A day spent museum hopping has always been fun for me. I go to see ‘old friends’ that are part of the permanent collection—Matisse’s Backs and Giacometti’s Matchstick Man in the Sculpture Garden and Poppy Girl in the Modern
Art section. I haven’t quite selected a favorite at the Menil but I love walking up to the museum and seeing the huge Red Jack near the parking lot, the undulating trench in the perfectly manicured lawn, and the jungle vegetation in the New Guinea wooden carving gallery. I’m not so fond of the surrealist painting gallery—those are just too odd for my taste.
But there’s always something great to see. A collection of sculptor Claes Oldburg’s drawings were on display. I was surprised to see the technical quality with supporting structures and angles of construction noted lightly in pencil. Some pieces truly capture the imagination—a trombone ‘bridge’, two views of a clarinet ‘bridge’, a scissors chasing three spools of thread with needles stuck awry, or a Sphinx with a badminton shuttlecock for a head with the feathers blowing over the ‘face’. What a delightful sense of humor!
Another gallery was labeled Body Fragments. There were hair-combs with lower bodies as stands-handles, portions of ancient statuary, Dominique’s personal dress mannequin, an old fashioned sink with a leg dripping out of the faucet and through the drain plus some other equally odd sculptures—all from assorted cultures and ages. Of interest were two drawings by Delacroix—absolutely exquisite renderings of the arm and leg in pen and ink. Then there was a pair of hands—life-size—that were used as curtain pulls in the 18th century. What sort of room would you have had those hands in? Bedroom?
Outside the Menil families picnicked on the lawn, a man threw a ball for his dog to chase, a mother and her daughter climbed into a magnolia tree to spy on bees in the blossoms, a group of tourists bicycled by—speaking in Italian (I think)—and I was able to visit the Cy Twombly gallery—being the first (and probably only)_visitor of the day. His paintings are huge –twenty feet high or more and stretching the length of the galleries. I wondered about the mechanics of making such paintings—the size of the studio, applying the paint and pencil marks, transporting them. The Rothko Chapel was also open—I have been there several times but find it to be a very dark place—and not just because the lighting is strictly natural and the day overcast and threatening rain. The Byzantine Chapel is on the corner opposite—and is a place of serenity despite its opulence.
A tour bus was parked at the Museum of Fine Arts—and the Café Express was filled with retirees all trying to order their lunch before spending the day at the museum. One man picked up two trays—one was mine and one another person’s—thinking that the chili and sandwich he had ordered came on two separate trays—so I had to wait for another one to be made. I wonder what he thought when he ate potato soup and a BLT instead of the chili and steak sandwich he had ordered.
Artwork from Vietnam was the featured exhibit. Several shipwrecks have been discovered recently with some wonderful samples of fine china recovered. Vietnam is divided into three sections; northern, middle, and southern with each displaying influences from nearby cultures. Some of the pottery had impressed patterns on the interior, some stood on a small foot-pedestal with distinctive brown and yellow striped glaze. Buddha was well represented with many different renditions—and they all seemed to be smiling and content.
Outside, the crosswalks were painted with illusions—looking dimensional rather than flat pavement with the occasional patched pothole. I took a few photos with my phone—not my best photographic effort but it was sprinkling. Other works by this artist include much more elaborate dimensional pieces with the best effect seen from only one spot.
My last stop of the day was at the Houston Craft Museum. I needed to deliver a piece of artwork for the upcoming Federation of Fiber Artists show beginning in October. New studio artists were just settling in, the previous exhibit was being dismantled, but in the lobby was a collection of ‘shoes’—not particularly wearable but absolutely fascinating. The soles are made of solid wood and range from 6 inches high to 15 inches high. One had a band-saw blade used as the ‘strap’ of the shoe.
And now I wonder, when times are ‘bad’ as perhaps they are now, artists are infused with humor. And when times are ‘good’, artists produce work full of ‘angst’ and social commentary—or is it just the function of the curators in charge of these exhibits?