31 March 2013

I went to an art museum and a fight almost broke out.......

I know I have been neglecting the blog.  Work is busy; I keep thinking I’ll write about something but want to add photos, and the photos aren’t ready, so I don’t add anything.  I should just write once a week and hope for the best.  In the meantime, I had posted on Facebook that I went to a movie lecture at a local art museum, and a fight almost broke out during the post-film discussion, which caused one of my regular correspondents to ask “So, what was this about a fight almost breaking out?  After all, art museum patrons, especially when we’re talking about Renaissance art, tend to be a more genteel set.

I sent an explanation to him, and he suggested it was sufficiently well-written to post.  I thought it might be a way to reinvigorate the blog, and made a few additions to set the scene a bit more.  Otherwise, this is much as I sent it to him:

The Wadsworth Atheneum recently opened an exhibit about the painter Michaelangelo Caravaggio and his effect on contemporaries and later painters, called “Burst of Light: Caravaggio and His Legacy.”  It’s compelling and I encourage you to go see it.  As always, in conjunction with such exhibits they are offering a number of special lectures and related events, including a showing of the Derek Jarman movie "Caravaggio" with introduction and discussion by Ronald Gregg, Senior Lecturer and Programming Director of Film Studies at Yale University.  The professor is gay and from his resume is clearly into LBGT studies.  But not offensively so, and he spoke very well about Jarman and how he made the movie and some of the facts behind it, such as the very low budget and how Jarman cast the film based upon an existing painting of Caravaggio and the people in Caravaggio’s own paintings for a realistic effect, yet incorporated anomalies such as a typewriter, motorcycle, and pocket calculator.  Then we saw the film, and a lot of people left without waiting for the discussion.

If you have not seen the movie, do not expect a biopic along the lines of “Pollock” or “The Agony and the Ecstasy.”  This film very much reflects Jarman's aesthetic, with much a fabrication because there isn't much known about the painter.  Not a linear telling, it is in many ways as much about Jarman as it is about Caravaggio.  As I described it to my friend, the movie is “very sexual, both homo and hetero, back and forth in time, and clearly the imagery was based upon Caravaggio's paintings, including most of the ones in the current special exhibit in the museum.”

The first person to say anything was a youngish man with dark curly hair who looked as if he could have been one of Caravaggio’s models.  He didn’t wait for the formal discussion to start, but stood up as the professor was walking to the front of the stage.  He was very passionate about how horrible and "disgusting!" he though the movie was, loudly stating that it didn't represent Caravaggio at all, there was too much sex, and Jarman should never win an award, and how dare anybody pay him to make the movie, it was a waste of time and should be investigated!  [Nevermind that Jarman died in the 1990's and made the movie in England, so investigating the NEA or other groups wouldn't do anything.]  He was quite agitated and rushed out in quite a state, not staying for any response, but an older lady stood up and shouted after him that she thought it was a good film and he was very rude, at which the young man paused in the doorway to shout that she was wrong, it was NOT art, it was a waste of time and film and money and a horrible slur on a great artist!

So we were in a bit of an uproar, which didn't settle down when another, older man kept arguing that the depiction of Caravaggio's death was all wrong, at which the professor pointed out that we don't know for sure as even the few facts known about Caravaggio’s life aren’t always clear, and the man argued that we do know, and the professor tried to get back on track with the discussion by suggesting that the man knew more about Caravaggio but the professor was there to talk about Jarman and cinema, and we were off again.

It did calm down a bit as people said they saw the echoes of Caravaggio's work very clearly throughout the film, not just in the reproductions of his paintings.  But it was still more exciting than normal and I think the film curator cut things off earlier than usual.

I never did get to talk about the way Jarman used light in the film, which is one of the things we'd been told to look for and I found very interesting and effective in a number of key scenes.  Oh, well!

I will be going with one of my alumni groups on a guided tour of the exhibit in mid-May, and look forward to seeing the artwork again, having seen the film.  I agree with the person who said that a number of the scenes appear to be staged to echo Caravaggio’s work, especially in the way people would stare into the camera, or were framed against or dressed in or holding objects used in the paintings.  Having heard the professor discuss chiaroscuro, I am looking forward to studying that in Caravaggio’s work, and the paintings of those he influenced.

And I’m going to attend some of the Wadsworth’s other special events for the exhibit, we’ll have to see whether the painter and his work continue to stir such emotions in the audience!