Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cézanne and Beyond - A Day at the Museum

March 29th, 2009
Sunday Afternoon, 5:38 PM

I am not an Art critic, far from it actually. I am a casual art fan. I have taken art study classes at school many moons ago, have traveled through Europe visiting many exhibits and I have gazed in wonderment (& disgust) by the excess of art commissioned by far too many Kings and Popes. Many times that excess created artistic gold, but I have always wondered at what cost. I have walked the halls of the Vatican, during a private tour by a Restoration Specialist, going in eyes wide open and coming out amazed at the beauty and feeling alienated by the religion that would flaunt such extravagance. Still, you have to admire the vision, creativity, and sheer brilliance of the artist and it's creations.

Since the beginning of the year, I have toured two Exhibits and have had two distinctly experiences. In early January I visited Barcelona and explored the Museum dedicated to the works and mind of Pablo Picasso. In the begging of March, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art for an exhibit focused on the works of Paul Cézanne. Two giants of the art world and two incredibly different experience. I am not going to write a review of why one artist is better then the other or how one inspired the other. This post will be about the experience and the time, energy and care put into the exhibits themselves. One was fantastic and one was pedestrian, both were educational, but one was transcending. One is reinventing the way people experience Art in the early 21st century. That was the experience I had in March and one that has made me appreciate Cézanne above all others in his field.

March 7th was a drab and cool late winter day. My sister asked to take my children to the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, which we live about 45 minutes away from now baring road work being done on the decaying infrastructure of one of America's oldest cities. We packed the car with the idea that we would have a couple of hours to spare between the kids being at Please Touch and a late afternoon meal. I recently read an article on the Cézanne show in the New York Times and was intrigued by the review. Plus, it had been years since I walked the halls (not the infamous steps, too touristy) of the Philly Art Museum. My wife and I decided to kill time by going back to one of the places of our first dates and enjoy the afternoon sans the little ones. It turned out to be a wise move and an afternoon I have reflected on many times since it transpired.

The Cézanne exhibit is exceptional. The experience is a stark contrast to the Picasso show I witnessed just 2 months prior. What makes the Cézanne experience so compelling is the interactive and educational nature of the show. It does this without preaching or coming across as too avant-guarde. Your tour guide comes in the form of a headset which has the Curators of the show describing the significance of each work of art and why it is being included in the exhibit. While the Picasso show in Barcelona, and many of the other shows I have walked through, consist of room after room of the same artist, this show incorporates the works with the genius of Cézanne and the artist that were inspired by him. This tactic includes international artist such as Picasso, Braque, Léger and Matisse to Giacometti, Mondrian, Morandi, Gorky, Kelly, Johns, and Marden. The Curators Joseph Rishel and Katherine Sachs, who provide the soundtrack for the show, incorporate the present day with photographs by Jeff Wall and sculptures by Francis Alÿs.
The show starts with works from Cézanne's posthumous exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1907. Artist such as Braque, Matisse and Picasso were so inspired by this show that they each embarked on a new journey of exploration in expression that resulted in radical movement and creativity in the Art world. Seeing these Artist render their own interpretations of Cézanne, only helps to magnify the importants and originality of such a master. It reminded me of all of those British Invasion acts as they would try desperately to topple or even stand in the same league as The Beatles. For every Rolling Stone's song that created something new, there were 10 Dave Clark Fives. Mick Jagger always knew, there was only one John Lennon and Picasso knew there was only one Master. Later in life Picasso famously stated, "Cézanne is the father of us all." This exceptional show exhibits the works of all of his children, lovingly.

Richard Dorment of the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph sums the show up much better then I could this way, "Not many exhibitions can be said to change the way you think about art, but Cézanne and Beyond at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the US is one of them. As powerful a show as you are ever likely to see, it brings together 50 paintings, watercolours and drawings by the painter from Aix-en-Provence to hang alongside the work of 18 20th-century artists who fell under his spell." Those Brits are really up on their Art, high bloody praise indeed.

For all of my readers in the Philly area or even in New York/New Jersey, take the train or drive down to Benjamin Franklin Parkway and lose yourself for a couple of hours in the majesty of greatness. You will feel rewarded and replenished all the same. The show will be playing until May 17th of this year and due to the robustness of the collection, is unlikely to tour. Catch it while you can.

After the show, take caution as the picture states, and head down to The Water Works which is a nice little restaurant right next to Boat House Row. It is the closest bar/restaurant to the Museum and is nestled right on the waters edge. There you can unwind and let the works of Cézanne sink in as you try to figure out how a river spelled Schuylkill is actually pronounced Skukill.

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