Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cleveland Museum of Art: Treasures of Heaven

Last night exemplified one of the problems of living in a city that has such a rich mix of arts an culture... and a spectacular lack of planning on my part. At 8pm was the Cleveland Orchestra/Michael Fenistein concert I wrote about last night. At 6:30 was the member's opening party for the Cleveland Museum of Art's new exhibition Treasures of Heaven. "No problem," I thought, "I'll do the party, see the exhibition, and then walk over to Severance" in time for the concert.

Those math majors in the audience will realize that that left a grand total of 90 minutes assuming that I both teleported myself from the Museum to Severance (It is only about a 4-minute walk, however) and arrived at precisely 8:00 (I'm compulsively early...just ask any of the ushers that know me).

The end result was that I showed up for the party: I ate (I think this was the best catering of any member's party I've attended--the pizza was cold but everything else was fantastic) chatted with other members, and made my way into Gartner Auditorium for the Director's Welcome and Exhibit Introduction. This was many firsts: The first I've heard Mr. Franklin, the museum's new director, speak -- he struck me as humble and quiet-spoken; the first time I've been in Gartner Auditorium: It is an impressive room, simple in its ornamentation and a soring space belied by the exterior; and the first time an exhibition I've attended had such a comprehensive presentation associated with it.

Unfortunately, based on the aforementioned time constraints I had to excuse myself just as the presentation was transitioning from the planning of the exhibition (material that was also covered to a large extent during the Member's Appreciation Day) to the artifacts.

So I resolved to get back to the museum today to actually see the art. And I did. Having done my walk yesterday, I had originally planned on being lazy and driving, but one look outside convinced me to walk. Stopping along the way for an impromptu latte to take off the morning chill, that's exactly what I did.

As a Mother-and-Grandparents Catholic* I wasn't sure how relevant the exhibition would be: I am not intimately familiar with the saints and their relevance and interrelationships. In some ways I think it would have helped to provide some background: After all relics are, according to Wikipedia, "personal item[s] of religious significance, carefully preserved with an air of veneration as a tangible memorial..." it would be nice to know why the artifact was preserved and the person is being venerated.

On the other hand, as objects of art, the explanation really isn't required. The exhibition is ordered in such a way as to trace the evolution of relics from relatively simple devices drawing strongly on the shape and form sarcophagi, to objects taking the form of the relic contained within -- a hand and forearm, for example containing a part of the corresponding bone. Form-following-relic evolved into form-exposing-relic, with various ways of exposing the relics contained within for the faithful to observe. Finally the exhibition concludes with a look at the "theatricality" that evolved to tell the story.

Even discounting the religious significance, these works are impressively detailed, both artistically and mechanically: Since these contain objects within, of course there must be a way to access those objects. Likewise, the care taken to preserve the tiny artifacts: several displayed preserved in linens that look beautiful hundreds or thousands of years later with finely lettered labels, it's obvious that the original collectors gave them deep reverence.

Finally, I thought it was interesting that a collection of a half dozen chasses drawn from the collections of several museums appeared nearly identical to each other with respect to basic design, ornamentation, color.

Treasures of Heaven is open through January 17th. Free for members, $14.00 for non-member adults (but really... why aren't you a member?). The museum is closed Mondays.

*- Do not mistake this to mean that I don't believe in a Deity.

No comments:

Post a Comment