Sometimes things don’t play out the way you imagine. Take, for instance, my life in Europe. Soon after I accepted my expat assignment in Germany, I started to think about how I would live in Europe, I assumed I would go to A LOT of museums. The Louvre was on the top of my list.
A few months later, I landed in Germany, got settled into my apartment and began to plan weekend trips. My first big trip was to Paris in November. I had all intentions to spend a day in the Louvre. But, the weather was lovely, the trees were a thousands shades of orange and yellow. The city itself was a work of art. How could I choose being inside looking at art on canvas when I was walking through a living canvas. The winter weather continued to be mild and thus began my pattern of choosing adventure over art. I began to feel like spending a beautiful day inside admiring art would be a shame.
Months passed in this way and soon I’d been in Europe for 9 months without ever entering a museum! One day I began to realize that my time in Europe would come to an end and I wondered if I would miss visiting museums. I decided that yes, I would look back and regret it if I never made it to the Louvre. So, I decided to go, and it was amazing.
A few months before I entered the hallowed halls of the Louvre, crowded with tourists as they are, I made my first step into a museum in a place I never would have predicted… I hosted a US colleague who is originally from China. When we planned a trip to Trier he expressed strong interest to visit the home of Karl Marx. Fortunately, it was raining, so I decided to spend a few hours in the museum with no reservations. I found it to be extremely educational. In a few short hours I glimpsed the beginnings of his life, progressed through his first writings and ultimately observed the devastating impact of his ideologies being adopted in countries around the world. I left the museum a bit stunned by the power of a single individual to change the trajectory of millions of human lives.
My next stop was at the Picasso museum in Barcelona. I found this place tremendously interesting when I admired Picasso’s earliest works which were traditional and rendered with such skill at the tender age of 13! The museum progressed through his career and demonstrated the sudden shift into Impressionism and ultimately Cubanism. I also made some wonderful discoveries such as his love of pottery and a beautiful painting collection on the theme of a dove cove. A deep part of me was satisfied to know that a renowned artist could, and did, evolve through his career.every gallery held a new surprise. The pieces at the end of his life were decidedly different and disturbing. I walked away in awe at the breadth of his work.
My next museum adventure was during a trip to Prague with my aunt and uncle. A friend recommended that we visit the Mucha museum. I’ll admit that although I’d admired Mucha’s art my entire life I had no idea who had created the beautiful Art Deco paintings of women. One rainy day, we made our way to the Mucha museum, a nice little place that walks you through the life of Mucha. I was enchanted to learn about his ability to balance the creation of art with making a living in advertising. Further, I was moved by his expression of patriotism when he dedicated the last part of his life to creating a series of huge masterpieces that share the story of the Czech people. Overall I liked the size of the museum and the way his life and interests were brought into intimate focus.
After a few successful museum visits, I started to see that it could be time well-spent. I also notice me that a behavioral pattern had begun to emerge. Outside of the Louvre, nearly all my museum visits were to museums dedicated to a single artist: Picasso, Mucha, Rodin. In particular, if it was rainy outside I had discovered that a museum was a fantastic way to pass a few hours and learn about an artist. Further, in the beginning I thought a few hours in a museum was cheaper than popping into boutique shops, until I discovered the ubiquitous museum store! So much for that theory…
Now, I find that when I begin to plan a weekend adventure I like to identify one museum to visit. It definitely helps if the weather is forecasted to be crummy for a few hours. The “museum forecast”: rainy and cold (as I’ve now begun to think about it) was favorable for a trip to Amsterdam last weekend. I asked a friend from the Netherlands for a recommendation on a neighborhood in Amsterdam, booked a hotel in Ouid Pijp and started to plan the weekend.
The Van Gogh was a must do. Depending on the forecast, we also considered a visit to the Rijksmuseum which displays many of the Dutch masters. Van Gogh was incredible, but I found my head was frankly spinning after a few hours. As a counter-balancing contrast, the next day we walked through the Rijksmuseum and admired Vermeer and Rembrandt pieces. I felt transported into the scene as I gazed at “the milk maid”. After a few hours roaming the galleries, I was surprised to find myself calm and refreshed. A totally different feeling than after studying Van Gogh’s work. I pondered what caused this difference in reaction. Perhaps the brain power required to decipher what was happening in the Van Gogh paintings was a bit tiring? Who knows, it was an interesting to experience.
Our final stop was an exhibit I saw advertised as we strolled along a canal at sunrise. The Moco had a Banksy and Dali exhibit on display. How often would I have a chance to see that combination?! Fortunately, my travel buddy, Tilghman, was up for it and we went from admiring Vermeer to political street art and fantastical renderings of a self-diagnosed manic genius. The small museum, housed in a craftsman style house, was full of young people with a few token folks closer to our age roaming the rooms. I found the exhibit to be timely in the midst of the political unrest and protests in America. While I don’t agree with most of Banksy’s political sentiments (especially his opinion of police), I find his images to be startling, stark and fresh. The ability to render an emotion with a stenciled image in one, or, at most, two shades of color is a remarkable gift.
The basement level contained a collection of Dali images that were equal parts inspiring and disturbing. Although the best part of this exhibit was the incredible collection of Dali quotes on the wall. Such a big thinker and bold individual.
Now we return to the question of the day: art or adventure? I would say that in good weather, my inclination is to chose outdoor adventure. Although, if the museum forecast is favorable, I’ve come to realize that a peaceful few hours in a museum can be a refreshing and thoughtful (occasionally a bit exhausting) way to spend a weekend. As I begin to plan my next adventure, I find myself wishing, just a teensy little bit, for a few hours of rain. But, just a few hours ok, because more than that I cannot handle!