north carolina museum of art
Once again, I’m on a business trip to Research Triangle Park, North Carolina (near Raleigh, the state capitol). If you recall from my April 18 post (a walk in the rain), on a previous trip I’d intended to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art but found a walk in the woods more appealing. Today, a cool but sunny Saturday, I discovered I was in the mood for art. So when I left my hotel room around 10am, I headed east toward Raleigh, where the museum is located.
The museum is free, with three floors of exhibitions, covering almost every period you can think of: ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Judaic, African, Oceanic, as well as classical European and modern art. I spent several hours just wandering around taking in “the big picture”, then spent the rest of the day focusing on the pieces that interested me most.
Here are some Greek glazed pottery urns and pitchers, with very detailed images of battles, myths, or plain daily life.
“Alas, poor Achilles, I knew him well, Horace! A warrior of infinite jest!” :-)
In the European exhibit, I found a huge painting (I’d guess 12’x5′) of the 1767 eruption of the volcano Vesuvius, painted by Volaire. Apparently, Volaire made this eruption the subject of many paintings, and made quite a bit of money selling them to patrons all around Europe. Since this was in the days before photography, paintings such as these were probably the equivalent to today’s TV coverage of distant events, and were how people would get their impressions of what it had really been like.
In the closeups below, notice how the detailed work and Volaire’s use of color combine to set the variety of moods, from the dark calm of the ship in the moonlit harbor to the chaos and confusion of the crowds fleeing the city in panic, to the violence and energy of the volcano itself. (Click on each image to see a larger version.)
The museum is a very comfortable place to spend a lot of time in, with lots of cushy benches. This room is part of the American exhibit, with 19th century landscapes of the western wilderness.
Around the corner from the landscapes are statues of two of the most famous statesmen of the mid-1800’s: Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. Their long-time rhetorical and political rivalry was the American version of the rivalry between Gladstone and Disraeli in England’s Parliament in that same century. (I guess a Sciences and Humanities education paid off! :-)
In the European exhibit rooms, my favorite paintings were by the Impressionists. I spent quite a bit of time in front of the first and third paintings on the right hand wall, which were done by Monet in the 1890’s.
The first is a seascape, presumably of somewhere on the coast of France, though it could easily be mistaken for the cliffs on the Pacific coast of California. It’s interesting to stand back a ways from the painting, and take it all in as a whole…
… and then step up close to see the detailed brushwork that goes into it. You can click on the image to get a larger version in which you can see how the paint is not flat, but swirled up by the brush strokes.
This is the other Monet. The description on the wall says that Monet painted a whole series of works with this viewpoint from his boat on a lake, each from a different time of day. This particular piece is from early in the morning, when the mist still mostly obscures the trees on the shore. I’ll have to find a book on Monet to see the other paintings in the series.
This painting by Han Thoma, also from the 1890’s, caught my attention because it literally takes the bird’s eye view, where most paintings are done from the human point of view. I believe the artist intended this departure from the norm to be more than superficial, given that the title of the piece is “Miraculous Birds”.
In the modern art exhibit, my favorite work was a sculpture by Alexander Archipenko called “Blue Dancer”. He modeled it (in wax, I think) a year or two before the Russian Revolution, when he was a young man, but it wasn’t cast into bronze until the early 60’s, just before he died. Here are two views of the statue, and you can click on the images to see larger versions.
Later in the afternoon, I went outside to take a walk around the grounds. Behind the museum there was a collection of large but odd pieces, like a giant U-shaped sandbox, a strangely-shaped pile of stones, a funny hedge-maze, and a set of cinder block walls enclosing nothing. But from on top of a small rise nearby, I finally figured it out. Puzzle for the reader: see if you can solve the riddle before I reveal it below. :-)
Don’t feel bad if you didn’t get it — it’s very hard to make out from anywhere near ground level, especially from these pictures. The answer is that each odd piece is a giant letter, and from the air the whole thing spells out “PICTURE THIS”.
Each letter was a work of art on its own. For example, the retaining wall that serves as the left vertical line of the initial “P” was inscribed with a set of phrases starting with “Please”. You can click on the image below to see a larger version that makes it much easier to read. (Note: it’s 187K, and so may take a while to load.)
Pleased to meet you – Please read the writing on the wall – Please do unto others as you would have others to unto you -Please don’t turn me inside out – Please don’t let history repeat itself -Please look for the moment when pride becomes contempt -Please please me -Please live and let live -Please let empathy change the world -Please don’t fight fire with fire -Please don’t litter – Please use only as directed – Please read between the lines – Please don’t hit me -Please trade fear for an embrace -Please don’t hurt me with hate -Please don’t threaten me with love -Please be all you can be