Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Art Gallery Zen

Catching up with weekend papers, I came across this extraordinary challenge in Oliver Burkeman's column in the Guardian magazine of 22 August 2015:

"When you take a class with the Harvard University art historian Jennifer Roberts, your first task is always to choose a work of art then go and look at it, wherever it's displayed, for three full hours. Three hours! If that notion doesn't horrify you at least a little, I suspect you're atypical: in our impatient, accelerated age, the mere thought of it is sufficient to trigger an irritable jumpiness. (Stick me in front of a painting for three hours and I'd soon be swiping my thumb on it downwards, to see if there had been any updates.) Roberts knows this: the whole point, she writes, is that it's 'a painfully long time'. She doesn't expect her students to spend it all in rapt attention; rather, the goal is to experience that jumpiness, tolerate it, and get through it - whereupon they see things in the artwork they'd never have imagined were there."

Leaving aside the slight doubt that last sentence raises - do you simply start hallucinating, or do you actually see things you might not otherwise have seen - I find the idea intriguing. I think I would need to help the time pass by trying to draw the painting. In my experience, there is no better way of seeing than trying to capture an image of what is before you, regardless of whether what you produce is any good. The image you are producing is not the point - it can be really terrible (always is, when I try). The point is that you pay a special kind of attention to what you see when you try to draw it.

Three hours just standing there looking, doing nothing, though - I think that is completely beyond me. And then there's the fascinating question of which painting would be the one to choose.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Unusual Museums - The House of Alijn, Ghent

The House of Alijn describes itself as a "museum with a passion for daily life in the twentieth century." It goes on to explain that it is a "museum with a wealth of stories to tell about the minutiae of life and life’s major events in the early twentieth century and in the post-war years." Oddly, its stories seem to be entirely told through the medium of exhibits and pictures, rather than words. 

Which, actually, I rather liked. So much was left to the imagination. Take these uncaptioned pictures as examples:

With no verbal clue whatsoever provided by the museum curators, the visitor's mind is left to happily boggle. As my brother observed, after a quick glance, they make David Cameron and the Bullingdon Club look positively tame.

As well as a lack of captions, the museum also startles you somewhat by kicking off with a couple of rooms devoted to death - or at least how death was marked - in earlier decades of the twentieth century. 

It turns out that even when you were gone, man or boy, you could not escape class:

Mind you, whatever vehicle they transported your body in, the personnel in charge of proceedings remained the same throughout:
A finer looking pair of gentleman you couldn't wish for really.

This appears to be the hearse fetishist's answer to a Pirelli calendar:

But let's talk about happy things.

Moving briskly along, the museum offers artefacts from earlier days related to childbirth:

More shudder - mind you the rubber hoses used in Marienbad (see earlier post, wittily entitled, "Bad Trip"), looked more appalling than this, (well slightly more)
and childcare:
How to deal with that extremely rare problem - the baby that won't wake up?
Things cheer up a bit when you get to the toys of earlier generations:

What a gormless looking creature - I remember trying rather hopelessly to generate enthusiasm for a doll not unlike this one

I reckon there's a picture book to be written about that trio up the back

These two are hilarious, I think

This has great big spades for hands and I think is one of the scariest toys I've ever seen - but would be good in a horror movie

There's a touch of the Blanche du Bois about that doll, don't you think

Tokenism is always with us

A lovely thing

There is something poignant about abandoned toys

Forlorn even
 Then there was the paraphernalia of parenthood, if you can call it that: birth announcements, christening cards and so forth - and in amongst them probably one of the most nauseating pictures I've ever been asked to look at:

Clothing came next, all pretty standard, but I did like these ladies in their hats:

The educational section was largely taken up with a beautiful if rather utilitarian - if that's the right word; what I mean is it is conceived entirely from the perspective of those exploiting the country and its natural resources - map of the Congo:

After that we were whisked off to another part of the building, which included this alarming but mysterious exhibit:
 as well as photographs that I found tantalisingly clear, so that you felt you were really looking through a window into the past:

There was quite a lot on the local archers, who seemed bizarrely to have chosen Saint Sebastian as their emblem:
 This man was a champion:
 This man was too -  unless it's the same man at an earlier stage in his life:

Diplomas used to be so much more beautiful. It just shows how important it is to use illustrators more, (by the way have you heard of this one, who is awfully good, [while we're on the subject, should you be thinking of reviving the art of beautiful diploma making, or, indeed, producing any kind of printed matter with pictures?])

Actually this one is a bit odd

Speaking of odd, I have no idea what is going on here or in the next picture

To win this lovely thing or the next one, I think I might even have tried my hand at bird fancying

Another blast from the past - I presume the Grote Pot is no longer there, but I ought to check on it. It doesn't look enormously enticing, to be honest - at least not to me.

A natty gent and prototype hipster

I love a good menu. Do you think they chose between the items or ate everything on there?

Oddly, there was suddenly a recreated barber's shop, which included this rather beautiful object: 

After that the modern era beckoned and, for me, all sorts of memories were awakened.

This seemed to be the backdrop to my childhood, or designs very like it:

This section brought home to me how much design evokes an epoch:

There were some lovely hoola hoopers, who I will upload to my Instagram

There were a couple of old radios next, their dials full of Eastern promise. I found similar ones so enticing in my younger days:

And then, right at the end, there was a personal blast from the past - the box for a toy I had until that moment completely and totally forgotten about but one that gave me huge pleasure, so much so that it was a delight just to be reminded of it again:

All in all, a treasure trove of a museum, with virtually no rhyme or reason - which means it becomes an individual voyage of discovery for each visitor. No one tells you anything, least of all what you should think or like there, and so you can potter about, enjoying yourself and seeing all sorts of weird and wonderful things. One might even argue that it not only exhibits 20th century things but embodies an early 20th century ethos: its approach seems to be a cheerfully haphazard one, dating from before management theory took over the organisation of museums. 

I loved it.