Free Night at Portland Art Museum

Like this blog, I had been avoiding the Portland Art Museum since our return from Europe.  Perhaps I had art museum fatigue.  And summer was coming.  And the current exhibits weren’t very interesting.  And also, it costs 12 bucks to get in.  So, being the cheapskates, ahem, “conscious consumers” we are, we got the scoops on the free night each month (currently the 4th Friday)… and promptly forgot about it for months.  I know, terrible.

Modern Art

Photo by CafeMama

I recently happened upon an article about photographer Catherine Opie having an exhibit at the art museum, and we only had one free night left to see it.  Oh, it was on like Donkey Kong.

Parking sucks anywhere downtown, so we usually just leave the car home and walk or take the streetcar.  The streetcar has an Art Museum stop, so duh.  Awesomeness.  And free.  Awesomer-ness.

The museum is free from 5pm to 8pm, and they make checking in pretty painless.  Hand stamp, free bag/coat check, and off you go.  I didn’t learn until later that you could rent an iPod Touch to enhance your museum experience, or download their (of course) iPhone/iPod Touch app to do the same.  Sweet.

The museum is divided into two buildings– one side for the contemporary art and the other for everything else– connected by a cool underground tunnel (ok, ok, so I happen to think tunnels are inherently cool; am I alone here, people??).  The exhibit we wanted to see was on the contemporary side, and since we tend to take forever when touring anything with placards… well, we decided to concentrate Friday evening’s explorations on just that one side of the museum.

Because it was Free Night, it was crowded.  Singles, couples, families, cliques, guide dogs– everyone having a night on the town, getting their culture on.

Since the Opie exhibit was on the top floor, we thought we’d be smart and take the elevator up and work our way down.  Yeah.  Didn’t count on that elevator being really, really slow.  Or the crowds of equally capable folks stepping smartly up the steps.  Or that dude rollin’ up in his wheelchair, separated from his friends stepping smartly up the steps because of his wheelchair.  I love gentle reminders.

The climb to the top took less than five minutes.

Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie

So after all that, the exhibit, while interesting, was very… abbreviated.  Opie is a great photographer; I would have loved to have seen more of her work.

Like any museum, the rest of the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art was a hodgepodge of love-it-or-hate-it pieces.  There was the usual collection of splash-paint-on-canvas crud mixed in with solid blocks of color with highfalutin’ names.  Lots of diamonds in the rough, though, which always make a museum visit worth it.

If you happened to follow our European tour of world-class museums, you may have been interested in seeing the great works yourself.  Now, you don’t need a plane ticket or even museum admission to see the good stuff.  Enter Google Art Project.  For those familiar with Google Street View, you can now tour a long list of awesome museums from the comfort of your own browser.  From Florence’s Uffizzi to New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), there’s plenty to see and admire… without the stern security staff.

Museum Madness Part 3 – Versailles and Quai Branly

In the final entry in our three part series entitled Museum Madness, we explore the Palace of Versailles (sort of) as well as the culturally diverse museum Quai Branly.

I’d heard of Rick Steves’ free mp3 tours awhile back but completely forgot about them until right before Paris.  I was stoked to find that two of the iPhone apps, Paris Historical Walk and the Versailles Tour, were available as free downloads from Rick’s website.  Too cool.

According to Rick, if we only saw one palace in all of Europe, it should be Versailles, so we set off for the Palace of Versailles with our free tour and Paris Museum Passes.  We had to do some creative trip planning on the way there since our Metro passes did not cover the whole train ride, but no biggie– it was all a part of the adventure.  As we made our final approach by foot to the palace, we were impressed even from afar.  I could imagine being a peasant or country noble, awed by such a sight…

On Final Approach to the Palace

On Final Approach to the Palace

At the Palace Gates

At the Palace Gates

After getting through security and picking up an oh-so-helpful map (hear the sarcasm, people), we started our free audio tour.  The descriptions were very helpful in putting context into all of the rooms as none of the plaques or signs had any translations, despite the fact that most tourists were non-French speakers.  Of course, this is probably just to force you to rent the 7€  (10 on the weekends) audio guides.  With the exception of the British Museum, we have found that most are not worth the expense.  And yet, I digress–

Royal Chapel Entrance

Royal Chapel Entrance

The Versailles is indeed a very impressive complex.  Initially occupied with such opulence by King Louis XIV, the self-proclaimed “Sun King”, Versailles was part ego-maniacal, part nobility control.  Mistreated as a youth, Louis XIV was a shrewd politician and leader, forcing all his nobles to hold court at Versailles so as to distract them, allowing him to run the country as he wished.  The palace stayed in the family for only three more generations before being ransacked during the French Revolution.  The art went to the Louvre; the furnishings went to auction.

