Day at the Museum
January 19, 2023 | Jim Angehr
I’m far from being a perfect parent, but here’s a win from last weekend. On Saturday morning, Micah, my 17 year old son, asked, “Dad, can we go to the museum today?” The angels were singing.
Coaxing my four children over time toward a pro-museum posture has been a long time coming. It wasn’t always this way! Way back in 2015, for example, I brought my two boys, then in fifth and third grade, to Italy for a three-stop adventure in Rome, Florence, and Venice. The most difficult aspect of that trip was the time spent in museums, and especially art museums. I hadn’t believed there was a way to render Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” at the Uffizi Gallery in Rome anything less than fully beautiful, but the persistent, baleful mewling of my tykes was up to the task.
Fast forward to today, and I’ve jaunted over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art numerous times with various combinations of the Angehr brood—at their request. (I credit such a fondness for art both to their mother and her photography, a wonderful local art program at the SoHa Arts building nearby, and a cracking AP Art History class taught at Collingswood High School.)
I’ve been a member at the Philly art museum for years, and I get my money’s worth out of having joined: an annual membership there costs $75, while a single visit for an adult runs $25. Visit the museum three times a year, and the membership pays for itself! I probably make it over a couple times per month, and I guess I’m familiar enough to staff that I’ll receive an occasional fist bump from docents and guards.
New York, you can keep your Met, your MoMA, your Frick, your Whitney, and your Guggenheim, with your huddled masses and sweaty throngs of tourists who can’t wait to hit the early bird specials around the Disney Store on Times Square and are annoyed that there aren't as many T.G.I. Friday’s around as there used to be; but how many Rocky statues reside in those NYC joints? Truth, justice, and the American way: 1. The Big Apple: 0.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of my favorite places on earth.
I love both the new pieces and the old pieces at the Museum of Art. Not old or new as in “painted long ago or recently” but namely the works that have been exhibited for a long time versus are only lately set on display. We have our share of warhorses, but for every Monet looking gazing out water or Van Gogh doing sunflowers, so many of these paintings have become old friends. They don’t change over time, but I do. Whenever I return to Henry Ossawa Tanner’s “Annunciation” or Mary Cassatt’s “On the Balcony,” I’m reuniting with old friends and catch them up on how I’ve been doing. Likewise, the curators do wonderfully by rotating in fresh pieces to various galleries. I enjoy how these new-to-the-room paintings converse with the old timers.
For as much as I admire photographs (please see above that my wife is a photographer), I think I love painting all the more. They allow an artist unlimited possibilities for interpretive whimsy, and in some strange way, even the more abstract works (if well executed) manage to cut to the bone and marrow of what’s real. Fernand Lèger’s “The City” doesn’t appear as a snapshot of any metropolis you’ve ever seen, but it’s what a city truly looks like. Duchamp’s “Nude Descending Staircase (No. 2)” is more beguiling animated than any pictorial equivalent.
Sometimes I’ll go to the museum and simply sit for a while with a book. Excellent novels read in beautiful spaces is high living for me. Although for most of those moments my eyes are on the page, my ears are enjoying the museum. Nowhere else can you hear the same hushed-but-humming thrum. Lowered voices in these cavernous space create a specific and pacifying murmur that relaxes me whenever I visit. Everyone has a susurrus sweet spot, amiright?
It’s probably not a good idea for a person to pursue what it might feel like to be God. Nevertheless, I wonder if whether the minutes and hours I’m able to steal at the Philadelphia Museum bring me as close as I’ll ever come to experiencing what the Lord must have registered on that seventh day when he rested and beheld his creation: all of this stuff is very good.