Friday, January 30, 2009

Some of My Favorites

A few days ago, my friend Emilee asked what were my favorite museums and works of art that I have visited/seen during my travels abroad. The things I included in this list are the ones that made a greatest impression on me during my study abroad. I've also included some architectural sites and American museums that I love.

The Borghese Gallery, Rome. Anyone who loves Bernini and Caravaggio MUST go here. The collection is amazing. The only time I have cried in front of a work of art was here, in front of Bernini's David.

The Cornaro Chapel (Santa Maria Vittoria), Rome. Bernini's St. Theresa in Ecstasy is housed here. I don't even remember how long I stared at this sculpture, but it was a long time.

St. Peter's Cathedral and Piazza, Rome. I know that Maderno's cathedral facade will eternally be the butt of all architectural jokes, but it's kind of endearing all the same (despite the fact that it covers up the drum of the dome! Silly Maderno.). And to stand in Bernini's piazza, looking at such a magnificent cathedral - wow. It's an incredible experience. It's just as incredible to stand inside the cathedral as well. One feels so small and insignificant inside such a massive structure. The Cathedra Petri (Bernini) and Pieta (Michelangelo) are also gorgeous. There are some great pics of the cathedral and piazza here.

San Vitale, Ravenna. Some of the most gorgeous, glittering mosaics in the world are located here. It's so stunning.

San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. I originally went here to see Palladio's crisp architecture, but ended up being pleasantly surprised to find Tintoretto's Last Supper here. This is probably my favorite depiction of the Last Supper.

The Louvre, Paris. The works of art that left the greatest impression on me were the Nike of Samothrace, Da Vinci's Madonna of the Rocks, and David's Coronation of Napoleon (this painting is MASSIVE!). Of course, I did meander over for my obligatory peep at the Mona Lisa, but it was a rather frustrating experience. There was a large crowd of people shouting and trying to take pictures of the portrait, and you can't even see the painting very well because it is behind a plastic barrier. I've always felt kind of "meh" about the Mona Lisa, and this experience just solidified my indifference. Madonna of the Rocks is a much more striking, interesting painting (and there was no crowd gathered in front of it when I was there!)

The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. One has to see Van Gogh's works in person.

The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam. I know this isn't an art museum, but visiting this house was one of the most memorable experiences I have had abroad. I guess this is because I read Anne Frank's diary as a girl.

The Ghent Altarpiece. This is a very, very large altarpiece, the fine details painted by Jan Van Eyck are absolutely amazing. See pics here.

The Tate. Seeing Ophelia by Millais was unforgettable. I have never seen a slide or reproduction that accurately captured the brillancy of the green vegetation.

United States
The Frick Collection, New York, NY. This collection is displayed in the house that was owned by Mr. Frick, and the staff strives to maintain the ambiance of a private residence. There are not ropes or glass cases protecting the art; rather, it feels as if you are a guest that is invited to walk around the home and view the incredible art. A lot of this art is from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, so I especially love this place. In fact, I've already blogged about my experience here. The two things I remember enjoying the most were Holbein's portrait of Thomas More and Bellini's St. Francis in Ecstasy.
The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. This is another house of a private collector. The Phillips were interested in collecting "modern" art, although I don't think everyone would agree with Duncan Phillip's definition of "modern." I remember being struck by a beautiful El Greco painting of The Repentant St. Peter. I would imagine that most people wouldn't label El Greco a modernist (this painting is from the early 17th century), but I can see why a modern art lover would be drawn to the bright colors and exaggerated features of the figure. Duncan Phillips actually called El Greco the "first impassioned expressionist." This museum also has a great Rothko room that afforded me the most intimate experience with Rothko that I have had thus far. In addition, the collection has temporary exhibitions which are also fantastic.

There are many other places and works of art which left an impression on me, but these are some of my top favorites. When compiling this list, I realized how much I love to see art in settings other than the traditional modern museum space (sometimes called "the white cube" space in museum theory). A lot of the places listed above were/are private houses, palaces, and churches. I think this is partially because I like to look at the architecture as well as the art, and the "white cube" architecture tries to not compete with the art on display. I guess I must like a little of competition between the two mediums? Hmm - perhaps this also reveals how I feel about art's original intent and where it should be displayed. I'll have to think about that more.

What about YOU? What are your favorite museums and works of art?