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Posts Tagged ‘Pima Air & Space Museum’

What’s A Museum For?

In antiques, art, business, cities, culture, design, education, entertainment, Fashion, History, science, Technology, travel, urban life on April 17, 2011 at 1:35 pm
Sir John Soane's Museum

Sir John Soanes Museum in London. Treasure trove!!! Go! Image by Mal Booth via Flickr

Do museums still matter?

In an era where we can now (which is fantastically democratic) access almost any image at our fingertips on-line, is it worth the time, energy and money to actually enter a building and spend a few hours looking at the real things?

I think so. Some of my happiest and most powerful memories are of museums in which I’ve whiled away hours. I inevitably come away awed and humbled, refreshed and inspired by the collective creativity of the millennia, all those ideas and fantasies and skill and global commerce — 16th. century porcelain! 12th. century jewelry! shields and armor and paintings and chairs used by those now long-gone….who were they?

Mine include:

– the amazing pietra dura (inlaid stonework) tables at The Prado in Madrid

– a room swathed in olive green raw silk, filled with exquisite Art Nouveau jewelry at the Gulbenkian in Lisbon

– Odilon Redon’s paintings at the Met

– the Venetian palazzo that is Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (and the subject of the largest unsolved art theft in history, covered in this terrific book)

– the impossibly fast Blackbird SR-71 jet, (Mach 3.5!) at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson

– a gorgeous room-sized painting of Joan of Arc at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

– the funky leather chair that was Sigmund Freud’s at the museum that is his former home in London

– the small, perfect Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art in Toronto (my hometown)

Here’s an interesting recent interview in The Wall Street Journal with Arnold Lehman, director of the Brooklyn Museum:

In any case, Mr. Lehman has moved on to his next idea, which involves something many museums should be doing: focusing more on their permanent collections. “I have spent a lot of time,” he says, “looking at how this collection should be seen in the 21st century by 21st-century visitors, all of whom have a lot more access to information than even the most respected curators did 75 years ago.”

In part, this is pragmatic: With money tight, museums have had to cut back on expensive loan exhibitions. But in part, this is visionary. For decades, museums trained visitors to come for their changing exhibitions, all but ignoring the treasures they actually own. Frequently, permanent-collection galleries are virtually empty, left to the dwindling pool of committed art-lovers. “We will make the permanent collection the primary attraction of the Brooklyn Museum,” Mr. Lehman promises. “I don’t want to see our visitation going up and down because of exhibitions.”

And a profile of another one of my favorites, Sir John Soane’s Museum, in London by FT columnist Harry Eyres:

The Sir John Soane’s Museum is a museum like no other. I remember going to see it when I was still at school and immediately liking it, though I would not have been able to say quite why, or to pin my enthusiasm on any particular object. According to the dapper and smart new director, Tim Knox, the museum has a strong appeal for the elusive 16-30-year-old bracket, the kind of young people you imagine would rather be on Facebook than going to some fusty old house in a lawyers’ district of London.

Now I’m a bit older I still like the Soane, and can come up with a theory about why it might appeal to the young. It is a place liberatingly free of cant: the educational cant that tells you that you should be learning about the history of western painting; the scientific cant that will fill you with facts and explanations; above all, the cant of good taste…Soane committed a terrible sin by being eclectic; by filling his house with an unclassifiable collection of occasional masterpieces – paintings by Hogarth, Watteau and Canaletto – and odd plaster casts, a huge model of Pompeii, the tomb of his dog and, in the basement, the magnificent alabaster sarcophagus of the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I.

What are some of your favorite museums?

Can you tip us off to an object or work of art in one that you especially love?

Retablos And B-29 Bombers — A Tucson Afternoon

In History, travel on January 12, 2010 at 1:19 am
SR-71B Blackbird, taken on December 1994 from ...

The Blackbird. Image via Wikipedia

Few people might equally enjoy visiting an 18th-century Mission and an aviation museum filled with Migs and cargo jets and Sikorskys, but I was lucky. I spent the afternoon today with Roxana, a 23-year-old Tucsonian who recently graduated journalism school here, a former student of my partner in a workshop held here every two years by The New York Times.

She must have wondered how the day would go, as I did  — sort of a blind date between two women of quite different ages who had never met, but two passionate photographers and writers. We had a great time.

The mission, established in 1700, is extraordinary, sitting nine miles outside the city on the reservation of the Tohono O’odham tribe. Its exterior is blinding white plaster on the side that has been restored, with only one tower retaining its cupola.

The interior, restored by a group of Italian and native conservators in 1995, is a riot of carving, faux-finishing, plasterwork and retablos. Two lions with gilded heads guard the altar and there is a wooden statue of St. Francis in one side niche, his lacy robe covered with tiny votos, the medallions that express wishes and prayers for health or a home or recovery. Pinned to his robe was a black and white image from someone’s sonogram, a man’s driver’s license, color photos of people.

There is nothing virtual here. This is faith and prayer made physical and visible, pinning ones hopes, quite literally, to the robes of a wooden statue of a beloved saint.

Roxana and I ate frybread, made fresh under the shade of a nearby shelter by native women, and sat in the sun for a while. We were so still that a roadrunner hopped up the hill to our very feet, then hopped away again.

We drove to the Pima Air & Space Museum, with four hangars and more than 300 different aircraft spread out under the desert sky over 80 acres. If, like me, you love airplanes and the whiff of jet fuel, this is geek heaven. Seven Migs, a B-377SG Guppy, the weirdest thing you will ever see with wings — used by NASA to transport Saturn V parts, the astonishingly sleek SR-71 “Blackbird”, capable of Mach3+, and a  B-29 Superfortress with a 141-foot wingspan.

There were planes so enormous and heavy you could not imagine them ever leaving the ground. As we strolled and patted the gleaming riveted hulls, we heard F-16s roaring overhead, training from the nearby base.

It’s hard to understand war until you see, this close, how men worked and sat or crunched themselves into tiny frigid cabins in these battered old bombers and fighters. One of the most chilling artifacts were the hand-written paper tags, Kobe City, Nagasaki, tagged to the bombs rained down on Japan, now preserved in a glass case.

An afternoon of wings — of angels and aluminum. Heaven.

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