Sunday, 22 June 2014

A Day at The Thyssen and How a Book Taught Me to Appreciate Art

One Saturday

                               One sunny Saturday in Madrid

One Saturday morning at 10 AM when I should be sleeping, luxuriating in the fleeting hours of the weekend, I found myself at the  front steps of  a museum in Madrid.

A part of me wants to laugh and  shout, What the hell?   See, I was never the artsy-fartsy type.  Unlike some friends who profess (or pretend to have) a love for art and museums, I was never  too dazzled by museums.  In my world,  the best art is the kind that you can put in your mouth.

But there I was, at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum at 10 AM.  I paid 10€ for the entrance.  And yes, if all I wanted was to spend a day in a museum I should have gone to the grander, more awesome Museo Nacional del Prado on a Sunday afternoon for free.   Ah, but I was on a small mission, I was not really out to see any art,  no matter how beautiful they are,  I was out to look for  a particular kind, and in Madrid, only The Thyssen has them.

The Art Forger

When I began reading the fiction novel, The Art Forger,  I thought, oh wow,  this must have a story line similar to an episode from White Collar which I love, because of, ermmm, Matt Bomer.  It turns out that the book is a bit better than what I expected it to be.

Not to spew out the whole plot, but The Art Forger takes off from the Gardner Museum Heist. Which is a true and still unsolved case that´s tagged as the largest art heist in America´s history.  In 1990, two men pretending to be police officers robbed the private museum of two Rembrandts, a Vermeer, five Degas paintings, and a Manet.  All together, the stolen paintings are estimated to cost $500 million.  Until this day, not one of the stolen paintings have surfaced and the crime is still unsolved.

In the novel though, an Edgar Degas painting from the heist, After The Bath 6, has surfaced ( This painting does not really exist, Degas did not paint After The Bath 6).   A down and out yet truly exceptional artist is approached by a rich museum owner to make a reproduction of the painting before the original is returned to the Gardner.    Their game plan is to sell the reproduction as the original to an art collector and return the original Degas to the museum.  Of course things always get out of hand, and that´s where the excitement in the novel comes from.

But it was not the main storyline that captured my imagination.  It is the crisp description of Degas´s paintings and the little bits and pieces of Degas´s life  scattered throughout the novel.  It got me interested.  What´s so special about Degas’s painting, why are they universally liked?

Thanks to the internet, I googled Degas´s works and wow!
Look at those vibrant colors and the beautiful images!  Now I understood why Degas´s paintings are sooo loved.

The Need To See
 The thing with me is that, although I have a really short attention span, once I am hooked,  I get really obsessed.  So last week, on my free time I read up on Degas´s life, his works.  I was itching to see a real Degas, pronto!  Just my lucky break  that I currently live in Madrid, where there are three great museums, The Prado, The Reina Sofia and The Thyssen.  Of the three, only The Thyssen has  Degas´s works in their permanent collection, so I reserved a  ticket  for a Saturday morning viewing.

The Thyssen

The Thyssen is the smallest of the three famous museums in Madrid.  It houses the private art collection of the Thyssen-Bornemisza family.   What I like about the Thyssen is that unlike  the big museums (like the Prado)  it is small enough that you can walk leisurely through all of its exhibits in a day.  So unlike at the Prado (or at the Louvre), you will not be stressed out thinking you have missed out on one of the “must-sees”.

The weekend I was there,  there was a POP exhibit showcasing the pop art of Andy Warhol and his contemporaries.  Andy Warhol is of course famous for these:
To be honest,  though Pop Art is pretty, cool to the eyes and are approachable,  I don´t really get why something like these could fetch millions of dollars. But that´s just me, a no-name art charlatan who doesn´t know art from  pretentious doodles ^^.

The permanent collection of The Thyssen is housed in a three story wing.  If you are into name-dropping of painters well, kudos to you,  you´ll find all the famous painters here;  Caravaggio, Van Meer, Rubens, Dali, El Greco, Cezanne, Manet, Monet, Dali  and a lot of Van Goghs and Picassos.  If only to check which kind of paintings speaks to you, going through  three floors of paintings is a good exercise.  I realized I  can´t really appreciate the dark brooding paintings of Caravaggio and El Greco, nor  the portraits by the famous Holbein and Rubens.  And I am so sorry but Picasso´s cubist style is so lost on my dimwitted art brain.

It is the rainbow of colors that makes me happy even if the subjects are sad.  Like Edward Hopper´s Hotel Room:

 The colors are so pretty even though the painting´s mood itself is mournfully sad.

Ah But The Degas 

There are only five Degas works at The Thyssen and they are not exhibited on the same area so the first two hours,  I circled the whole museum first checking all the paintings and I then came back to the Degas paintings I loved best.

How pretty are the Degas paintings? Effing amazing!  To quote  a fellow museum visitor´s remark as he viewed Degas´s  Green Ballerinas, “Those are  incredible colors. Wow!”

                                           My two favourite Degas from The Thyssen

Degas is a master of colour and a master of the human form. I now have a favorite painter, ah Edgar Degas, you´re the man!

 My Degas souvenirs.  That´s a colouring book of Degas paintings at the bottom pic.  I plan to give it to my niece for Christmas.  Maybe she´ll hate me for this gift haha! But in the following years, when she´s grown and discover who Degas is, maybe she´ll smile and think, "Ah when I was a kid I had a colouring book of Degas´s paintings! I am familiar with his work!"  Haha, an aunt can dream, no?

Not Bad At All
I spent five hours at the Thyssen Museum, on my own accord.  Imagine that.  It´s totally unthinkable under normal circumstances. Kudos to  The Thyssen  though as it has a lot of viewing chairs scattered around the exhibition rooms so one can really take her time, sit for as long as she wants and enjoy the atmosphere and the paintings.    So yes,  maybe I will try visiting other museums now, but as I realized,  the way for me to enjoy museums is to connect them with something I am interested in.  Not just to “appreciate” art or just so I can brag that hey I´ve visited the blah-blah-blah Museum.  I am really enamoured with Degas´s paintings at the moment and would love to view his After The Bath series,  but as per google, his paintings are scattered all over the world.  But hey, at least now,  Ithere´s something for me to check out when I am travelling.  Checking out a Degas one at a time is fun enough for ordinary folks like me. 

So this is how I finally appreciated something remotely associated with art.  Thanks to my first love, reading.   Because, I realise now,  for me to enjoy things,  everything must have some personal connection.  I cannot really enjoy things just for the sake of having experienced them.  I need a connection, no matter how tenuous.  I cannot like something by just the prospect of bragging rights alone.  And hey, I think that´s a good thing!

P.S:  Tips on Going To A Museum
Go early and buy your tickets online to beat the crowds.   Most museums  now have Apps available, you can download them and study the layout of the museum to know where you want to focus on. The Thyssen isn´t that big and in half a day you can leisurely go through all of its offerings, but for bigger museums you have to have a sort of game plan to get the most out of your visit.

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