Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cleveland Museum of Art: Member's Appreciation Day 2010

Today made for a confluence of events that seems only natural for Cleveland: I started the afternoon at The Cleveland Museum of Art for the 2nd annual Member's Appreciation Day, then well, Part II.

Last year, member's appreciation day was something I literally stumbled apron while my dad was visiting -- the postcard announcing the event arrived 2 weeks later. This time I had plenty of advanced notice.

I had originally planned on walking down but with the skies and the forecast looking uniformly ominous -- and having done my "official" weekly 10-mile walk yesterday, the decision was made to play it safe and drive.
This year's program for the afternoon didn't include the "Behind The Scenes" events that I found so fascinating last year, but the event was still worth attending.

The afternoon at CMA began with a presentation by chief curator Griffith Mann on the upcoming exhibition Saints Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe. While there's still a month to go before the exhibition opens, the context given by the talk was great. Being a mother-and-grandparents Catholic* with a potentially unhealthy degree of skepticism and not the best grasp on religious history, for example, the opening declaration that relics serve as objects of saints and as art to both authenticate the object and provide a connection between the viewer and the saint with whom they connected.

I'll avoid the rundown of artifacts, both because I can't read my own handwriting from the notes and because you should just go to the exhibition at least once anyway, but it's interesting to note that this exhibition--opening in Cleveland--marks the first time many of the objects have been seen outside of their home country or the first time they've been seen in the US; with several objects are on loan from The Vatican or The Treasury of San Marco in Venice.

At the end of the talk, I stumbled upon the Cleveland Museum of Art's Distance Learning studios which I approached with a degree of both professional and child-like curiosity, the latter thanks to their Picture Yourself in a Masterpiece! demonstration, using their collection of digital images and green screen technology to insert patrons into the art. The attractive young lady in front of me chose the Mona Lisa, I appeared in (on?) The Thinker. It was a fun exercise, and the resulting images should be emailed out sometime next week.

Working my way up to floor 2.5 -- yes, you read correctly: Floor two-and-one-half -- of the Museum's Breuer building, I made my first visit to the Ingalls Library. While I knew of the existence of the library, the tone of Museum's website gives the distinct impression that mere mortals are not welcome so I've never attempted to visit or discern the location. The reading room, home to a silent auction**, was gorgeous. Following, was a talk titled Exuberant Excess in Strawberry Hill in the library's reference room. The talk was interesting, but I felt quite disadvantages as far as context (I'm not 100% clear on the who, what, where, when, why, or how) of Strawberry Hill.

Of the four gallery talk ("American Landscape Paintings--Twilight in the Wilderness by Frederic Church", "Educator of the Modern Gallery", "Art of the Byzantine Era", and "For You, Always New: Recently Installed Contemporary Art") I had varying degrees of interest in all, but due to scheduling overlaps I only made it to a portion of Art in the Byzantine Era. Though this was actually the one I had the least initial interest in, once again, hearing the context and historical use of the art and artifacts on display was quite helpful -- several connections were made to, and points emphasized from, the upcoming Treasures of Heaven exhibition.

On my way to that gallery talk, I got sidetracked by the Art Cart. Though I part of my brain feels it far too early in the season to be donning gloves, it acquiesced to the more rational part of my brain. In exchange: The opportunity to go hands on with three dimensional works of art that are not just centuries but thousands of years old: A bowl, one of the two pieces I handled, for example, has an accession date of 1914 [remember the museum opened in 1916] and is somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,500 years old, stunningly somewhere around 2,400 BCE. I've often looked at painting and objects on display and marveled at the detail or simply that the work has survived for such a long period of time.

Being a tactile person I've often wondered, though, what the objects feel like. The art cart gives that opportunity. While the sensation was slightly muted through cotton gloves it was fantastic to feel the detail, weight, and texture. The bowl made from a granite-like stone chiseled and sanded was remarkable with a lip and internal styling not found in my own 21st century machine-made kitchenware.

But alas, before the For You: Always New gallery talk--arguably the one I was most interested in, it was necessary to move my car across the circle for Part II of the afternoon at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

*- you may wish to compare with Christmas And Easter Catholics.
**- There were actually quite a few interesting pieces on offer, yet none sufficiently spoke to me to break my "this is why you can't have nice things" rule (see Day 1 in Jacksonville). Even if I could afford them I doubt that they would survive in my collection.

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