Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Words of Wisdom

Sometimes The Professor gets a paper turned in that he enjoys.
This is so totally honest, he wants to share.

The Menil Experience
As you are walking up to the Menil building you feel a sense of stillness. That stillness continues as you walk through the doors and down the large hallways. Even though there is the constant flow of museum visitors moving past the art, I felt as though I was in a cafeteria lunch line, looking but never really taking anything from it. Nothing moved. There was no sense of interaction. Just you, staring at the art, wondering at which moment you would understand where the artist was coming from and what they were trying to portray.

As I look closely, fixed on one particular piece of art, I notice a short, dark figure stealthily moving my way. I hear “don’t touch that!” I turn in response to the phrase and say “I didn’t touch it!” The figure now comes in clearly, it is a short, red haired woman dressed in all black, holding a walkie-talkie. She reminds me of a special agent of some sort. She is just one of the individuals dressed in all black that uphold the strict, no touching, no breathing, on, near, or around the artwork, rules. I like to call them, the Museum Nazis. These are the persons lurking behind you every step of the museum watching your every move, interjecting when they feel you might be contemplating doing something that’s not in the rule book. They feel as if it’s their personal and moral obligation to protect each and every molecule of artistic yield inside their museum jurisdiction. As I hurry to finish appreciating this section of the museum I see another Museum Nazi, this time making another museum patron feel as though they have breeched some sort of invisible force field around a piece of art work, “Please stay behind the line on the floor!” she spits out. I hear the visitor reply, “Oops! Sorry, I didn’t see that”. By ‘the line’ she means the black broomstick looking piece lying on the floor in front of a large gold circle. At this point I am thinking it would be in the museum’s best interest to invest in some bright yellow caution tape to mark off and protect the collections of art. Rather than make their visitors feel that at any moment they might be thrown into an art concentration camp of some kind. This was not the way I had hoped my Menil museum experience would begin.

I meander from art work to art work finally coming to a collection that the museum is calling Witnesses to a Surrealist Vision. “This could be interesting.” I think to myself quietly. Maybe it could be some kind of insight to what the artists were like. I walk through the curtains and turn my focus to a plaque on my left, it reads, The objects in this exhibition were either owned by the Surrealists or are in the spirit of those they collected. This is the eclectic collection that makes you wonder, what kind of person would put this in their home? The large black mannequin centered in the room stands out first. It is covered in outward pointing spikes and is seriously demented looking. This immediately makes me shift my mind to the 1987 horror flick Hellraiser. I find it interesting that someone would have this in their home for some sort of inspiration or even aesthetic value. It’s just downright creepy. As I continue to walk in the small room there is a table of random knick knacks enclosed in glass, a string of dead birds, and a stereoscope among other things. Leaving the room I wonder what it must be like to have seen these things and thought them of personal importance.

The Steve Wolfe on Paper was an uninteresting exhibit until you found out that these books and papers were not just that. They were recreations of them, made to look torn and tattered. As I walked through the exhibit the first time I was not very impressed. I was wondering why in the world anyone would call old torn books art. I walked out of the gallery and noticed a pamphlet. I snatched one up and skimmed through it. A light bulb went off in my head about halfway down the second page. I definitely needed to walk through this exhibit one more time. This time, looking a little more closely trying to imagine just how he had accomplished such a feat. To recreate these images so well must have been painstakingly difficult. Attention must be paid to each square inch of the books in order to put out an almost exact image.

I think the strangest and most realistic of all the artists in the collection had to be Maurizio Cattelan. I was wandering around the corner of one of the galleries when all of a sudden I looked up. I gasped. There it was! Or should I say, there she was. The sculpture was of a girl dressed in white shirt and her auburn hair pulled back into a pony tail. She was strung on a cross and bound with what looked to me like hospital bed restraints. She also looks to be crucified inside of a packing crate. I had to look closely to insure that this indeed was a sculpture. There was a large gold circle leaning against one of the walls with a mirror leaning on the wall diagonal from it with a painting of a couple on it. The couple looked as though they were admiring the reflection of the large gold circle. It was like two works of art were working to produce three separate works of art. Another one of Cattelan’s bizarre creations is the taxidermied horse with the letters INRI posted on a board stuck into the horse’s side. I read in the pamphlet that the meaning of this is to not beat a dead horse. I would not have thought this to be the meaning but once it was explained I could understand why it was meant to be interpreted in that way. The piece de resistance has to be the piece called All. It is setup in one large room all by itself. When walking into this particular room an eerie blanket falls over you. The piece consists of nine marble figures lined up in the middle of the floor. It’s almost as if you are at a crime scene where a mass murder has taken place and the police are lining bodies up to be taken away by the coroner.

The Menil collection was overall an experience in itself. Some of them good, some of them bad, most of them strange. I think for now I’ll stick to my fifty percent off Hobby Lobby paintings. You don’t have to think about them and you don’t have to worry about people touching them.


  1. Yes, Museum Nazis....and NOTHING compared with the gallery personnel in Mexico´s National Museum of Art. I used to take my students for a visit each semester for 7 years and not a single time I was not involved in a verbal fight. Once I was almost arrested: two security guards were called in and instead of getting intimidated I lectured them on what we were seeing in that particular gallery and how to apply that knowledge to the circumstances of modern Mexico. If my students are behaving and not touching, please leave us alone. Already very little is known of Mexican art and history of the XIXth century to have on top a nagging individual souring the visit. Invariably we left a written complaint. Today the Museum is very scarcely visited....guess why? and they are allarmed and wondering. I share the opinion that this is a very good paper. Over Tomball CC average by far. Congratulations!!!

  2. What a terrific documentation of an experience. Kudos to the writer.