph of a Paul McCarthy work that actually is safe for work, barely. I present to you Santa Clause with a Buttplug.
Tags: Andrew B
I love museums. I like to put my ipod on and wander around alone, allowing myself to really get the full experience of the art. It feels like I’m connecting to not only the piece of art itself, but to the artist and his or her experiences and emotions.
On Saturday, Amy and I took the tube to Charing Cross to visit The National Gallery. There we proceeded to immediately get lost in the extensive building, but we weren’t complaining. We wandered through room after room that held amazing works by Rembrant, Van Gogh, Monet, Leonardo da Vinci, Cezanne, and Turner, just to name a few of my favorites. I compared this museum to the Met in NYC: both are enormous, well cared for, and very popular. However, I noticed a key difference. This difference is simply that most museums here are free, with a just a suggested donation, unlike the Met which charges 10$ per visitor. I love that England honors the historical and cultural value of artwork by making it accessible to the general public. Not only could I observe famous works of art, but I could also examine the evolution of religious practices, social castes, daily life, and even fashion free of cost.
This is a pretty good segway into discussing the museum I visited today: the Victoria and Albert Museum, commonly referred to as the V & A. As a small group, we left from Euston Station to take the central line directly to South Kensington where the tube conveniently led us straight into the museum.
At first, I really didn’t know what to expect of this experience…I mean, I know very little about fashion and I simply wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to relate to the displays.
Yet, as is often the case, I was pleasantly surprised.
I walked into a room filled with some of the most beautiful sculptures I have ever seen. Though I had never heard of most of the sculptors, I was able to get really close to each of the statues and really examine the detail and expression in each.
With my head phones in and the world tuned out, I strolled around. There was a huge exhibit on the evolution of clothing, another on shoes & accessories, another on fashionable metal-ware (pots, religious idols, masks, etc).
It was really cool to see how our everyday lives have been affected by the trends of the past. We often hear that things are “out of style” or “not in fashion anymore” but have we really stopped to contemplate what that means? Fashion is constantly fluctuating and changing and all of us, (whether you consider yourself fashion forward or not), are players in this game. We ourselves are walking works of art, displaying the genius of designers as they mold trend after trend, mixing past and future to create something entirely new. And that, at least to me, is fascinating. The thought that I am connected to the past through the evolution of fashion really intrigues me and I would never even have noticed this unless I’d visited the V& A museum!
Another exhibit that I thought was amazing, literally AMAZING, was located in the main lobby of the museum. It was called “Telling Tales; Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design” created by international designers Tord Boontje, Maarten Baas, Jurgen Bey and Studio Job who were all inspired by the classic fairy tales which they then translated into their construction offurniture. I know it sounds almost comical (like really, how can furniture be at all interesting) but I’d never seen anything like it. I posted a link a little further down that gives you a little tour.
Also in this exhibit was a frightening, but brilliant, room that entitled “Heaven and Hell”. I won’t give all of it away because I cannot adequately describe it, but the link below also can give you an idea of what to expect. However, I will say this, the lighting, color, back drops, music, and the positioning of the art are all major contributors to the overall effect of the art and are carefully constructed by the artists/museum staff. Basically, see it in person because you won’t regret it.
This exhibit only lasts until October 18th, and I suggest everyone see it while here. Truly, both the National Gallery and the V&A are exceptional and I really enjoyed having the opportunities to both observe and reflect on my experiences.
Tags: Maddie · Museums · Uncategorized
August 30th, 2009 · 1 Comment
August 29, 2009
In my last blog, I mentioned how much I didn’t like the Tate Modern. Conversely, but maybe not surprisingly, I LOVED the National Gallery. I was especially excited to see works by Monet, and loved “The Grand Canal, Venice” in particular. Since Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists, I was also amazed to see “Sunflowers” and “A Wheatfield with Cypresses” in person. We continued to wander through rooms containing paintings by Renoir, Picasso, and many artists that I did not recognize (I found some new favorites to look into…Camille Pissarro, for one, who painted “Portrait of Felix Pissarro” and “The Boulevard Montmartre at Night”). I was impressed by the sheer size and detail in many of the paintings, as well as their incredible preservation. I always imagine paintings from so long ago to look old, but these looked as if they were painted yesterday.
The overwhelming majority of the museum’s earliest paintings focused either on mythology or the Virgin Mary/Jesus, and it gave me an idea about just how important these topics were to past generations. Maddie and I discussed how Jesus is almost always interpreted as a tall, thin, fair complexioned man when in reality, he was probably short, squat, curly haired and dark in complexion based on his geographical location. We also thought that “The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen” by a follower of Robert Campin looked almost modern due to how old fashioned it was. It seemed, to us, that art has come full circle in some ways. I was also surprised to stumble upon “The Birth of the Virgin” by Master of the Osservanza, because I’ve never thought or seen record of Mary’s birth. The focus is almost always on the birth of the Christ child, and it was interesting to see another portion of the Biblical story that is entirely overlooked.