Sunday, January 15, 2012

Seattle Museum of Art

After not getting much sleep on the plane to Seattle, I managed to stick it out until midnight before going to sleep, and then woke up this morning feeling almost normal. I worked my way through a bowl of porridge and then went to get my beard trimmed. After that I was at a loss as to what to do next, so I strolled down the street, rain blowing in my face, cursing when I stopped by an awning and got dripped on the top of my head.

Not wanting to walk back to the hotel and sit around all day, and not feeling like spending my day in the shops, I walked round to the Seattle Art Museum. As I approached, I recognised the Hammering Man from Seoul outside. Or rather, I suppose when I went to Seoul and saw the Hammering Man statue there, I was actually looking at a copy of the statue outside the Seattle Art Museum. The one outside the museum has a number painted on one leg, apparently so the artist can track which one is which.

The number is at least 6 digits long, which suggests there's an awful lot of Hammering Men somewhere.

Inside, my sense of deja vu didn't let up, as the lobby has Inopportune, the installation of Ford Tauruses spiralling through the air, hanging from the ceiling. I'd seen this (and lots of other work by Cai Guo, whose name I'd forgotten until I read this entry) when I was in Taipei back in 2009. I began to worry that every piece of art exhibited in the museum was something I'd previously seen in Asia, and it got worse when I saw that the special exhibition on the top floor was a collection of Asian art. Thankfully, that was closed - if it had been the wholesale replication of the Museum of Chicken Art from Seoul, I might have run screaming into the Puget Sound.

The rest of the museum is pretty good. I didn't like some of the American art from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, because however you do it, a sculpture of a man in a cowboy hat on a horse is always going to look like it came out of the SkyMall magazine, and some of the modern work really left me cold, but it's good to expose yourself to art you don't like sometimes, and think about why you don't like it.

What I did like was the Mann und Maus sculpture by Katharina Fritsch, which is in one of the larger halls. At first I thought it was just a rather cute, enormous black mouse, standing on a white plinth. That alone was very striking, but when I got closer, I realised it wasn't just an enormous black mouse. The giant rodent was standing on top of the duvet of a bed with a sleeping man inside it. Initially it looks very funny, as any absurd incongruity does, but when you start to think about the terror you'd feel when you find a six foot tall rodent sitting atop your bed, staring down on you, holding up its forepaws like a begging dog. The more I thought about it, the more clever it was.

Or perhaps Katharina Fritsch just thought "wouldn't it be cool to build an enormous black mouse"? There's some sort of structualist interpretation of art that suggests Fritsch's motives are meaningless compared to the interpretation that the viewer of the art places upon it but I don't have the ability to describe that. And I think that people should be able to construct enormous effigies of tiny animals if they want to.

After the mouse, it was hard for me to remember anything else of the museum. There are some enormous yams there, and a few bits of Renaissance art that I don't think much of (after the National Gallery in London, I want to see enormous Carravaggios filling an entire room, not just a few paintings), but it was a pleasant way to spend the morning.

The shop in the basement is ok; quite a lot of it isn't anything to do with the museum in particular, but is just 'art' - which seems common to American museums (the Cloisters is similar) - and Fritsch won't permit the museum to sell postcards of the enormous mouse, which is her perogative and would otherwise lead to me mailing everyone I knew a picture of an enormous mouse, which wouldn't convey its majesty as much as seeing it in the (acrylic) flesh.

I had a light lunch in the museum restaurant, and on the advice of the server, walked up the hill to the Library, which is a lovely although rather brutal building, all sharp lines like a huge crystal. I'd been told there were good views from the top, but because the whole roof is a metal lattice, it's not quite the unobstructed view I was expecting. I went down to the sixth floor and read a few chapters of The Pleasure Bond by Masters and Johnson, which included (to me) the strange revelation that a bloke who worked in HR decided to have sex with his sister the night before he got married. I suppose it ups the ante, compared to having sex with the bride's sister the night before you get married. Masters and Johnson seem to suggest it might be more common than I expected (incest, that is, rather than as a pre-marriage ceremony) but then it was the Seventies.

Maybe I could have flung the book down and yelled out 'disgusting perverts!' because half of Seattle seemed to be visiting for a shouting competition in the hallway by the lift - a man with a face like a moonface calf was talking loudly and inanely about all the jewellery he had. Titanium is the next best metal to silver, apparently. Why can't people who are saying nothing do so more quietly? I can't get too angry because there's worse things in the world than somebody talking loudly in a library, but I was surprised that they were doing so - maybe I should have got up and said something.

Given my talent for diplomacy, I might have just got kicked out of the US.


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