A Day In St. Louis

My daughter needed a break from her studying at university. After talking with her about it, we decided to take a day trip to St. Louis; just her and I. The St. Louis Art Museum, the building and the grounds as well as the collections, was the main attraction for our pocket- sized vacation.

A few years back we did a family trip there so this was our second visit. We both agreed it ranks high on our list of favorites.

When I stepped in side I was greeted with the mysterious echo of voices rising and falling through the spacious central hall. They had a wonderfully mystical quality and I stood there for a minute just taking it in.

We knew from our past trip that our level of enjoyment for this museum was comparable to the The Art Institute of Chicago and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan; two institutions we use as standards by which all other art institutions we visit are compared to.

The size and depth of what is on display cannot compare to these other behemoths but visiting every room will definitely occupy your entire afternoon and you won’t be disappointed. (The St. Louis has 34,000 objects catalogued, Chicago has 1,000,000, New York, has 2,000,000.)

Being an avid reader of Roman History I would have been happy with more than just one room of antiquities. But the artifacts on display were perfectly preserved in every detail and matched the quality of any I had seen in the past.

These busts of unknown, but well-to-do citizens, date from the Imperial period.

The examples of tableware were striking in the fact that they were well proportioned, especially the blue bowl. No aspect was exaggerated for the sake of originality. Any decoration was minimal, a relevant symbol of it’s purpose, and well integrated. There is a sense of practicality which in my reading of that culture, is at the very heart of it.

Below are Etruscan earrings dated from the fifth century BC. The level of detail and craftsmanship in this jewelry was impressive. I often think of ancient cultures as not being as sophisticated as modern cultures. But seeing all the objects in this exhibit, made thousands of years ago, had reminded me that aside from scientific, technological and economic understanding, and perhaps a few other ares of knowledge, this is not true.

I will say this, Etruscan women must have had strong ear lobes. Those are some big earrings! Evidently, women suffering in the name of fashion is nothing new.

There were modern cultural artifacts, which were a part of the main exhibition – Storm of Progress German Art After 1800. Included were several examples from the Bauhaus design school: form follows function. A combination of useful form bordering on minimalism but incorporates a visual aesthetic based on geometric forms.

Even though the design of these items and the Roman items were separated by two thousand years of history they had definite commonalities.

The design genius of the Romans and the Bauhaus really shone in the three dimensional objects they made. The consumer goods in both exhibitions were so modern in design and construction as to be interchangeable without noticing the difference in the era. There is a repeat of practicality here.

The same can be said for things outside of these exhibitions – architecture. Compare Bauhaus headquarters building and Emperor Vespasian’s Collusion. They both exemplify the same ethos of form follows function. Also, their is no mistaking who built each of them.

The Bauhaus designers, much like the Romans, achieved their greatest artistic success with practical objects put to everyday use.

The building that houses the collections is an art object in it’s own right.

It was designed by the historically prominent architect Cass Gilbert, who also designed the Woolworth building in down town Manhattan, the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington DC, and the state of Minnesota’s state capital building, among other notable morphological master pieces.

Cass sited the ancient baths of Caracalla in Rome as his design inspiration. The original purpose of this building was to house exhibitions for the 1904 Worlds Fair. The museum was relocated there when the fair was finished.

This visit was a much needed invigoration for our souls and we found we had the same outlook on art. It is a search for perfection by the artist, as well as the viewer. This notion of perfection is embodied in all things pleasing to the mind: in a word – beauty.

Rebecca’s notion of beauty is based on natural forms, landscapes, human form, and animal forms, with little deviation.

I am of the same mind and also find man-made and industrial forms beautiful as well – urban buildings, factories, warehouses, and machines. The geometry of these images, as well as the psychological and cultural implications are intriguing to me.

Oddly enough, we both have reservations about abstract art. We can appreciate it for what it is, the artist’s intent or social messaging but are not naturally drawn to it.

Beauty in the classical sense may not have been captured in every painting but the perfection of the artists vision seemed to be. Each room held a different way of thinking about that vision, each painting a different interpretation of that vision.

I made an immediate and deep connection with so many of these paintings. It was like realizing a profound truth in each one. This inspired me to find this kind of inspiration everyday, wherever I am in whatever I am doing. That is living life to the fullest for me.

Great art is a gift from one soul to another.

Hours later, when we finally left, we agreed that the spiritual and intellectual invigoration we experienced in our visit was a much needed blessing and we were grateful for it.

That was part one of our excursion to the big city.

Part 2 continues with our time at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

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