Since this is my last semester at UT, I’ve decided to do things which I probably won’t have the chance to do afterwards. It’s a bit too late for football, but I trekked to the Blanton Museum of Art to look around. There were quite a few people, lingering around the exhibits and staring up at the life-size Church European paintings, which made me happy. Apparently museums are for nerds, and apparently there are a lot more nerds in Austin than I knew.
Here are some of the exhibits which I liked particularly.
Greek Pottery, European Art
The funny thing is, Greek pottery pieces were scattered all over the Mediterranean because they’d done trade in them, and the Greeks had treated them more as functional pieces than anything else. Many have images of gods or just simple scenes of daily life — and nearly everything I saw was lovely, with the crisp drapes and lines and features — but it made me wonder about the whole art vs. function thing. There they were, the Greeks, shipping off loads of pottery unconcernedly, and two thousand years later (can you believe that?) here they are, no longer knocked about in some kitchen but preserved carefully under glass and steel.
And here’s Ikea, trying to convince us that even obstinately functional things can be beautiful.
There’s an entire gallery full of European painters, some of whom were apparently enamored with the Caravaggio school of painting: realistic but dramatic still, with a great use of lighting and subtle emotion on the faces. I dunno why, but I like the way the characters are always draped languidly over rocks and around glades and things like that. There also seems to be a preponderance of nudity, which made me think of the whole high art as porn business — was it? Were those noble gentlemen who commissioned those things just closer perverts or genuine admirers of the human form? Those statues, too, are very life-like.
What I feel rather wistful about is the voluptuousness of these women. In those days they were gorgeous; today someone would come around and tut at them and recommend the Atkins diet. It’s depressing.
But more spiritually speaking, there’s a huge variety of paintings of various Christian scenes, dominated (I think) by those of the Virgin and the Child. There’s one in particular that is striking for its utter simplicity — where the other paintings are crowded with figures and their emotions and gestures, the folds of cloth and the complicated background, in this there are only two faces. One is of the Virgin — barely a child herself, face pale and upraised, calm but wondering — and the other is of a barely sketched out Christ. She is dressed as simply as can be in muted colors and there’s a hush stillness about her. Sadly, I can’t find a picture of it.
The last thing I liked about this section is a portrait of Lady Hamilton, the wife of an ambassador and mistress of Lord Nelson. Apparently she rose from poverty, through the incredibly rigid social hierarchy of 18th C Britain, to become one of the nobility. I can’t imagine a much more lovely or innocent face than that, although I’m not sure she would’ve been either of those things. The volcano in the back is the erupting Vesuvius, which was supposed to stand for the Naples, where her husband was going to be posted. But I can’t help thinking that it must have been a symbol for her scandalousness as well.
South American Art and Abstract
I didn’t think this was going to be that exciting for me, and I was right. A lot of it was what I sweepingly call modern or abstract art and… I just can’t get behind those concepts. It’s not just that I don’t understand it, it simply doesn’t evoke any reaction in me except annoyance. But there were a couple of striking pieces that I couldn’t help liking.
One was a quipu installation piece. This is a system of knots used by the Inca to encode mostly decimal numbers, although there were some other uses for it which apparently weren’t deciphered. In this piece, it was a single stiff cloth pulled across a grey background (can’t find non-copyright pictures). It looked like a toga about to go down the runway but it was more like a representation of an ultimately simple system of recording. Interesting stuff.
Photo Courtesy: euthman
I’ve no clue what this is, except that it’s by Kazuya Sakai, and that it’s gorgeous. I think this is going to be my new desktop wallpaper.
There was another painting that at first annoyed me so much I had to go up and look at it to figure out what the artist had been thinking. It consisted of two canvases, both identical, and each had a black border and a pale lime border inside the black one.
And that was it.
What idiot would do this, I thought, and then noticed another card next to the artist card. It was part of the Blanton Poetry Project, which seems to invite poetry for selected paintings. This one (which I can’t find online) talks about the artist measuring ruthlessly, preparing for the paintings, while others wonder what the point of the blankness is. Then she’s out, ambling along the road, filling herself up with life, as the poet calls it, “to the eyebrows”. Then she comes back and makes this painting, which others can only whisper that it contains nothing.
It didn’t make me change my mind entirely, but it made me chuckle a little.
Blue Woman on Black Chair
Halfway through looking at an opera performance, I happened to glance down a corridor — and froze. Was it a person? Or a piece of art?
The image is here at Austin360, and sadly copyrighted, but as I took a closer look, I could see that the woman, who seemed calm and contemplative, wasn’t quite all that. She’s slumped in her chair as though exhausted, and barely clothed. There’s something about the slouch of her body that, despite the vividness of the color, is just a little depressing.
This was my favourite of the lot. At first glimpse, all I saw was a softly lit installation, a shallow pool filled with something coppery, and a ceiling of white tubes, all surrounded by black gauze. It’s a beautiful sensual piece of art, wavering somewhere between the sensual and the spiritual. Then I read the description.
The white tubes at the top are cattle bones; the thin white thread in the middle is a tower of communion wafers; and the pool of bronze below is a heap of pennies. This is Cildo Meireles’ critique of the Jesuits’ conversion of South Americans in the 18th century. It was purportedly an exercise of mercy, a way for the heathens to reach Heaven. But as the card said, the motives were not all pure — it was a question of gaining agricultural control (bones) as well as a matter of money (pennies), with Heaven as the connector between those two material aims. It seems to be an almost fragile connection, liable to snap at any minute and bring the gruesome cathedral crashing down.
There were a few more interesting exhibits, but these were the ones that captured my attention the most. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of museums, really — they give you so much time to just look and think and wonder, which is what I love doing most.
My next stop should be the Austin Museum of Art. Hopefully I’ll have a camera this time.