This weekend a friend and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts, where we viewed the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit which is ending next month, as well as a visiting Van Gogh which is similarly poised to gogh. Both of these exhibits were a bit disappointing, failing to meet my expectations. The Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit was in a hallway, so it was difficult to get and stay into the mood of Parisian cafes and cabarets with other Museum patrons constantly moving to and fro. The mood could have been “Parisian sidewalk cafe,” I suppose, if there had been tables at which we could have sat and contemplated the art over coffee and croissants. Instead, it felt like trying to look at art at a shopping mall, with passersby bumping into browsers at every step.
The visiting Van Gogh had lovely accommodations, hung at the head of the museum’s Impressionist gallery, which has remained untouched by the Museum’s ongoing renovations. A low barrier indicated that this particular Van Gogh was Special, different from the other Van Goghs and Monets that typically hang in this room: don’t get too close! But the painting itself was a disappointment: so very small, with its eponymous sower dominating one half of the canvas while an ominously dark tree towered over the other half. The sower, in a word, was too large and the landscape around him too small. I’m biased, of course: my proclivities run toward landscapes, not portraits, and my favorite Van Goghs are his wheat fields, where human figures factor only insignificantly, if at all.
The highlight of our brief visit was purely accidental: the sight of several works from the permanent collection wrapped in cellophane to protect them from dust and damage during renovation. Last year, one wing of pottery was swaddled against jack-hammer vibrations, with squat works circled with tubular sandbags while taller pieces were carefully laid down on cushions (or removed to storage) lest they topple and break. This weekend, the hanging figures of Jonathan Borofsky’s I Dreamed I Could Fly, which I’ve photographed often, were wrapped in cellophane and tape, still suspended from a sky-lit ceiling, and another sculpture was thickly wrapped in opaque layers of plastic. The Calder mobile by the stairwell was gone rather than wrapped, and the mirrored glass case containing Josiah McElheny’s Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism (another work I’ve often photographed) was boxed in cardboard and securely taped: a “Do Not Open ’til Renovation Is Over” present.
Although I went to the MFA this weekend specifically to see two temporary exhibits, it was this disguised portion of the permanent collection which surprised and tickled my fancy: a jolt to my aesthetic expectations. All it takes, apparently, is a new outfit to remind me of the fact that everything old can be instantly new again.