Thursday, May 31, 2012

Just me. Just Lucerne.

Day Six
Today, I walk to a different drummer's beat. The group takes one vector. I stay in Lucerne (Luzern, whatever) and check out some of the cool museums and public art.

The Lion Monument. No smart-ass comments.
The Lion Monument (1820-21) honors the Swiss Guards slaughtered in the French Revolution. (Bertel Thorvaldsen designed it; Lukas Ahorn carved it.) It’s hard to imagine such a heart-stabbingly sorrowful tribute to American war dead; our memorials tend to be either abstract/banal or heroic/histrionic. Mark Twain described it as, “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.” I can't top Mark Twain.

Remember the KKL Center? Good for you. Well, along with all the other stuff, this place contains a freaking art museum. Seriously.

The Museum of Art Lucerne takes up the entire top floor of one wing. Its permanent collection showcases Swiss artists of the 1800s and 1900s. Enjoyed the quick walk-through. But loved the rotating exhibits of edgy contemporary stuff. Two examples ...

Katerina Šedá’s “Talk to the Sky ‘Cause the Ground Ain’t Listening” combines a sly wit with sneaky political intent. Her conceptual art explores the impact of built spaces on communities and individual expression. (That's a tidy way of saying she's looking at people living in places they either love or hate. And whether these places make them want to shout or shut up.) As far as I can tell, this exhibit is a greatest hits sample of Šedá’s latest stuff. That's my best guess, though I wouldn't swear to it. (Hey, the catalog was 51 Swiss francs and they wouldn't give it to me for free. I'll stick with first impressions.)

Anyway. If I'm reading the wall notes correctly, one of Šedá’s recent projects reached out to children and families in a faceless Czechoslovakian housing project. This "reaching out" was a sustained campaign involving mail art, psychedelic shirts, filmed interviews and responses created by no longer faceless people. Šedá likes to say that she wants to bring people together. Evidently, she did.

Richard Pettibon gores somebody's ox.
“Whuytuyp” showcases Raymond Pettibon’s edgy, energetic, pen-and-ink drawings. Punk, I thought. This guy is definitely punk. My first impression was right. Turns out, Pettibon created in-your-face posters and album covers for Black Flag and other So-Cal punk bands back in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Judging by this art, he hasn’t mellowed.

On top of all that, there's a room filled with giant donuts. Or what looks like giant donuts.  I guess that makes three examples of edgy, contemporary stuff. More conceptual art, OK? I'm sure the concept is cool, though I'm not sure what the concept is, and it's been a long day and I don't feel like looking it up. It makes me laugh and that's what counts. From a critical point of view.

Conceptual art stinks when conceptual artists take it seriously. That's my critical theory. If the artists have a sense of humor, I can dig it. Pettibon and Šedá do, though I'm not too sure about the giant-donut guy. Come on. Giant donuts? I'm assuming he wants me to laugh, though it's entirely possible he'd punch me in the face. Like I said, I'll check it out later. Let's move on.

A block or two away. Just around the corner ...

The Rosengart Museum makes its home in an imposing, gray, ugly, Neoclassical building that used to be the Swiss National Bank. Today, it’s a vault for artistic treasure by Braque, Cézanne, Léger, Matisse, Miró, Monet, etc. This booty originally belonged to Siegfried Rosengart and his daughter Angela, a father/daughter team of art collectors. Priceless stuff. Angela gave it away. Cool.

Picasso's "Girl with Boat (Maya)"
Inside, there's a strong selection of Picasso’s stuff -- a few early Cubist experiments, but mostly later work. Highlights include “Woman and Dog Playing” (1953), “Woman Dressing Her Hair” (1954), “The Studio” (1955), “Rembrandtesque Figure and Cupid” (1969). David Duncan’s candid photographs of Picasso’s homelife make him look like a goodhearted husband and father, not the abusive satyr of Huffington's tell-all biography.

Picasso aside, this place is packed with work by Klee, Chagall, Manet , etc. You can watch a video of Angela Rosengart telling the heartfelt story of how she and her late father collected this art. All politics is personal. 

I guess that's true for all great art collections.

In America, art tends to be the crazy Aunt in the attic. (Or the sweet Aunt you're obligated to in the attic.) Either way, out of sight, out of mind -- in a very special place outside normal life. In Lucerne, art is integrated with the city, woven through the city's fabric wherever you go. Lucerne is a real arts community -- and a community. That's the way it works.

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