Saturday, June 5, 2010

Raphael treated well by the Milwaukee Art Museum

Raphael’s reputed masterpiece, “La Donna Velata”, has been ensconced in somber blue silence since March 27. Alone—try to ignore her full-time guard—in a gallery of her own, she awaits your visit, like the mistress she is said to have been. But if you don’t go by tomorrow you will miss her, as that is her last day in Milwaukee.

How does a museum stage a one-painting show, you might ask? It can be done in different ways. This isn’t the first one I’ve seen. In fact, although I was only 11 when I saw her at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY in 1963, I vividly recall the Mona Lisa. To be more accurate, I recall the scene: the framed painting hung between two guards flanked by red velvet curtains. On a school trip in from the suburbs, I and my classmates stood in a long line before finally confronting that scene one at a time. It all proved her celebrity. I’ve seen her reproduced so often since (and the actual painting again) that I can’t honestly recall whether the actual portrait made an impression on me.

By contrast, when I visited La Donna Velata a couple weeks ago, it was just me and the guard. How intimate! How wonderful. I love the way the Milwaukee Museum handled the installation. Her vestibule—or shall we call it a antechamber? …the outer exhibit room provided the art and cultural back-story that enables the casual viewer to put this one painting in context. Not everyone agrees, but I believe that this is one of the obligations of a museum—to educate its audience—and it was done well. One enters the inner sanctum well prepared to meet the lady—and see the artistic accomplishment.

I’ve never forgotten my encounter with the Mona Lisa, but I might as well have been seeing a photograph of Marilyn Monroe for all she meant to me. (I might have enjoyed the Monroe more at the time!) She was a celebrity and she had never come to New York and so we all had to see her.

The Milwaukee Art Museum tried to make the most of Raphael’s celebrity. I submit the rather surreal detail of La Donna Velata’s face (below) that graces the drive-through entrance as evidence. Why not? That’s what attracts a crowd today, as in 1963. But I’m so glad I didn’t have to wait in line. Overjoyed at the intimacy of the installation. One painting can make for a very powerful exhibit, one way or another. As an eleven-year-old I would not have appreciated the Zen character of this quiet presentation. I’m quite satisfied with it now. It suits.

1 comment:

  1. I had the same intimate experience, just the guard, myself & La Donna Valeta. You described it so well....