Stunning ceiling art... even better than the Sistine Chapel methinks

Stunning ceiling art... even better than the Sistine Chapel methinks

And herein lies the rub.  The palace is grand and impressive and mocked up well enough, but I thought it lacked character without the long-gone furnishings.  I found that I had seen better in other cities (the Hapburgs’ palace in Vienna comes to mind) for less.  Knowing what I know now, I would have been a little upset if it hadn’t been covered by the museum pass and I’d paid the full entrance fee (15€ at the moment).  There really wasn’t much to explore inside, and while we’ve heard the gardens (free to the public) are some of the most beautiful, the fall/winter doesn’t see much (blooming) there and most of the statues are covered up for the season.  Add to that the 30-45 minute ride from city center one way, and it kind of doesn’t add up.  Charity and I agreed that perhaps at 10€, maybe, but 15 seems kind of steep.

Part of the gardens which inspired The Mall in Washington, DC

Part of the gardens which inspired The Mall in Washington, DC

So we ditched Versailles only halfway through the garden part of Rick’s tour.  We wanted to hurry back to the city to squeeze in just one more museum on the pass.

We’d learned of the Quai Branly museum from its temporary exhibit at the Louvre.  The Quai Branly covers in depth a lot of the art missing from the Louvre:  Africa, Oceania, the Americas, and Asia.  We arrived just under two hours before closing, and right away, we knew the museum would interesting.  First, the building was very different from all the other museums we’d visited in Paris, built in a modern style that reminded me strongly of modern Pacific Northwest architecture– glass and natural light meeting wood and metal elements, creating a functional space.

Outside the Quai Branly with a famous landmark showing off behind

Outside the Quai Branly with a famous landmark showing off behind

The museum was also one of the best organized we’d ever visited with nearly everything displayed in glass cases in the middle of the floor, allowing you a 360 degree view of the artifacts.  Stuff that was in “storage” was in a couple of huge glass… towers?… neatly organized by serial numbers and allowing visitors to get a hint of what was not currently exhibited.  There were clever bench alcoves everywhere, some of which were equipped with interactive displays exploring some aspect of a native culture, art, or history.  Some were even in English.

Ho, Hawaiian!

Ho, Hawaiian!

As you walked through the different sections, your attention would occasionally be drawn to audio from a village in Africa or the South Pacific.  Most pieces did not have English descriptions, so we kind of cruised through and tried to figure out non-obvious objects.  We were lucky enough to catch a temporary exhibit of Iranian photographs– thought provoking and fuel for my Iran curiosity.

The Quai Branly was definitely one of my favorite museums thus far.  I would recommend stopping in even for a quick visit if you’re into art/native artifacts from outside of Europe, especially if it’s still covered by the Paris Museum Pass.

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Museum Madness Part 2 – A&M, l’Orangerie, Pompidou

Side note:  just testing a new layout/theme for the website.  Let us know what you think either way– we’ll probably be experimenting for a while.

On the advice of a friend, we sought out the Musee des Arts & Metiers and Pascal’s Arithmetic machine.  Luckily, the museum was covered by the Paris Museum Pass, and wouldn’t you know it, the place had its own Metro stop.  Sweet!  The A&M covers all manners of science and inventions– vehicles, communications, machines (think: gears), computers, and mad scientist laboratories. This one was definitely a nice break from the usual works of art.  Minus the attitude on the way in, we had a nice time cruising through the various exhibits and especially liked the Chapel and Foucault’s pendulum.

Flying Contraption

Flying Contraption

Charity on the 1s and 2s, super retro stylie

Charity on the 1s and 2s, super retro stylie

My favorite Metro stop-- too cool

My favorite Metro stop-- too cool

Next up, we visited the Musee national de l’Orangerie.  The l’Orangerie is yet another museum housing works of the Impressionists, most notably wall-length murals (yes, plural) of Monet’s Water lilies.  OK, so just a bit of commentary on Monet’s obsession— err… “work”… with those water lilies.  Essentially, the guy built his house then created a huge water lily garden out back complete with Japanese bridge.  Then, he proceeded to paint the same freakin’ garden hundreds of times.  W…t…h…??  Once or twice, sure, that would be awesome and creative.  But seriously, hundreds of times??  What makes him less insane than, say, Van Gogh?  Yes, the latter ended up in the mental hospital, but at least he seemed to paint different stuff and didn’t get famous for painting the same thing over and over again.  I know some people are really into Monet, but I really don’t get it.  Aaaaah… art.

