Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Baltimore Museum of Art

Went with the parental units this last Thursday for lunch at the Baltimore Museum of Art. This thing is known by various names depending on the speaker’s cultural and social background. The younger set calls it the BMA. The older la-di-da set insistently calls it the Musee. Those firmly in the middle of the road call it the Art Museum. Its critics call it “that sarcophagus on Wyman Park” and people in Highlandtown call it “What???”

The Museum is probably best known for the collection of the Cone sisters, who donated their rather vast collection of modern art (modern, that is, in 1925) to the then fledgling museum. It also possesses a spectacular collection of mosaic work from Antioch, which is probably singly responsible for my interest in classical civilisation and my minor — almost major — in said topic.

Setting aside my fascination with the Antioch mosaics (particularly the one with pigeons who appear to be performing some weird conga line), my favorite works at La Musee are the lush French and Italian works of the 18th and early 19th century.

My taste in art is simply described: flowers and naked people. If you involve one or the other, I’ll like it; if you involve both I will declaim your artistic mastery to the world. (Needless to say, I prefer attractive naked people. Ugly naked people might be artistic, but pretty naked people are pretty and pretty makes it art where I’m concerned.) My favorite painting at the Art Museum is “Rinaldo and Armida” which is about the size of the screen at the Hippodrome and features a big, passed-out-drunk muscly dude in Roman armor being accosted by a really hot naked chick. That, my friends, is art.

Seriously, now, aside from the obvious appeal of the hot nekkid folks, I find this sort of painting the most appealing. It is a style which captures, realistically, the human form without resorting to some random cheap vaudeville tricks to surprise and thus enchant its audience. The artist has elected to represent, beautifully and realistically, a classic love myth.

I have often been accused, probably justly, of being artistically blinkered by classical tradition. Perhaps this is true — but what is it that makes the portrayal of a tomato soup can into art? Especially given the fact that said soup can had been designed by someone else and had been in popular currency for seventy-five years? Does this mean that I will become a Great Artist if I “create” a canvas portraying a box of Raisin Bran? No, of course not — because I would then be only mimicking Warhol and the soup can. But if I’d painted that Raisin Bran box before he’d painted his soup can? Then, I’m pretty sure that I’d be an Artist.

I find it extremely depressing that, to be acknowledged as a visionary artist, one must only do something ludicrous that has not yet been done. If I stick a banana up my butt and hop naked on one leg down St. Paul street, it will get me locked up, but if I do it in Greenwich Village, I might just be heralded as a performance artist with a New Statement to Make — unless, that is, the week before, somebody else had done the same thing with a cucumber.


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