Category Archives: Museums

The Circus Comes to Town

Every year, the Smithsonian holds a Folklife Festival on the Mall in Washington during the last week in June and the first week in July. This year was special, because 2017 marks the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s 50th anniversary.

Most of the recent festivals have followed a similar format, celebrating a US state or region, a foreign culture or area, and/or a traditional occupation. In 2016, for instance, the two main themes were “Basque: Innovation by Culture” and “Sounds of California.”

This year’s festival was easily the most fascinating and entertaining I’ve ever visited, because the main attraction was a tribute to…Circus Arts!

And it was wonderful!


One of the displays was this classic Circus Wagon.

You could watch close-up performances by clowns and jugglers…

…and not-so-close-up performances by acrobats and trapeze artists.

In addition to the open-air displays, the festival included full performances in its own Big Top, and in one of the Smithsonian buildings. But for me, the best part was the panel discussions featuring circus people talking about their careers and training and lives in the circus. Heard some awesome stories during my two visits to the festival.

Alma-Tadema at Leighton House Museum — A Brief Follow-Up

The Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity exhibition opened in London today, and the Leighton House Museum has just released this teaser.

I posted an item with some background information about Alma-Tadema, Lord Leighton, and this exhibition a few days ago, but, as my grandmother used to say, one video is worth a thousand words. Especially when the video is this well done.

The show will run from 7 July 2017 through 29 October 2017.

Alma-Tadema Returns to Leighton House Museum

There are two places I always visit when I’m in London: The Victoria and Albert Museum and the Leighton House Museum in Holland Park. The V&A describes itself, accurately, as “the world’s leading museum of art and design.” It’s easily my favourite museum in this world, or any other. The Leighton House Museum is the former home and studio of Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, whose painting “Flaming June,” is one of the crowning achievements of 19th Century British art.

“Flaming June,” just because I can never pass up an opportunity to post it.

“Flaming June,” just because I can never pass up an opportunity to post it.

It’s an old, sad story. After the turn of the 20th century, Victorian artists like Leighton fell out of favour with both the critics and the public. And few of them fell so fast and so far as Leighton’s friend, Lawrence Alma-Tadema. By the 1960s, Alma-Tadema’s “The Finding of Moses,” the picture at the top of this note, was cut out of its frame by a gallery, because a buyer was only interested in the elaborate frame itself.

In a way, Alma-Tadema got a belated revenge: Fifty years later, the painting sold for $35,900,000.

If I can work out the last few bugs on the time machine that I’ve been tinkering with, my first stop will be the 1950s, to stock up on Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Tiffany lamps.


Beginning this weekend, the Leighton House Museum is hosting an exhibition called Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, which includes more than 130 works. Here’s a sample:


"The Roses of Heliogabalus,” posted for the same reason I posted “Flaming June.”

“The Roses of Heliogabalus,” posted for the same reason I posted “Flaming June.”


The show will run from 7 July 2017 through 29 October 2017. As if anyone needed another reason to go to London.

More Images from the Bosch, Brueghel, and Arcimboldo Experience

I’ve found more images from this year’s Carrières de Lumières program, which features the works of Bosch, Brueghel, and Arcimboldo.

Even these still photographs are awesome. Seeing them in motion, with a soundtrack that ranges from Carl Orff to Vivaldi to Led Zeppelin, must be amazing. There’s a brief video at the above link that will give you a hint of what visitors to the site will experience.

(All photos found on the Net.)

“The Fantastic and Wonderful World of Bosch, Brueghel, and Arcimboldo” is open now, and will run through 7 January 2018.

“The Fantastic and Wonderful World of Bosch, Brueghel, and Arcimboldo”

This year’s Carrières de Lumières program looks like a stunner. It’s called “The Fantastic and Wonderful World of Bosch, Brueghel, and Arcimboldo”, and it runs from 4 March 2017 to 7 January 2018.

Here’s a peek:

Carrières de Lumières is an immersive art and music installation which is staged in what used to be a quarry, in the French village Les Baux de Provence. The massive rock walls of the quarry form the backdrop for a son et lumière program that changes each year.

I’ve posted items about the 2014 Klimt and Vienna and the 2015 Chagall: Midsummer Night’s Dreams programs, and about how much I’d like to work for Culturespaces, the European company that designs and manages events like this for 13 monuments and museums, most of them in France. The only things that are standing in my way are my total lack of artistic talent and my residence on the wrong continent.

Complementing the son et lumière this summer are four monumental sculptures by Philip Haas, which will be on display in the Château des Baux-de-Provence from 23 May through 30 September. The sculptures of the giant heads are inspired by Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s “The Four Seasons” paintings.

