The Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art endlessly fascinates me with the angles made by its ramps, windows, skylights, and corridors. Perhaps someday I can photograph it with a better camera.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City recently acquired a re-casting of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise,” a 15th-century work. Bringing in this massive piece, which is several feet across and—I’m guessing here—maybe 12 feet high required taking down some of the windows that make up the wall of the Bloch Addition and the use of an industrial elevator. The photo of the overall work, which I adjusted for perspective as best I could in Photoshop, doesn’t come close to capturing the magnificence of these doors. I also don’t know who the figures are in the relief and bas-relief details shown; an interpretive key would have been helpful. It would be quite an interesting contrast to see a good reproduction of the Gates next to a reproduction of the “Gates of Hell” by Rodin.
Granted, this is an awful lot of images for one post, but I’m hoping to simulate for people who have never been there the sensory-overload experience that City Museum offers. This place, like the Gateway Arch and the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden, has become a unique must-see in St. Louis.
I wish that City Museum, in St. Louis, had existed when I was growing up there. It’s an unbelievably inventive, active place—both for kids and for adults who are in sufficiently good shape to climb many stories of spiral staircases, squirm through wire mesh tubes high in the air, and otherwise navigate their way through this enchanted space, created from industrial parts and tons of concrete (I presume) in the old International Shoe factory building. It’s for good reason that the museum’s website recommends that you bring a flashlight and that the gift shop sells knee pads. Some well-prepared souls wore head flashlights, like spelunkers. Doing this museum properly is, essentially, to do spelunking.
The first couple of floors contain a network of mostly hidden tunnels: you’ll notice a small opening at the side of a narrow walkway that leads to who knows where; a couple of metal steps in some inconspicuous place will lead up into a twist of metal tubes that disappear beyond the ceiling; a child will suddenly pop into view, or out of view, in a completely unforeseen place. There are long spiral slides and shorter straight slides and little bitty tunnel “slides” whose presence is indicated only by openings at the sides of pillars or staircases. For someone who must keep her eyes on her child at all times, this place would be a nightmare. And, as the museum entrance sign says, there are no maps.
Furthermore, the place is loud, thanks to a bellowing organ in the building’s core (the Caves/Spiral Staircase area) and to the constant echoing shrieks and laughter of children. Spelunking is far outside my physical capacity, but an out-of-shape older person such as myself can still walk some of the uneven, dark passageways, or climb the dimly lit spiral staircases, and marvel at the repurposed building materials there and elsewhere in the museum. I took photos despite ridiculously slow shutter speeds (measured in seconds), because it was simply impossible not to. Needless to say, tripods are not allowed; they would pose a real hazard even in spaces wide enough to set them up. Anyway, here are a few abstracts, semi-abstracts, and unclassifiables. More to come.
Staircase at the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas.
It was a lucky break that the young man decided to interact with the video art just as I was taking this photo from the second floor overlook. Main hall of the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas.
Despite the recent elevation of Norman Rockwell’s reputation in the art world, he’s still not my cup of tea, and I still see him more as an illustrator (albeit a superb one). But there are definitely things to admire about his art. For example, in his painting “Facts of Life,” which shows a father telling his embarrassed son about the birds and the bees, he has included a sleeping cat (shown above) under the father’s chair, and kittens playing on the boy’s chair. It’s subtext par excellence: a sly way of directly depicting the very topic—sex and reproduction—that is being so earnestly discussed in the abstract. It also cleverly pairs the adults (man and cat) and the young’uns (boy and kittens): experience on one side of the painting; innocence on the other. The boy might well envy the kittens for not having to endure an explanation of what’s eventually coming (pun intended).
This work is in the collection of the University of Kansas’s Spencer Museum of Art. See the full version at https://www.wikiart.org/en/norman-rockwell/facts-of-life.