Friday, July 28, 2017

Three Museums

28 July 2017

            In the few days I’ve visited three museums. Transatlantic groans of recognition may be heard from my children, who recall being dragged on these excursions. Subscribers to the Swiss Museum Pass, like myself, can see them for free; a bargain to be sure.

            Museums reveal the values, past and present, of the segment of society that funds them. The three: Latenium, the museum of the archeology of the Neuchatel region, which includes the famous site of La Tene; the art museum of the suburb of Pully and the Musee de l’Art Brut, Jean DeBuffet’s magnificent collection of outsider art in Lausanne.

            All three are beautifully presented. The Latenium was purpose built along the lakeshore and in a park which displays reconstructed pre-historic dwellings. I find myself fascinated by the interplay between the Celtic inhabitants of the region and the conquering Romans. Once the Roman Empire retreated, that creolized culture seems the source for some of the artistry of the Middle Ages.

Diorama of Celts Working for Romans

Celtic Metalwork

            The Pully Museum is housed in a renovated townhouse on a cobbled street between the town center and the lake where I swim. Once rural, Pully is a wealthy enclave of Lausanne. My fellow visitors resembled me and my swim companions: well preserved ladies of a certain age. The Museum has a permanent collection of paintings of the Lac Leman waterscape.

            The special exhibition is what drew me to the Museum.  In 1990, the National Gallery in Washington, DC exhibited Matisse in Morocco, the color rich paintings and sketches which resulted from his visit there in 1912 and 1913. Matisse was one of many who found, as Michael Kimmelman wrote at the time, “Europe was orderly and predictable. Morocco meant extravagance.”  I treasure the catalogue of that exhibit for Matisse’s palette and shapes, but it wasn’t until we stayed in a house on St. Barts that was a virtual display case for French Orientalism, that everyday orientalism made itself clear.

            The Pully Museum was exhibiting a survey of the paintings of Edouard Morerod. A native son, born in 1879, Morerod travelled Europe and North Africa before WWI, pre-dating Matisse in Morocco. People of color are his chosen subjects for his paintings:  Algerians, gypsies and flamenco dancers. He gives them a monumentality through their costumes, voluminous white, or stringent color, which contrasts with subtle facial portraits.

Morerod Self-Portait

The third Museum has a world-wide reputation. Its instigator was the painter and sculptor Jean DuBuffet. He studied and collected Art Brut, created by individuals in various sorts of asylums and prisons, at first in Europe, and then world-wide. The vast collection inspired and terrified me. In it you meet and see the work of individuals who created their work obsessively.

            I wonder, is madness the price of non-stop creativity? 

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