Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | November 6, 2008

When You Get to HotLanta… Say Hey to the High

Few weeks back… went to Atlanta for parents weekend. When number one daughter had to hit the books, we hi-tailed it down to the High Museum of Art. The Museum’s fancy people were having a music exposition out front to celebrate an anniversary of some sort, but we slipped in and managed our expensive way (entry sets you back $18) to see the materials on loan from the Louvre.

My mom was in tow and a bit disoriented by the mixing up of the materials… but I kind of liked the way the curator had approached things and forced you to actually visit parts of the museum and types of art you really didn’t intend to see. Kind of an accidental art tourist thing. So on the way to what I wanted to see… I saw some nifty nostalgic art deco appliances and some waste-of-time-you-call-this-art modern material which was enjoyable for its brevity if nothing else.  FWIW…I think my favorite modern art tends to have a sense of humor.

But the cool part for me… and why I mention it here… was the Byzantine statue of the Theotokos. I kid you not: an ivory statue of the Theotokos. Register that again: “A Byzantine statue of the Theotokos”. No, it was not Roman Catholic… Eastern Catholic, Uniate or whatever. It was Orthodox. And I’m none of the above either – though chrismated Orthodox, nor do I particularly have a thing for the three-D religious art – preferring icons now after getting over my former denom’s inhibitions. It’s just a stunning display of the contrast between what we as converts assume as norms and the actual diversity that’s out there somewhere… a manifestation if you will of the difference between Disneyland and the Real Thing… so of course Atlanta… the home of the Real Thing… is the place to see this.

Also on display are a number of ivory psalter book covers… the sort my Yugoslavian Byzantine iconography prof would have assured us served as the artisan’s source for the transition to the three-dimensional rep stuff. And of interest to me was the ivory bucket used for the asperges at the beginning of the liturgy. Carved from one ivory tusk and about as round, this Ottonian piece includes several Passion scenes and is worth a close look… again to see the Byzantine influence. As the West recovered from six centuries of poverty after the sack of Rome… renewed wealth brought desires to emulate the East… and naturally the dough to do so. If you’re not familiar with this material, it’s a refreshing insight to the consistency of images in the Church before the schism. Worth your time. Yes, you may be saddened to see these objects in a museum and discussed as artifacts rather than used in worship, or to read the museum’s own drivel about “the faithful” as if we were aborigines in some deep dark forgotten part of the world… but at least they aren’t lost to us… (even if we’re lost to the curators!).

Ant then the art from the Louvre… it is of course amazing and worth a visit in itself, pretty much self-explanatory… and you’ll love it. My only complaint was that I didn’t have enough time to take it all in and had to end with one of those skateboard run-throughs they say you have to use at the Louvre itself when you visit Paris. So if you’re nearby and have the time, go and enjoy.


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