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Enchanted place

March 20, 2008

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Groninger Museum,  Photo Rende Zoutewelle

One of my rants is about getting art out of the museums and back into people’s lives. I have been anti-museum in the sense of having art locked away somewhere. Usually you have to pay to see it and for many people there is a high threshold to cross. 

I’ve had to reconsider.

Yesterday I took myself out for a treat to see the Russian Fairy Tales exhibit in our wonderful Groningen Museum.

I came in off the street and after the rituals of paying, checking my coat and rucksack, I entered an enchanted world.
The museum gets tens of thousands of visitors. But at 10 AM on a Wednesday morning, it was still quiet, though I could hear distant shouts and chaos of a class of school children in another part of the museum.

Delightfully, and unexpectedly, one of the first rooms held the paintings of a favorite artist of R’s and mine, Nicholas Roerich. We even made a pilgrimage while in India to visit his surviving brother. But that is another story.

The hyper-modern Groninger museum paints the exhibition rooms for every show. It is not at all noticable unless you
well, notice! But the paintings are beautifully complemented by dark green, tomato, or deep lavender walls; and it is magical moving from one colored space into the next. .  

What I loved about being there was having time to appreciate the beauty and artistic skill of the work, and to sense an entire craft and cultural tradition stretching back in time.  One painting I am thinking about was by Victor Vasnetsov, Tsarevich Ivan riding the Grey Wolf, 1889, Oil on canvas, 249 x 187 cm. It shows two young people riding a huge wolf through the woods. At the top of the picture a pearly light filters through the trees, the detail is lush.  It was delightful to almost physically absorb the colours and the whole sensibility that created this one charged piece of canvas. I felt privileged. And was grateful that there were museuem curators travelling the world’s art treasures and bringing them to people who might never have the chance to see them in their native habitat. 

I spent a solid hour with the paintings and illustrations and Russian calligraphy. I stopped for a cappucino in the museum café looking out over the water, feeling a little spring sun on my face. The museum is built IN a main canal opposite the railway station here.  As you see in the photo, the bottom floors are actually below water level.

I was reluctant to leave, I felt that I’d left the outside world behind and had been lifted out of time. Some museums succeed in creating  an enchanted atmosphere or sacred space, and I hadn’t fully appreciated this before.

And then there were the Chinese Bronzes on the upper levels. See next post.

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8 Responses to “Enchanted place”


  1. Oh, wow. How I wish I could go see that exhibit. I’m a little short of breath thinking about it. Thank you for letting me visit it vicariously through you.

  2. szoutewelle Says:

    maybe it will come to a museum near you, who knows?
    Anyway, thanks for coming along in spirit!

  3. Annemarie & Emma Says:

    Toevallig gaan wij met oma a.s. zaterdag ook naar deze expositie!

  4. edtajchman Says:

    I can definitely see your point about not liking art being locked away somewhere. Here in Kansas City we have the wonderful Nelson Atkins Museum (huge collection, huge stone building with Roman architecture,) and until they recently opened up a whole new building, they had 2/3 of their collection behind closed doors. As much as I dislike the elitist attitude of some museums and artists, it’s worth it to me though to have beautiful art to look at. I’m jealous I would love to go to the Groninger, great photo.

  5. szoutewelle Says:

    thanks ed, I agree with you that it is worth all the fuss and elitism of museums to have good art to look at.
    The Groninger museum is special. Luckily I am not following that cliché of never getting around to going just because it is nearby.
    Sometime soon I am going to Zwolle- about an hour and a half’s train journey from here(I forget the museum’s name) to see the work of one of my favorite contemporary artist’s, the actor, Jeroen Krabbé.
    Yes, the actor.

  6. madsilence Says:

    Interestingly, the late 19th century boom in building Amercian art museums was fueled by the desire of many philanthropists to bring art to the public, to educate and edify the immigrant masses. And while it’s true that most museums have the majority of their collections locked up in storage, the majority isn’t great art, just bits and pieces. As for elitism, that seems to be the dominant theme of the contemporary artworld.

    Can we schedule a field trip to the Groninger?

    MadSilence

  7. szoutewelle Says:

    thanks for these thoughts, MadSilence.

    A field trip to the Groninger? Well worth the effort. You would be welcome here. 🙂


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