Saturday, August 21, 2010

At the Museum

I am a museum freak... that's what my boys call me anyway.  It is true that I feel most contended at a museum than anywhere else.  I always wanted to share this love with my kids and took them to various shows and exhibits from the time they could walk; unfortunately my plan backfired and if anything, they seem to have an aversion to museums.  I have a new protege I can work on now - Prometheus Maximus, my five weeks old nephew.  It's never too early to start...I thought ... and... took him to see the 'MANLY PURSUITS - The sporting images of THOMAS EAKINS' exhibit at the LACMA  this past week, the first of many museum visits we can enjoy together in the future, I hope.

The Art History of Western Civilizations class I took at the New School this past spring, of course, covered  Eakins while on the subject of Realism; one of his most famous paintings 'Gross Clinic' was on the final, as a matter of fact.  It is such a powerful work that I have been meaning to go and see the real thing in Philadelphia soon, although I did get a chance to view what is considered to be Eakins's finest figure painting 'Salutat' at the LACMA.

I find special exhibitions like these about an artist to be very interesting; they are a great way of getting some inside information about the particular working techniques and influences of an artist.  This exhibit was enlightening about Eakins's perfectionist attention to details and the influence of photography in his work of the time period.

Eakins's meticulous perspective studies drafted repeatedly for his paintings with rowers were fascinating.  I am aware of the preliminary sketches or numerous studies involved in any painting but these looked like the work of an engineer or an architect rather than the sketches of artists I had seen before.  They had rooms full of photographs he took of male nudes in action and the figures were represented incredibly realistically, right down to the tan lines on the necks and hands of the sportsmen attesting to their profession as laborers during the day.  The 'Swimming Hole' was a painting of Eakins and some of his students that I had seen in one of my textbooks that was also on display.  The book stated that this work was considered to be so scandalous that it caused his dismissal from the academy as an instructor.

In all of his sporting images, Eakins chose to represent a break in the action, one moment suspended in time; the Catherine OPIE 'Figure and Landscape' photography exhibition that was on view at the next gallery was photographs of  high school football games and players, also suspended in time, interpreted as a continuation of Eakins' Sporting Images from contemporary life. What I found most powerful were a room full of her Surfers Series.  All white room with photographs of a white sea and sky and men as only little, insignificant dots on the horizon.  The calm, quiet of the sea was so palpable as to be almost eerie.

Our museum outing was a grand success, Prometheus slept through most of it... We went back to the LACMA one more time to walk through some other parts of their collection; the rest will have to be for another visit...


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