I have been lucky to travel a great deal the past few months and have greatly enjoyed lots of museums for the first time. I had one of the best experiences at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I currently spend a good deal of time using their digital resources and collections search in my own provenance research, so it was high on my list of places to visit.
Of most interest to me was the way the MFA Boston is attentive to itself as an institution. A few of the galleries had been converted in to open conservation labs and a great deal of the labels spoke to collecting practices, conservation, and curatorial choices. Their Juno label spoke of the work’s life standing in the Brandegee family farm in Brookline, Massachusetts and the difficulties in restoring it. The Museum drilled a 6 foot hold in to the middle of her to place a support dowel.
I also greatly enjoyed seeing Mary Cassatt’s pastel box and another iteration of Tara Donovan’s styrofoam cup sculpture. I have done some provenance research on the BMA’s Cassatt sketch… it is the sort of work that makes you feel more strongly about an artist-for better or worse. I have written and spoken quite a bit on Donovan’s styrofoam cup sculptures and knew of the MFA iteration. It is in slightly better condition than ours and much larger. It dominates the space it hangs in. I was very glad to see it in person.
This 2016-2017 school year, the Studio 5 Art History Professional Development student group petitioned the Auburn University Student Organization Board to acquire funds to travel to see unique exhibitions. In 2014, I worked with the University to receive funds for Studio 5 to travel to New Orleans to see the Prospect.3 exhibition. For the trips this year, I coached younger students through the grant application process. We were happily successful and acquired the funds again!
In the Fall, we traveled a short way from Auburn, Alabama to Buena Vista, Georgia (near Columbus) to visit a site known as Pasquan. Folk artist named Eddie Owens Martin, frequently stylized as St. EOM, inherited the land from his mother and spent his life building and rebuilding pre-Columbian and psychedelic-inspired architectural elements. The painted masonry is covered with unique symbols, figurative paintings, and snake imagery. It is in the best way possible, strange.
During a long weekend in February, the Auburn University Department of Art & Art History professors accompanied several Studio 5 and Association of Visual Artists students to Washington D.C. We spent several days trekking all over National Monuments and Smithsonian Museums. I have been to D.C. before, so I really enjoyed taking my time revisiting museums and exploring new places such as the National Portrait Gallery. The trip left everyone exhausted but with minds full of art to ponder.
Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota’s installation The Key in Hand at the Japan Pavilion
While traveling through Venice, my number one priority was spending as much time as possible at the 2015 Venice Biennale. I spent three days stuffing myself with art: one day at the Arsenale, one day at Giardini, and one day hunting out the free venues peppered around Venice. I was so lucky to see Ursula von Rydingsvard’s work installed in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. She has long been my favorite sculptor, yet I hadn’t seen her work in person. It was an unexpected sighting, materializing on a walk along the south edge of Venice. After the initial gasp and fan-girling (as well as a few tears), I calmed down and was able to really enjoy examining her work up-close. This Biennale is so massive, so eclectic, so compelling that to describe it in a simple blog post would taint the memory. The exhibitions are so big, the only way to make it through it all is by only stopping to look at a piece if it truly interests you. Projectors, new technology, and elaborate installations seemed to dominate; only a few countries presented paintings and photos. The experience left me with a mess of pamphlets and a whirling mind of new ideas to explore.
The Rape of Proserpina (1621-1622) “inaugurated a new era in the history of European sculpture” according to art historian Rudolf Wittkower. Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew to Pope Paul V, commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to create the sculpture to decorate in his massive Villa Borghese. Personally, this sculpture is one of my all-time favorites.
The Rape of Proserpina – detail
Pluto, god of the underworld, violently drags Proserpina to Hades in order to make her the Queen of the Underwold. At only 23 years old, Bermini carved a sculpture so realistic that photographs of Pluto’s hands are often mistaken for real life. Veins and tendons strain as Pluto’s fingers dig in to Proserpina’s skin. Tears drip down her face while Pluto’s three-headed dog, Cerberus, snaps at her feet.
The Rape of Proserpina – detail
Today, the Rape of Proserpina can be seen in the Galleria Borghese, the museum created out of the extravagant private collection of Cardinal Borghese. The opulence of the room containing the sculpture initially makes focusing difficult. Fellow tourists push and stick their camera-phones in the air, threatening to knock you in to one of the marble busts lining the room.
In an empty room, the movements of Pluto and Proserpina violently explode in to space. The push-and-pull of their bodies strain the air. After a while of watching, you have to wonder what Borghese must have felt like when he rounded a corner, headed to breakfast, with this marvel in his sitting room. Could he ever walk by the work without pausing? Definitely not.
Shannon Bewley with Pauline Bonaparte by Antonio Canova
Bonus: Me, with Pauline Bonaparte by Antonio Canova
Vernal Pools at Gallery of Art Temple University Rome
This week I assisted one of my mentors, Zdenko Krtic (website here), with installing his newest show at the Gallery of Art, which is a part of the Temple University Rome program. It was really phenomenal to work with an artist who has completed two artist residencies with the American Academy in Rome. For this show, he created beautiful encausted works on paper. The show, Verneal Pools, opens Wednesday June 3 from 7 to 9 pm, and then May 31 through June 12, 2015. More information can be found here.
Pentecost at the Pantheon
Pentecost at the Pantheon
I also attended the wonderful Pentecost Mass at the Pantheon. While I stood for three hours waiting for the dropping of the rose petals, ever second was worth it. The choir filled the room; it was amazing to be able to observe the Pantheon for an extended period of time. Now whenever I walk by the Pantheon on my way to my favorite art supply store, I am struck by a strange feeling of familiarity with this ancient landmark.
The Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica
Today was insane, with art attacking me from every angle. The instant you step in to the Vatican Musuem, pieces critical to the history of art start popping up everywhere. Laocoön and His Sons was smaller than I expected, while Raphael’s The School of Athens was a massive painting frescoed in a tiny room. In the gallery above, I have included some of my favorite pieces. I stayed for hours, but it feels like I only saw a fraction of the work to be seen. St. Peter’s Basilica is overwhelmingly massive ‐ photos could never do the place justice. Rome is so much more than I could ever imagined. Soon, I will start making larger works on paper responding to my surroundings. In the meantime, I plan on continuing to sketch and observe as much as possible.
I spent a large part of my day today in the main branch of the National Museum of Rome. The museum houses many preserved frescoes from the Villa of Livia, the wife of Augustus, found in Prima Porta. We focused on the influence of Roman art on the Renaissance, particularly looking at the relationship between pictorial space and naturalism. I found the mosaics to be particularly beautiful. Time and time again, I am drawn to the Roman representations of women. The draping of their clothes fascinate me, as well as their dramatic poses.
I went to Atlanta to see Nick Cave’s new performance commissioned by Flux Projects: Up Right: Atlanta. It was an incredibly intimate experience – at one point, I was dancing and making eye contact with a costumed dancer.