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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cleveland Museum of Art

Copyright, Jim Lane
Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) Atrium looking West.                        
The original 1916 building is at left. (It was a slow day.)                      
The CMA's Classical Revival Face

It had been over thirty years (1981, to be exact) since I'd been there. Much had changed in that time, but the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) still ranks as one of the top museums I've ever visited. In the time since my last encounter, the physical layout had more than doubled in size. I'm just guessing, but I suspect the collection has likely quadrupled during that time. Today, their collection of art and artifacts numbers some 44,000 pieces (I asked). However, just as is the case in virtually every other art museum in the world, only a small fraction of that is on display (in CMA's case, about 4,100 items). All I can say is, they must have some hellaciously large storage vaults downstairs (or somewheres).

The CMA's contemporary face, it's older facade all but obscured at right.
Notice  the two-story "glass box" at center-right, which displays
the transitional phases of 19th-century European sculpture.
Despite the fact that the main structure is a Classical Revival marble mausoleum built in 1916, the museum seems as modern and functional as any built in the past twenty years. Perhaps the most spectacular, and welcoming addition has been the enclosed central atrium (top) located in back of the old original structure and surrounded on three sides by galleries, the requisite gift shop, a restaurant (called Provenance for some unfathomable reason), offices, escalators, special exhibit halls, parking garage, and all the other amenities expected and demanded by the artsy crowd today. My wife, who is walking adverse, and in any case, definitely not a museum type, loved the bright, expansive, atrium environment where she hooked up her laptop to one of many convenient wall outlets and spent four hours happily lost in her own world of bean-counting minutiae (she's a tax preparer).
Cupid and Psyche, 1817, Jacques-Louis David.
From my first visit to the museum, I remembered only one painting, Jacques-Louis David's Cupid and Psyche (above), dating from 1817. It was still on display and as memorable as I'd remembered it (for it's openly erotic overtones, I suppose). This time, the most memorable work I saw was by the contemporary American artist, Mark Tansey, titled Soft Borders, 1997 (below), painted in 1997, I presume. Unfortunately, works in the contemporary collection (after 1900), which is quite a huge pile of art, are not permitted by the museum to be photographed. So, just as they'd hoped, I bought a large poster of it ($24) which I have absolutely no place in my home to frame and hang. Look at it closely. At first glance, the monochromatic red oxide painting appears to be a rather fascinating textural work of the Abstract Expressionist genre. But in fact, it is a fairly realistic piece depicting four eras of human exploration of a rocky canyon--from early natives painting on the rock face; to explorers traveling via horse-drawn wagons; to modern tourists with their motorhomes and SUVs; and finally archaeologist of the future examining all the above. The work (or the viewer's head) must be rotated to various angles in that each eras is on a different picture plane with "soft borders" from which the work draws its name (the soft borders are actually hard rocks, but let's not quibble over details).

Soft Borders, 1997, Mark Tansey. The early natives are at lower left (right side up). Rotating the painting clockwise, the 19th-century explorers can be seen in the dark area (upper-left, as seen above,) then rotating it again, the future archaeologists are right next to them in the light area (upside-down in the above orientation), while the 20th-century "explorers" and their vehicles can be seen at bottom right.
I explored the place for around four hours (all my tired legs and feet could endure). My primary interest in any art museum is American and European art (all eras). I skipped all things Asian, Pre-Colombian, Native American, and African, not because they are of lesser importance in the overall realm of art, but because I've learned (from painful experience) to enjoy everything, even art, in moderation. Thus I missed a lot, but there's also such a thing as too much of a good thing. The museum's collection in each of those areas is well-rounded and relatively deep, displayed in such a manner as to allow close inspection, while avoiding the feeling of being overwhelmed by sheer volume.

The Crucifixion of St. Andrew, 1606-07, Caravaggio
Perhaps the most fascinating exhibit/event I saw when we visited last week was the museum's newest acquisition, Caravaggio's Crucifixion of St. Andrew (above) dating from 1606-07. The work was displayed while under restoration by the museum's Conservator of Paintings, Dean Yoder. He has worked on it already for about a year, painstakingly removing layers of varnish and the dirt they have attracted over the past four-hundred years. He is now just starting to repair the damage such cleaning has revealed, and in the process trying to gain insights into the unique manner in which Caravaggio worked without under-drawings. The museum hopes to complete work on the restoration in time for their centennial celebration in 2016.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Making a fashion statement, northern Italy, circa 1575.
(CMA's Armour Room).

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