Monday, 23 February 2009

Iraq's National Museum to Re-open

I thought it was worth noting that Iraq's National Museum re-opened today.  It was the site of horrible looting in 2003, and many of the irreplaceable artefacts were lost, destroyed, or sold on the black market.  It's debatable whether re-opening the museum at this point is a "good" idea, and whether the country is ready for this yet.  I think if the country can use its cultural heritage and history as a positive source of national pride, this would be great.  Iraq is literally a "cradle of civilisation," and there are few places in the world that can rival the history and heritage found in this region.  It seems like the amount of irreplaceable cultural heritage that has been a casualty of this war is often overlooked by the news media.  Still, I wonder if re-opening this museum will simply offer another a tempting target for divisive, and ultimately destructive, struggles.  
This is yet another hurdle that Iraq has to overcome.

Read more from CNN here.

Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts, Brussels

We hopped the Channel to visit one of Scott's cousins in Brussels this weekend.  While we were there, we went to two museums worth reviewing (this was in between the grotesque quantity of mussels I ate and the numerous delicious Belgian beers we consumed).  

The Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts are actually several museums, housed under one roof.  Centrally located near the Gare Centrale, it's easy to incorporate a visit to this museum into any visit to the city.  The art is divided chronologically, with the older art ("Art Ancien") in the main building, and the more modern (19th and 20th Century) art downstairs in what appears to be a more newly renovated "wing."  They are also opening a wing in June specifically for the art of Renee Magritte.  

We didn't see everything, but the museum has a really nice collection of Belgian, Flemish, and other Northern European art.  Highlights from the collection include:
  • Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat.  This painting is an absolute 'must-see' and in my opinion, is worth the price of admission on its own.  To see the brush-strokes on this painting up close, after studying it in so many art history classes, was a real treat.  The way David created the look of "death" in Marat's flesh was a remarkable accomplishment.  Bits of golden flecks are mixed with more muddy tones to create the flesh-tone.  I also loved seeing the messy brushstrokes he used to create the blood stains on the fabric and the knife.  For a brief overview of the significance of this painting, read this.  The way David imbues this painting with so much symbolism is really indicative of his overall work.
  • The paintings by Pieter Brueghel are also really exceptional.  I especially like looking at all of the faces of the individuals in his compositions that are so full of people.  It's almost like an early comic book, and he manages to include so much expression and individualism in his scenes.
  • The centrepiece of the 'ancient art' wing has to be the huge room full of Rubens paintings.  I am not often left speechless, but the size of these paintings absolutely shocked me.  They are at least twice as big as I imagined them to be, and the way they are exhibited was actually really well executed.  As much as I enjoyed the finished paintings, I think I enjoyed the oil sketches in the neighbouring room even more.  It's fascinating to see the process Rubens went through to create such massive, animated and emotional paintings.  Loved this.
I suspect that once the Magritte Museum opens, that will be worth a visit in and of itself.  However, many of the Magritte paintings were not on display, so we only got to see a handful of these.  In about two hours, we got a good feel for what the museum had to offer.  The biggest downside to the museum was the confusing layout.  The 19th and 20th Century paintings are separated from the main building by several long staircases and hallways, and there's no clear transition between the spaces.  This was a small annoyance though, and the opportunity to see the Rubens paintings and The Death of Marat more than compensated for it!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Saatchi Gallery: Unveiled

We made it to the Saatchi Gallery yesterday, and were not disappointed.  The current exhibit is called Unveiledand features contemporary art from artists working in or originally from the Middle East.  We were both really impressed by the exhibit, and highlights included:
  • Kader Attia's Ghost, which was a room full of aluminum foil 'casts' of Muslim women in various prayer poses.  This was really striking as the forms were actually hollow/empty, creating a surreal and super-modern feel.  It also made us wonder how the artist executed it (with a single individual as the model, with many individuals?).  We also wondered whether it was made in situ, as an installation, or transported in its complete form from elsewhere.
  • A room full of prints by Halim Al-Karim, which played with the concept of focus and out-of-focus in really interesting ways.
  • Laleh Khorramian's paintings, which reminded us of Hieronymus Bosch, with their other-wordly qualities and details.  
  • Sun Yuan and Peng Yu's "Old Person's Home" is also worth noting.  It's not part of the Unveiled exhibition, but it is definitely like nothing I've ever seen.  Essentially, mannequins of individuals, who look a lot like certain world leaders, are placed in wheelchairs.  The wheelchairs have sensors in them and zoom around the room, allowing the mannequins to play "Dodgems" with each other, and with exhibition visitors.  Controversial? Definitely.  And also really entertaining.
The exhibit isn't huge, and we navigated our way through in about 90 minutes.  It is truly unique, and like nothing else I've ever seen in a gallery.  The artists are mostly in their 20s and 30s, and come from all over the Middle East, including Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Algeria. I'm not sure how I would have felt about the exhibition if I'd paid £16 to get in, but since it was free, I can whole-heartedly jump on board.  I think we'll be back for future exhibits as well.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

A Pre-Visit Post: The Saatchi Gallery

When Scott asked what I wanted to do for Valentine's Day, I didn't even hesitate to answer. What could be more romantic than going to a museum!?  The Saatchi Gallery is one of the few art museums we haven't yet been to in London.  There are a slew of excuses for why we haven't yet visited.  First off, it used to be on the South Bank of the river, which made it more of a shlep when we still lived in Cambridge.  Secondly, it used to cost an arm and a leg to go (now it's free, thanks for corporate sponsorship! Yay!).  And thirdly, it's a little....strange.  It's pretty much all modern, temporary exhibits.  So you never know exactly what's going to be there.

But we really have no more excuses.  It moved this October to a new space in Chelsea, after a rather contentious legal battle over their former home at County Hall.  Chelsea is so close that we really can't avoid it.  It's free now, which is reason to rejoice in and of itself.  And the current exhibition sounds really interesting. 

I can't wait to write about it after we visit!