16 March 2007

Musing about Museums...and a poem inspired by an artistic muse

A few days ago Bloglily wrote a wonderful travelogue about the Getty Museum. I commented on her blog that I felt like I had visited two museums that day -- her virtual tour of the Getty and my in-person tour of an Cezanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant Guard exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. (see here for info on the exhibit).

I agree with BL that museums can be tiring. I love going to museums, but I've learned that I enjoy them more if I go with the intent of only seeing a few things. That is why I only saw the exhibit at the AIC, although I have to admit that had the Chagall windows, one of my favorites at the AIC, been in place, I would have had to sit for a few minutes in front of them. They are in storage now during renovations and won't be back for several more months. It is jarring walking by where they have been for years and not seeing them.

When looking at the permanent collection in a museum, I like to let the art just wash over me. You can't do that with too many works; it causes one to shut down in a defensive move against emotional overload. But, when I go to an exhibit, I like to listen to the audio presentation and read the exhibit notes. I find the background information interesting. I like to understand the curator's point of view, to learn what informs the exhibit, what are the unifying forces in the collection, whether it be a certain theme, a particular artistic movement, a cultural or political movement. I was a little disappointed in the audio tour for this particular exhibit. I felt that it was really dumbed down and did little to indicate why these particular works were illustrative of Vollard's choices and subsequent influence on the modern art world. Why did he choose to promote certain artists? Were his choices based on his taste or was he just pragmatic? For the works that he chose not to represent, but were later considered masterpieces, why did he not choose them initially? The exhibit didn't explore these questions to my satisfaction and I thought that the audio tour made the assumption that the listener only wanted sound bits, not additional information. Nevertheless, I did enjoy looking at some of the amazing works of art in the exhibit. To think that one man was lucky enough to have had all of those works pass through his hands is amazing. I wish I could have understood more though about his choices.

One of the topics in the exhibit was Vollard's commissioning of lithographs and illustrated manuscripts. I could spend time walking through an exhibit focused on just these items. One of the series of lithographs that caught my attention and held me entranced for several minutes was by Maurice Denis. Called Amour, it is a series of lithographs that Denis considered a visual love poem. The lithographs were beautiful, but I was also captivated by the titles of each piece. I thought they made a poem themselves. The image at the top of this post is one of the lithographs, the one below was the cover for the series. What follows is a poem I wrote based on the titles. It wasn't my intent when I started, but I think that the speaker in my poem has a more cynical attitude than the attitude Denis portrayed in his visual poem.

We all know the allegory
of easy attitudes,
chaste as morning bouquets
with the scent of tears like dewdrops,
with a faith in mysteries of knights
who do not die on crusades
in the twilight of soft old paintings.
She was morning beautiful,
more beautiful than dreams,
a caress of her hands languorous
gestures touching your soul.

Her hands, reaching across the table
holding an empty tea cup of love.
Too soon life becomes precious.
Too late we discover the many bouquets
of tears have chased the liquid-silver light,
sitting on a pale silver sofa,
a painted dream of floral chintz against wallpaper
and slanting walls of fading night.

We are too restrained once we learn
the heart beats too fast towards the end of day.

If you're interested, here are the titles of the works in Denis' series: Allegory; Attitudes are easy, and chaste; The morning bouquet, tears; It was a religious mystery; The knight did not die on the crusades; Twilights have the softness of old paintings; She was more beautiful than dreams; And it is the caress of her hands; Our souls, with languorous gestures; On the pale silver sofa; Life becomes precious, retrained; But it is the heart which beats too fast.


jenclair said...

Love the painting and the poem! Thanks for sharing both!

chris miller said...

What a happy surprise !

To be directed towards that part of the exhibit that I've breezed past so far -- and then to the list of album titles (that I've completely ignored) -- and finally to that nice, sad poem you've assembled around them.

I'll go again tomorrow -- and see how I feel about those graphic works.

I really liked two of the M.D. paintings they were showing -- but the graphics just seems so subdued by comparison.

Emily Barton said...

The AIC without Chagall??!! I can't imagine! You and Bloglily have both made me think about museums, which I love. I'm terrible, though, the sort who spends hours and hours at a single exhibit,having to read absolutely everything about each item on display. And wandering aimlessly around can be overwhelming for me.

chiefbiscuit said...

A cultural treat indeed reading this post. I love how you've intertwined every single title into the poem - I never guessed as I was reading it. Natural genius, that's what it is! Thanks for a delightful read.

(un)relaxeddad said...

Hey. Like the poem! I'm lucky enough to work near a number of museums and I do like to visit certain favourites over and over, letting new details catch me by accident. But I'm with you on the full tour and audio - I have to go to big new exhibitions by myself so that supermum (who likes to take them in more impressionistically) can enjoy them with me on a second occasion without waiting for me as I read every scrap of information in a given room...

Cam said...

JenClair and ChiefBiscuit -- thanks for your comments regarding the poem.

Chris -- I've lurked on your blog from time to time. What a nice surprise that you stopped by here.

Emily -- The Chagall is safe in storage, but it is odd walking down the long gallery towards it and not seeing it. I think AIC is going to reinstall it in the same place at the end of the construction, though I'm not sure.

Unrelaxeddad -- I'm envious that you are so lucky to be able to take advantage of some great museums, some of my favorites ones, in fact. I was thinking this evening about how I was first introduced to art through a class at the Tate many years ago. I should write a post about that sometime, or about the great teachers I've been lucky enough to have. The curator who taught that class would certainly be included.

Crafty Green Poet said...

This is lovely and flows beautifully.

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jillypoet said...

The paintings are sort of Chagall-like, I think. Those titles are definitely poetry. Great idea to incorporate them into your poem. I love how all the arts are reciprocally (is that a word?) inspiring!