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In the Art Museum

August 27, 2010

Over the low echo homogenizing the background I heard a melodic voice piping away.  The full sentences were carried off into the white noise of the museum’s halls, but the few phrases I caught piqued my interest.  A lady docent was leading a group of four middle-aged women around the new exhibit.  They fit the contemporary look: one woman was wearing beige Capri pants and a pink-and-white striped shirt, another had on a large white shirt and bright blue pants.  They were all wearing glasses, except for the docent.  The women interjected brief observations or laughed within the level of self-conscious museum etiquette.

In my education I’ve gleaned a few snippets of art history, but on the whole I feel woefully illiterate on the subject.  I’d seen all that I wanted to see of the museum’s large pink sculptures, so I decided to tag along with the tour and pick up what I could without paying a tour fee.

“And again it, um, intensifies the, uh, dramatic nature of the moment.  Despite the lushness of the, uh, colors… and the pleasures of the wine… this painting tells people that you can’t be vain.” “-or pleasant.”  “Or pleasant.”

“You kind of wonder why the artist chooses to, you know, make these references… it’s slightly frivolous.”

“This is an example of rococo art… and it rose out of a fear of decoration.
“Just something pleasing to look at.”

“That’s a reference to her virginity.  I mean, you have to admit it’s pretty obvious.
“It’s very, very prominent, you have to admit.”

“The flowers he portrays in a very prominent way.  He also has her face-”

“I don’t know too much about Redon, do you know about Redon?
“Kinda looking at peoples internal worlds, very dreamlike.
“You wouldn’t call it surrealism, but you could see how that other ism follows.”

“He did a portrait of Queen Victoria…
“They pick the dress, they pick the hairdo, and there was a guarantee that it would come out great.”

“Sargent was a friend of theirs and Mr. Wertheimer asked him to do a portrait of Mrs. Wertheimer and Mr. Wertheimer for their 25th Wedding Anniversary.
“Now you might be wondering where the other one of this pair is.  Well, Mrs. Wertheimer hated it so much that…”

“Right behind you we have this Rodin masterwork…
“You know we have the Rodin exhibit outside, but we prefer to keep this one in here.
“Rodin is often referred to as the first modernist…
“It was made in honor of a soldier who fought valiantly in the Franco-Prussian war…
“Then after a while he re-titled this ‘The Age of Bronze.’  Why do you think he did that?”
No response.
“So, he toyed with, you know—but, uh…
“These remarkably big hands…”
The four women admired the sculpture’s big hands and other traits.

“Monet would paint in the early mornings and early afternoons but he would paint out in the cold!  And he’d have a big overcoat and icicles in his beard…”

“It strengthens the luminosity, through the window…
“And you see that connection between the mother?  And the child!  And the mother is very confident.”

“Another example of Renoir…
“A lot of people like Renoir.  It’s kind of emotional.”

Two other women, both younger than the ones in my group, passed by chatting about cerulean and vermillion.  They appeared to have more important places to be in the museum.  I was tempted to follow their heavily perfumed trail but decided to stay with the tour.  Whatever those two were doing will eventually end up here, and I prefer viridian anyway.

“These collections are all from New Orleans?” the woman in Capris asked.
“Yup,” the docent responded, interested but without an idea of how to continue the conversation.

“A lot of these artists had studios in cities… And they all had these country homes… And Pizarro was kinda into the, you know, simple country life and utopian ideals.
“He painted this garden in different months and different hours and you can see it isn’t green…
“And you can see the cathedral of Notre Dame in the background…”  She pronounces Notre like the French and Dame like the ‘20’s.

“As we get into the 20th century a lot of things started to change and you start getting a lot of –isms, like surrealism and fauvism and cubism and expressionism.”

“Art is starting to change.”

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