Anyway, the museum also had tons of works from other artists which really impressed us.  We were especially surprised to discover some of the Picasso’s pre-Cubist work downstairs.  This one was especially interesting to us, from his “blue period” (the color palette explains that well)…

The Embrace, Picasso

The Embrace, Picasso

The Centre Pompidou:  modern art.  Before coming to Europe, no other phrase sent me running for the hills faster than “modern art”.  Difficult to understand, usually just plain weird, I’m not usually a fan of the stuff, but as Rick Steves mentioned (paraphrasing here), after seeing so much religious art, going to a place where somebody smashed a piano and glued the pieces to the wall can be refreshing.  And it really was.  I didn’t get a lot of it, but there were a lot of thought-provoking pieces as well as a few bittersweet ones.

Posing on her special day on the giant calendar outside the Pompidou

Posing on her special day on the giant calendar outside the Pompidou

Pro-Women Artist -- duh

Pro-Women Artist -- duh

One more museum post to go– later!

Museum Madness Part 1 – Louvre and Orsay

Side note:  just testing a new layout/theme for the website.  Let us know what you think either way– we’ll probably be experimenting for a while.

Paris really is a beautiful city– from what little I remember from being above ground and outside.  As Charity likes to remind me, we spent most of our time either in museums or on the Metro getting to those museums.  🙂  And why not?  We– ok, mostly Charity– meticulously planned out our time in the city, researching which museums would be open on what days as they all had different days of closure and widely varying hours of operation.  We filled in Google Calendar with our plans.  After counting up the must-sees with the maybes, we found that we could actually get the Paris Museum Pass and do some damage with it.  We only had to go to four museums as well as the Palace of Versailles to make up the cost of a four day pass– and we got to cut to the front of most lines.  Usually, those passes make a profit by counting on the fact that people don’t really use them to their fullest extent.  I can proudly say that they definitely lost money on us.

The first museum we visited was the Louvre.  I was so very excited to go– this was the one place I knew I wanted to visit.  Holding over 30,000 pieces (not on display all at once, mind you), it is the largest art museum in the (Western) world and would take days to explore properly.  As it is, we spent about six hours spread over two days there.  On the first day, armed with Rick Steves’ Louvre iPod/iPhone app, we spent a good two hours covering all the great highlights like the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Wings of Victory, all conveniently located in the humongous Denon wing.  Just that wing alone is large enough to get lost in, and we did– several times.  Even skipping all the baby Jesuses and Jesus-on-a-sticks, you could spend way too much time wandering the rooms.  Awesome.

Pretty chipper for an early morning start to the Louvre

Pretty chipper for an early morning start to the Louvre

Random huge art on a landing

Random huge art on a landing

The next museum we visited was the Orsay.  We got a brief preview of the building while on our discount river cruise and were surprised to learn that the museum is located in an old train station.  Built in the late 19th/early 20th century, the station fell into disuse sometime in the 1940s and was going to be demolished in the 70s before being saved and converted to this museum…

One of the old train station clocks-- with a view of the Seine River

One of the old train station clocks-- with a view of the Seine River

The other train station clock. Lovin' the Rick Steves' iPod/iPhone app

The other train station clock. Lovin' the Rick Steves' iPod/iPhone app

Though not as large as the Louvre, the Orsay still held quite an impressive collection of works and picks up where the Louvre left off– around the mid-1800s.  That means there are a lot of Impressionist paintings– a period I didn’t like very much before visiting Europe but have grown to appreciate, especially after our visit to the British Museum in London.  I was lucky enough to have grabbed the Rick Steves’ app when it was still free months ago, and so we enjoyed a free guided tour of the place.  I liked the Louvre a lot, but I think I liked the Orsay better.  Well-organized and a bit laid back, it didn’t feel nearly as frantic as the Louvre.  The lack of camera-snapping super crowds probably had something to do with that, though. 😉

Aerial of the Orsay-- imagine trains running down the middle

Aerial of the Orsay-- imagine trains running down the middle

The one American painting we found

The one American painting we found

More posts to come on the other museums!