Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Vacation Day 3

We started the morning at mass at the lovely St. Francis Xavier in the city, which we'd never been to before. Sadly, their electricity was out (and had been for 24 hours; this seems to be a big problem in this city) and so we had some problems hearing.

Not my picture.
And then we went to the Barnes museum. I've been wanting to go for ages and was first thwarted by them moving the museum downtown (we don't approve) and then by busyness. Now that I've been, I want to go every month. (It is free on the first Sunday of the month.)

The collection is wonderful--much bigger and more serious than anything I anticipated. It's focus is impressionist and post-impressionist art, but what's really wonderful is the presentation: Barnes set the place up in his own idiosyncratic way in which everything--Early Christian art, African art, Chinese art--is displayed side by side. I've never seen anything like it, and it brings out overlaps and similarities that I'd never contemplated. For instance, the distortions of bodies in African figures are not unlike the bodies in the art of Picasso and his contemporaries. The Barnes points out the ways in which impressionism and post-impressionism are not at all something new.

(Plus, since it gives you a nice range of the work of people like Cezanne and Matisse and Picasso and others, you see not only the pictures from the height of their career, which are exhibited at ever major art gallery around the world, but also the breadth of their work. It makes you realize how homogeneous major art galleries are--every one has Cezanne's mountains and Picasso's cubism and Monet's waterlilies or hay bales.)

Perhaps my favorite part of the way that the Barnes is set up is that he connects fine art and folk art: painting is displayed with metalwork on the walls--often something ornate, but sometimes something as simple as a ladle or a spatula. There was a ton of Pennsylvania Dutch art and furniture (as well as loads of other styles of furniture and decorative arts). This draws connections between folk art and some of the folk art themes in post-impressionism.

There were just loads of really lovely Matisses. However, I realized upon seeing so. many. that I really, really can't stand Renoir. I can't even look at it. And there were tons. It's just so soft and fuzzy and sentimental, and reminds me of instagram filters. Bleh.

There were plenty of artists, too, that I wasn't familiar with. The Barnes introduced me to Charles Prendergast (frame-maker mostly, and occasionally an artist; the brother of another cool [more famous] Prendergast artist):

The fact that the artworks are displayed without attention to chronological order and without any little plaque telling you the painting's title and time period and medium meant that you focused less on those sorts of things (although that information was available) and more on the beauty of the picture, and how it related to the other artworks in the room.

The galleries were much larger than we anticipated, so it took us hours and hours and lots of breaks to make it through the whole thing. During one break we shared a cup of coffee to keep us going--because I haven't had a lot of coffee for the last 32 weeks, it really makes me sit up straight and it makes Baby Leopard hop all over the place. Francisco and I sat in the lobby for a while watching Baby Leopard's kicks shake my whole belly like a volcano--he had us laughing.

Although we don't like the new building as a whole, I found this lobby ceiling stunning (taken with Francisco's phone):

After visiting the permanent collection, we went to the Cezanne exhibit. It was fine, although a bit small. The focus was on Cezanne's still lifes and especially on his apples. It even likened his skull paintings to his apple paintings, and drew connections between the tablecloths in his apple paintings and the mountains in many of his other paintings. (As a whole I will say, though, that the Barnes itself adopts a psychological explanation of its art's meaning, which I find a bit shaky.)

To revive ourselves, we went for the best breakfast sandwich in the city at OCF Coffee House in Fairmount (also one of our favorite coffee shops in the city; it's perfect; we wish it were in our neighborhood). Another plus is that they serve brunch all day. No getting shut out by early morning deadlines.

And then back to the art--The Rodin Museum--which, like the Barnes, had been closed the whole last time I lived in Philly:

Unlike the new Barnes, the Rodin Museum has a beautiful building.

Photo credit: Francisco
Photo credit: Francisco
By the time we were finished we were so tired that we had to postpone our dinner plans. The upside is that our anniversary celebration will just have to continue... (I'm a bit over-ambitious in my planning, in case you can't tell.)

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