Friday, December 29, 2006

The Holidays Are Passing Too Quickly

We are having a wonderful holiday together. I think that this year may be our best Christmas ever.

On Saturday, the first day we were all together for the entire day, no one left the house. We just talked all day, and ate, and played with my nephew, and played with the dog.

On Sunday, Christmas Eve, we went to church in the morning, and then we went to a gathering of my mother's relatives. We had both lunch and dinner at the gathering, which lasted all day. We left in time to attend Christmas Eve service at our church, dropping my sister-in-law and my nephew at home on our way to the church. By this time, my nephew had already had a full day, and he needed to go to bed for the night.

We stayed home on Christmas Day. We opened our gifts early in the morning, after which we had a grand Christmas breakfast, a great tradition in my family. For the remainder of the day, we just played with my nephew and helped him play with his Christmas gifts. We had a light lunch of a special Christmas chowder my mother always makes for Christmas lunch, and for dinner we had a special Christmas goose, accompanied by all sorts of special Scandinavian Christmas fare. It was a wonderful day.

On Tuesday, and again on Wednesday, my brothers and Josh and I went to play basketball after breakfast. When we were done playing basketball, we went swimming. We returned to the house in time for lunch, and we all remained home for the remainder of the day.

On Thursday morning, everyone in the family--including my nephew--went to the Minneapolis Institute Of Art to see a special exhibition, "A Passion For Paintings: Old Masters From The Wadsworth Atheneum". This traveling exhibition from Hartford featured 61 paintings from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Although the Minneapolis Institute Of Art has free admission, we had to pay $8.00 for each admission ticket to the temporary exhibition.

Hartford is supposed to have one of America's very finest collections of paintings from the Italian Baroque, but I found this exhibition to be very disappointing, as did everyone else in the family. With one or two or three exceptions, all of the paintings on view were not paintings of the first rank. In fact, the paintings were of the second and third and fourth and fifth ranks.

Of course, everyone in Minneapolis is visiting this exhibition in order to see the Caravaggio, but the Caravaggio on display is not one of the late, great Caravaggio canvases. The Hartford Caravaggio is from 1594-1595, about five years before Caravaggio began his series of late, great, utterly original and utterly amazing works. The Hartford Caravaggio does not even look like it was painted by the same artist who created "The Death Of The Virgin" or "The Flagellation Of Christ".

I thought that the best painting on display was Jusepe De Ribera's "The Sense Of Taste", a painting of a simple man eating his dinner. It was a very good De Ribera, but it was hardly "The Club-Footed Boy".

Some of the paintings were truly poor, and should not have been included in a traveling exhibition. The Hartford Claude Lorrain was perhaps the least impressive Claude Lorrain I have ever seen, and the reason for including it in a traveling exhibition had to be because there are so few paintings by Claude Lorrain in American collections. Minneapolis, however, has the finest Claude Lorrain in North America, and the Hartford Claude Lorrain pales by comparison.

Joshua does not like the Minneapolis Claude Lorrain. The first time Josh and I visited the Minneapolis Institute Of Art, I made a special point of showing him our Claude Lorrain. His response was "It looks like something from a furniture store showroom--I've seen a million just like it". Need I add that Josh did not like the Hartford Claude Lorrain, either?

I have mixed views on the subject whether museums should allow important items from their permanent collections to travel.

Old canvases risk damage each time they are moved. Consequently, old canvases, by and large, should remain in one place--at least that is my general opinion.

Further, museums that send their most important items elsewhere are depriving their local patrons of the opportunity to enjoy the works.

On the other hand, art lovers elsewhere can be enriched by being granted the opportunity to view works that otherwise could not be viewed unless they themselves incurred the time and expense of travel.

Consequently, both sides of this issue allow for valid arguments.

However, I am very troubled by collections that, for monetary purposes, allow their artworks to be viewed elsewhere. In those instances, the originating institutions, for a fee, lend their works to other institutions. These transactions are primarily commercial transactions, and not cultural transactions, and these types of transactions should not be lauded.

And that is what is involved in the current exhibition from Hartford: Minneapolis paid a large sum of money to Hartford in order to "rent" 61 paintings for a few weeks. That does not sit well with me.

I realize this happens quite frequently now. The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, for a fee, recently "rented out" a large number of French paintings to other museums. The Boston Museum Of Fine Arts, for a fee, now routinely "rents out" a number of key paintings to a venue in Las Vegas. The Louvre, for an $18 million fee, has "rented out" several works to the High Museum in Atlanta in an ongoing project. Next year, Queen Elizabeth, that poverty-stricken figure, will be "renting out" several works to the Virginia Museum Of Fine Arts in Richmond.

In these money-driven transactions, I cannot help but lose respect both for the lending institutions and for the receiving institutions.

Whatever is going through anyone's mind when the High Museum, which has no permanent collection to speak of, gives $18 million to the Louvre? Why not use that money to ACQUIRE a permanent collection, which citizens of Georgia can then enjoy in perpetuity?

The entire art world has become nothing so much as a bunch of money-grubbing scoundrels and, unfortunately, I contributed to this deplorable practice on Thursday by giving $8.00 in order to view 61 unremarkable paintings.

My parents, and Joshua, and my brothers, and my sister-in-law all agree with me on this particular point (my nephew has, thus far, remained silent on the issue). We enjoyed the family outing, naturally, but none of us believed that these commercial transactions should be allowed to continue, despite the fact that we ourselves contributed to these transactions by paying $56.00, in total, in order for us to view the "rented" paintings.

Alas, I fear that art museums have become primarily businesses. Earlier this year, here in Minneapolis, the Institute Of Art opened a new wing. It was named the "Target Wing", after the chain of discount stores, which donated a large sum of money for "naming rights". Joshua was appalled when he and I visited the museum for the first time, and he learned of this fact. Now, every time we go to the museum, Joshua always jokes, as we are leaving the building, "Next time, I want to make sure that we visit the 'K Mart Wing' and the 'WalMart Wing', too."

The matter of naming buildings after public corporations is not exclusively a U.S. phenomenon, of course. At London's National Gallery Of Art, the new building is called the "Sainsbury Wing", after the British supermarket chain.

Still, I am distressed when individuals or corporations give money, and then want to have their names plastered all over the place. Genuine eleemosynary work is not accompanied by free advertising. This is a subject on which my mother and her family, obviously, hold the strongest possible views.

In any case, we returned home after our visit to the Institute Of Art, and we stayed home for the rest of the day.

On Friday morning, my brothers and Josh and I will go play basketball again, and then go swimming again. On Friday night, we all have a party to attend.

On Saturday morning, my brothers and Josh and I will go play basketball and swim yet again. On Saturday night, we all have another party to attend.

On Sunday, after church, our family will be hosting some (but not all) of my mother's relatives for lunch and dinner. Later, on Sunday night, which is New Year's Eve, we will just stay home--and even turn in long before midnight, I suspect.

On Monday, New Year's Day, the last full day we will all be together, I think we will all just stay home and enjoy our last day together.

The holidays are passing too quickly! They will be over before we know it!

All of us are thinking of gathering next in New York, at my older brother's place, during the long holiday weekend in February. We will make a firm decision about a February New York visit before our holiday is over.

"Jenufa" and "Eugene Onegin" and "Simon Boccanegra" are playing at the Metropolitan Opera that weekend, and these are three of my very, very favorite operas. I would like to hear them all again, despite the fact that the Metropolitan Opera's physical productions for all three of these works are unspeakably inept.

My parents would like to hear them again, too, and Josh would like to hear all three of these works for the first time. This will give us an added incentive to go to New York that weekend.

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