If I close my eyes, I can still see it as I did then. From my mere 40 inches tall, the sitting giant seemed to have sprouted from the reflective marble floor. It may not have been the first work of art I saw that day or my first visit to the Birmingham Museum of Art, but am fond of the idea that standing at the foot of Rodin’s The Thinker is my first memory of visiting the museum. Of course, what I saw in the 1980s special exhibit from The Armand Hammer Collection was one of many casts of the infamous piece, but it marks the beginning of a love affair with galleries and museums the world over.
In my travels, I have always made time for museums – though occassionally “time” was a 20-minute dash to see the docent-recommended highlights. I have had the opportunity to visit the Prado in Madrid; the Musee d’Orsay in Paris; the National Gallery, the V&A, The Tate, and the British Museum in London; The Met and the MoMA in New York City; the Smithsonian in D.C.; and the Art Institute of Chicago. I could return to any of these anytime or visit countless other museums and still be amazed by something incredibly old or brand new, but frequent visits to those place have certain obstacles. Thankfully, the Birmingham Museum of Art is nearby and accessible.
This 60 year-old Birmingham treasure boasts a permanent collection that includes an amazing inventory of Asian art as well as the largest collection of Wedgewood outside of England. Then there are temporary exhibits that range from world-renowned to regional interests. I particularly enjoyed walking through the Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio: Everyday Architecture knowing the Rural Studio is both internationally recognized and a local investment.
This past Saturday morning, I received a request from a friend. “Make a plan for my guests and me for this rainy day in Birmingham. Go.” I immediately responded with a few suggestions, leaving the final call to them. And, they chose well. Of course, I added the caveat that I had to be able to join them, so in the early afternoon I met them at the Birmingham Museum of Art. We spent a few hours meandering through the collections. Along the way we encountered awe-inspiring pieces as well as fodder for hilarious captions from my quick-witted companions.
We ended our visit with a walk through the current exhibition, Darkroom: Photography and New Media in South Africa since 1950. From the endearing to the disturbing, there is something different about the images of history in your own lifetime. Like visiting the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, this exhibit forced me to confront daily realities unlike my own and the sad truth that humanity has made little progress in some respects. My perspective was also informed by a friend’s photo essay, “Anatomy of South African Riot,” I recently read. The juxtaposition of the two made for a unique experience.
Darkroom is free to visitors as well, but if possible, I suggest you make plans to attend tomorrow evening, Friday, 3/11/11. The exhibit will be open for an extended hour beyond regular museum close at 5pm, and at 6pm the exhibit’s curator, Tosha Grantham, will deliver a lecture (again, free of charge). If you can’t make it then, the exhibit will be around until April 17th, so remember to add it to your “to do” list.
If I weren’t going to be out of town, I would meet you there tomorrow night and maybe even tonight for a viewing of 2000 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Prize Winner for Best Documentary, Long Night’s Journey Into Day.
You now have plans for your next rainy day.
Sidenote: For all those I know serving the people of South Africa, know that these images have kept you in my heart and prayers.