Friday, July 11, 2014

Six Millennium of Butter and other things at the Legion of Honor

Mound of Butter, Antoine Vollon

This week it was time to venture out to the Legion of Honor.  It was a nice, quiet afternoon and even the ever-so-hyped-up special show was busy but not unbearably crowded.  That show, Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art, is a nice, thorough collection of Impressionist treasures from the Smithsonian. I recognized some from prior visits to Washington (see above).  I do love butter, and with Antoine Vollon’s Mound of Butter, what’s not to love? 

I attended the exhibit with a friend who is a member, so we did not need to pay admission.  Another friend pointed out a real issue with this show – as usual, the museum is demanding an extra charge to see a special exhibit.  Museums seem to do this now on a regular basis with their “blockbuster” shows.   They sometimes charge extra even when they show art they own – art from their own collections.  Well in this case, the Legion of Honor is charging the public extra to see art that we own.  The collection of the National Gallery of Art belongs to you, me and every other American.  Admission is free at the Smithsonian because the contents belong to the American people.  Taxpayer dollars and private fundraising keep it that way.  I’ve noticed the price of butter has gone up at every supermarket, but what is happening out in Lincoln Park is simply wrong.

Butter remains a theme at the Legion of Honor (keep reading).  As is often the case, there is a less promoted yet wonderful show hidden upstairs – Masters of Fire: The Copper Age in the Holy Land.  These ancient treasures are aesthetically pleasing and historically interesting, but what I kept telling myself is that they are all about 6,000 years old.  6,000 years old!  Copper, ceramics, carved stone but even scraps of textiles and a pair of sandals. The age and preservation is astounding and mostly because of an inaccessible cave in an extremely dry part of the world.  And yes, butter.  Well not 6,000 years old butter, but ceramic, Chalcolothic butter churns (you can see a few examples here).

Many of the pieces in Master of Fire look strikingly modern.  Some of the zoomorphic ossuaries reminded me of anime characters, much of the copper and stone work could be placed in a display of contemporary art and fool many viewers.  But for me, the star of the show was this little stone carved ram (see below).  Like a direct ancestor of Henry Moore, it’s artistic perfection achieved thousands of years ago.

The Masters of Fire is the first of its kind show in the United States and will be at the Legion of Honor until January 5, 2015 (and you can see it for the regular admission price without an extra fee).

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