16 June 2005

Losing the shades of gray

I went to the Musee d'Orsay yesterday. I started at the fifth floor (etage cinq) with the Impressionism exhibit. I spent two and a half hours there. I didn't make it to the other levels before the museum closed. I will write more about the art in the coming days. I had an awesome time there.

What really amazed me, though, was the way some people behave in a museum. I always forget about this bizarre aspect of humanity. I first noticed it in Chicago when the Monet exhibit had everyone in a frenzy, standing eight-deep in front of a lot of lilies. In Houston last year, at the Impressionism/Post-Impressionism exhibit, I saw a woman-of-a-certain-age look at one of Jackson Pollock's paintings and say to her friend, "That one's not very good." I think there was a salad in the cafe downstairs with her name on it. She didn't have time for Pollock.

I was prepared for a crowd at Musee d'Orsay, but it was not busy when I arrived at 15h30 (3:30 p.m.) The people photographing the paintings didn't surprise me, although I thought it strange. The people who shocked me were those who wanted to have their photo made while standing IN FRONT OF the paintings, as if they were standing next to Minnie Mouse at Disneyland. They couldn't be bothered with the Degas sculptures. "Boy! This guy was really hung up on dancers," one man said in his loudest stage whisper. I suppose the small sculptures don't photograph as well as a great big Manet.

A camera's flash can obviously damage the uncovered paintings...at least over time. Yet, several people ignored the posted signs and sometimes ignored the guard who asked them not to use their flash. With digital cameras being so advanced now, a flash is not even needed. I think they were upset that some of the subtle shades did not show up on their pics. "ARRANGEMENT IN GREY AND BLACK: Portrait of the Painter's Mother" (commonmy known as Whistler's Mother) didn't yield a good result for many in the camera crowd.

They seemed pre-occupied and unaware of the gravity of their surroundings. van Gogh agonized over his work, and in general, never getting recognition. Some painters spent months purging their souls onto a canvas. "I bet that one is expensive," said one man. Those with cameras didn't actually stop to take it all in. There are brush strokes and shadows that are not going to show up on the pictures they take home. There are colors that a computer monitor can't replicate.

In one hand many held handsets that told them about the art. In their other hand they had their cameras at the ready. "That one is famous" they would say, loudly. "Famous" was the word-of-the-day. Its no secret that Impressionism is over-exposed. If one can buy an apron or umbrella bearing the image of a "famous" painting, I suppose we've brought this on ourselves.

"At least they're here" I kept saying to myself. I am not a positive person by nature and often need to have these talks with myself. Not everyone was of this ilk. Half of the patrons took their time and looked with their eyes. As for the others, if d'Orsay is the only museum they visit in their lifetime (it seemed like a possibility), then at least they had a chance to see "The Bedroom" by Vincent van Gogh on something other than a tea towel, and in one of the most beautiful cities on earth.

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