03 May 2012

Musing at the Museum

A few thoughts prompted by a visit to the Louvre today. I'm pretty sure that some are - with proper twists - actually metaphors for the broader experience of life outside of museum visits.

There are fabulous statues of Athena, Greek goddess of war. You have to love a people who use a goddess rather than god for war. One has to believe that if women were in charge of war we'd have less of it.

So many statues from ancient times are, unsurprisingly, missing pieces. Time is unkind to extremities: noses, arms, penises .... all lost to time.

I think it would be wonderful to have an exhibit of museum visitors. Pictures, videos of reactions to particular pieces, interviews with museum patrons about the pilgrimage to a museum, asking questions about their expectations about seeing particular pieces, their delight, disappointment, and musings.

Today the painting Scream sold for $120 million. If that's a fair market value, the total value of the Louvre must be some multiple of the world's annual GDP of $50 trillion. The quantity of quality art boggles the mind. It is no exaggeration to say that any 20 items from the British Museum would instantly create one of the most notable American museums and any 20 items from the Louvre would instantly create the most notable American art museum.

An exhibit by either Jean-Philippe Toussaint or Sebastian Leclerc at the Louvre features a booth with what appears to be an odd little EKG cap put onto the heads of folks who read a book while the resultant brain waves become a form of abstract art, a rather brilliant play on the intersection of abstract art and hard science in the depiction of imagination, passion, and thought.

Context is everything. Without a sense of history, some knowledge of culture, these amazing bits of art are just pictures. The more context, the more one experiences in this experience. A museum is partly a place of imparting culture but, it seems too to be a place that reveals it - both its presence and absence. Art and culture, ultimately, is like language: it can be shouted or whispered but what is heard depends on prior preparation.

There seems to be a kind of tyranny in guides - audio, books, or docents. They can too easily dictate where your attention should flow, to what pieces, what details, and what techniques.

Visiting a museum with someone is like reading a book while engaged in conversation.

Many people seem to go through the museum driven by the need to report back to family and friends that they saw the Venus de Milo or the Mona Lisa rather than the desire to actually experience pieces as they appear.

No comments: