It’s a sunny fall day and those immense glass doors of the Kemper Art Museum swing open at a relaxed pace. The initial introduction to the WashU’s own art museum takes place with a large metallic ball hanging from the ceiling. It mirrors quietly the bustle of the gallery, visitors from as close as a class in Steinberg (across the patio outdoors) to visitors who come from all around the city of St. Louis. Traveling to see the University’s private collection of artwork that indulges the tastes of any art fanatic.
I’ve visited this gallery before, in class groups and waiting for classes to start. The permanent collection is housed up a staircase kitty-corner to the front desk. Here, a viewer can begin a long journey through time, starting with Cole and finishing with Wesselmann. I have toured through this portion of the gallery about as many times as… as I have “Think Art Today” stickers on my laptop and scattered in the pages of my sketchbook.
The tours always start with Cole. Taking those who have not been through the splendor that is Wash U’s art history department on a journey of the work. A visual analysis to begin. What colors are used? What objects are there? What stands out and why? Into the interpretation. Well anyone who knows Thomas Cole knows he lived during the time of the industrial revolution, his emphasis on the decay of humanity and flourishing on flora and fauna clearly indicate a preference away from the industry of man. Or something of that nature.
In that same gallery sits a Matisse, a Rauschenberg, and a piece by Yoshihara, all of which prove the superior experience of seeing their works in person vs. on a screen. On a screen, a viewer may not distinguish that Yoshihara’s white stripes on the canvas is, in fact, the canvas and not paint. In the teaching gallery at the moment, they have feminist works, Lichtenstein and, a personal favorite of mine, Kara Walker. At the Kemper, a viewer can experience how impressive the tiny delicate intricacies of Walker’s eerie cutouts are in their miniature size.
After a routine visit with the permanent collection, I go downstairs to the exhibitions. In these galleries, I have seen the walls filled from floor to ceiling with paintings. I have seen Spectacle and Leisure: prints from the days of the Folies Bergere. I have seen the work of Rosalyn Drexler and this semester I was treated to the Renaissance in Rome. In addition to this being my favorite art history class so far, it is also an amazing exhibition. In this exhibition, viewers are transported in time back to the dramas of Rome, the commodity of antiquity, and the growing superiority of artistic renditions. In between regular campus academic classes students can take a walking tour of Rome and view prints that were so vivid that viewers in ancient Rome complained that the real thing did not match up.
All too soon it’s 5pm and the gallery is closing for the evening. I walk back to my dorm, musing that all roads do lead to Rome.