Thursday, June 25, 2009

European Vacation, Day 7

Having neglected my ambitious museum program yesterday, I took a more Continental breakfast and set out to conquer as much of London as I could before heading to Berkshire to stay with my cousins. My first stop (after yet another unsuccessful attempt to pay for what I had bought at Christie’s—and, yes, Molly Ott Ambler, I am eating humble pie about that right now) was the Tate Modern, which I’d heard about for years but never visited. Not surprisingly, it’s not exactly my taste, although I think it’s very cool that they used an old power station to house the collection (although in that vein, I prefer the Musée d’Orsay for re-use of a space). There were two exhibitions at this time: Material Gestures and Poetry and Dream. The latter at least had some representational paintings in them, which I rather liked—the aesthetic was rather like that of a Cecil Beaton photograph. There were also several Surrealist paintings, which is a genre I have always liked, and one installation called “Thirty Pieces of Silver,” wherein the artist took multitudinous objects in silver—trombones, teapots, trays, forks, letter caddies, etc.—arranged them in a street, and then had a bulldozer run over them, then she suspended them about 6 inches off the floor. The idea was that these had probably been wedding, christening, presentation, or other gifts, and she found them all in junk shops, so the title evinces the betrayal of Christ by Judas in the way that the gift-givers had been betrayed by their recipients (or their heirs). It was interesting and thoughtful without seeming like the artist was trying too hard to impress you with her strident political polemics. I was also affected by a couple of enormous Matisse collages, wherein he was trying to get down to essentials (color more than shape) of art through these very simple, bold designs. Don’t get me wrong, I liked them. But what is all this about getting down to essentials? Is there an implied criticism that the preceding centuries (or perhaps millennia) of art produced were saddled with non-essential elements? Just because a Renaissance or Baroque painting has more “stuff” in it doesn’t necessarily mean that that stuff is not essential, does it? Whether it is a putto that is adding balance, or allegorical meaning, or just plain beauty to a painting, does that mean it’s non-essential? Remember in the movie Amadeus, when Salieri is describing Mozart’s compositions, and he says, “Displace one note, and there would be diminishment”? And then Emperor Joseph II later criticizes the premiere of Die Entführung aus dem Serail by claiming it has “too many notes”? Well, I’m the first to admit that some things have been overdone in the past (think ormolu-encrusted furniture, although it made sense within the aesthetic of the day), but that’s different than what (it seemed to me) Matisse was doing.

After a very British lunch of cottage pie and chips (OK, and a pint of Guinness) at the very Britishly-named The White Hart, I headed for the Museum of London, as recommended by Selene Morgan. Like the Cabinet War Rooms Museum, I didn’t realize how much time I had spent there. Very well done, ranging from prehistoric artifacts from the Thames River Valley, to the hunter-gatherer time, to an excellent look at life under the Romans, to the Great Fire in 1666. Again, absolutely worth a visit for anyone who’s a history buff and/or wants to learn more about that incredible city.

I hied myself hence to Waterloo to catch the train to Wokingham, home of Olive (my mother’s second cousin, and they were really more like sisters) and Andrew MacDonald. They live in a charming Tudor house (from 1490, and they have all the old deeds—super cool) on Rose Street. Having worked as a colonial agricultural officer in Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Mauritius, the house is filled with fascinating items gathered over the course of their travels all over Africa and the world. I was just in time for tea (well, sorta—they were nice enough to push it back for me), where we caught up on each other’s lives and I heard all about the latest big scandal in British politics, which is that the members of Parliament have not documented, nor properly used, allowances funded by the public that were, in everything but name, salary increases. There is a huge amount of outrage about this, at least in the Telegraph, and the issue has even appeared in the NYT, which has called for our Congress to learn from this incident and have full disclosure of its own expenses.


Blogger kathielostan said...

We refer to Air France as Air-Chance in our community. Hope to see you at Laurie's quasi-retirement party in Rockin-Akron. I hears the band's a killer.

12:55 PM  
Blogger kellynch said...

I really enjoyed the War Rooms museum. I cannot imagine practically living there for years on end.

As for Parisian museums, have you checked out the Musee Marmottan? Much less crowded than the d'Orsay and several lesser-known artists. -Julie

5:09 AM  

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