“Oh, to be in Provence, Now that Summer’s there”
—Close, but not quite by Robert Browning

Empress Elisabeth of Austria Rides Again

The girl in the painting would soon become Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I. She gave this portrait to the Emperor for Christmas after the two were engaged to be married. It became one of Franz Joseph’s most prized possessions, and hung on the wall above his bed for 60 years, until his death.

It was sold at auction in Vienna last month for €1,540,000 (US$1,721,643).


It’s curious how people, places, and things you’ve never been aware of can make an unanticipated appearance in your life, and gradually draw you in until they become, at least for a while, a prominent part of your existence. An exhibition of Victorian art at the National Gallery totally altered my views on painting, for instance, and led to an ongoing obsession with the Pre-Raphaelites. A few years ago, my appreciation for The Hunger Games eventually resulted in my spending an entire summer reading nothing but teen dystopia novels.

OK, some unexpected tangents are more rewarding than others.

Until a few years ago, I knew next to nothing about Sisi–sometimes written as  “Sissi”–the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. But then in Vienna, I visited the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg Complex and did The Grand Tour of 40 (out of 1,441) rooms of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace, the Habsburg imperial summer residence.*

Sisi as Empress

Sisi as Empress

The unconventional and brilliant Sisi has been on my mind ever since. She was a searcher, always looking for something different, something new. She hated court life, and spent months at a time away from the capital, travelling to Morocco and England, Egypt and Corfu, France and Malta, learning languages as she went. She championed the empire’s Hungarian subjects, and they, in turn, idolized her. She was only 16 when she married the 24-year-old Emperor. He loved her passionately; her feelings were less intense.

The more I learn about her, the more I want to know. I just recently discovered that her favorite cousin was another historical figure who has always fascinated me, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, builder of Schloss Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace, and patron of Richard Wagner. Researching that relationship immediately landed a spot on my To Do list.


*There are some ravishing pictures of those sites at the links, most of them found on the Net, but a few of them my own. You can also view some pictures of her partially restored apartment in the Museo Correr that I took when I was in Venice this spring.

The Naked Man at the Met Gala (Mildly NSFW — Brief Nudity)

“Art Is Anything You Can Get Away With”

That quotation is frequently attributed to Andy Warhol, and it certainly sounds like something he would have said, but it was Marshall “The Medium Is the Message” McLuhan who actually coined the phrase.

Sometimes, for some artists, Art Is Anything…whether you get away with it or not.  Take Russian artist/provocateur Fyodor Pavlov-Andreevich, for instance.

Here he is doing a performance piece called Os Caquis (The Persimmons), outside the School of Visual Arts in Rio de Janeiro in 2015.


That’s Pavlov-Andreevich, sitting naked on a tall plywood chair at the entrance to the museum. His assistant is offering very soft persimmons to the visitors, who are invited to throw them at the artist.

The goal?

“By the end of the performance the artist and the podium will all be covered in the orange pulp from the more or less successful attempts of the visitors to hit the artist.”

Ah! That explains it!

And then there’s Fyodor’s Performance Carousel-II, a hard-to-describe collaborative performative installation he orchestrated last year in Vienna.

This is all leading up to what happened last Monday night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The Background

The Met Gala is the big annual fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. It’s an evening packed with celebrities—this year’s honorary chairs were Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams—and with the very, very rich.

Vogue editor Anna Wintour—the presumed model for the “Miranda Priestly” character in The Devil Wears Prada—is a trustee of the Met, and oversees the annual 700-person guest list. Those not on the list can buy individual tickets to the Gala for $25,000.

It was only $15,000 until 2014. They raised the price to keep out the riffraff.


Enter Fyodor Pavlov-Andreevich

Fyodor’s most famous—maybe notorious is a more appropriate word—performance piece is called Foundling. Over the past two years, he’s staged it, uninvited, at art-related events in Venice, Moscow, London, and São Paulo. On Monday, 1 May 2017, he completed the five-part performance art project at the Met Gala in New York.

Foundling is easy to describe:  Fyodor gets completely undressed and curls up inside a clear plastic box. He’s tall, and it’s a tight fit. The box is then sealed and transported to the event du jour. The artist’s assistants deposit the box, and the naked artist within, at the selected site.

Here’s how it went down in New York:


The Aftermath

Despite the fact that the Gala attendees and staff shown in the video were amused rather than disturbed or offended, Pavlov-Andreevich was arrested on a bunch of bogus misdemeanor charges, including  public lewdness, criminal trespass, and disorderly conduct.

So much for New York’s celebrated reputation for sophistication and tolerance for eccentricity—the police were never called in at any of the previous four performances of Foundling, and Fyodor has never been arrested anywhere else.

The box remains in police custody. “If anyone cares about the box’ fate, it’s under arrest as well,” Pavlov wrote on Facebook.

Free Fyodor!  And free the box, too!  

Je suis Pavlov-Andreevich!


All photos and videos came from the artist’s website, linked above. It’s well worth a visit.