Not exactly words you want to hear when visiting the Vatican Museum.
|Sphere within a Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodoro|
It all began when we walked into the museum's Courtyard of the Pinecone after buying our tickets. In the middle of the courtyard surrounded by classical architecture sat a huge, golden sphere. It almost looked like a DeathStar under construction or a globe in the process of shedding its layers. Creation or destruction? I couldn't tell what was going on. So, I asked our tour guide, an art historian with Context Travel specializing in family tours, what in the world I was looking at.
This giant ball made out of brass, not gold, is titled Sfera con Sfera (Sphere within a Sphere) and was created by Milan-based artist Arnaldo Pomodoro. It weighs 18,000 pounds and measures 4 meters in diameter. What surprised me the most is that the Vatican exhibits works by living artists. I've always thought of the Vatican as a repository for the ancient and the long gone.
The sphere in the Vatican is just one of many of Pomodoro's spheres on display around the world. You can see them in places as diverse as the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Tel Aviv University, University of California at Berkley, Trinity College in Dublin, and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran.
According to Pomodoro, "the sculpture is intended as a metaphor for the coming of a new millennium, a promise for the rebirth of a less troubled and destructive world." Rebirth. Well, now its place in the Vatican was beginning to make sense.
Then, our guide encouraged my kids to step up to the sphere and rotate it. Seeing that it was surrounded by a low chain, they hesitated.
"Go on," she said. "Go up and turn it." I figured that she must have given this tour a hundred times and knew when it was okay to flout the rules. The other casual visitors were a little appalled to see the children cross the chain and lay their hands on a priceless work of art.
Working together, my oldest and my youngest pushed. And without much trouble, that globe began to turn on its axis. All 18,000 pounds of it. As interesting as it was visually, I was equally amazed by the engineering.
As we walked away, our guide explained that the Vatican actually has a vast collection of contemporary art. It is housed in the basement of the Sistine Chapel and the former apartments of Pope Alexander VI Borgia. Basically, people like to give the Pope gifts. However, he's no longer as much of a player in the art world as his predecessor was 500 years ago when he sent Michelangelo a message saying "Yo Mike! I got a ceiling in a chapel that needs a little spiffing up."
|Sketches for The Chapel of Our Lady of Our Rosary of Vence by Henri Matisse|
I think the best pieces in the Vatican Museum's contemporary art collection are the plans created by Henri Matisse when designing The Chapel of Our Lady of Our Rosary of Vence in the French Riviera from 1949-1951. To convey his idea for the stained glass windows, he cut out pieces of brilliant blue, bright yellow, vivid green and black paper and put them together just as he wanted the glass assembled. He made a sketch of what would eventually become one of three giant murals in the chapel. His version of The Madonna and Child shows her offering her son up to the whole world instead of the more typical depiction of her holding the child to herself. The final product is made of black paint fired onto large white tiles. Matisse considered The Chapel of Vence to be his greatest work and instructed his son to donate the prepatory sketches and plans to the Vatican. Although the Vatican has had these in their possession since 1980, it took 3 decades for them to find a room with the right temperature and humidity to properly display these delicate works.
There was one piece in the room that seemed oddly out-of-place.
|Madonna by Lucio Fontana|
This tall and lumpy sculpture of The Madonna was created by Lucio Fontana. It was in the room before Matisse's works took it over but was so heavy that the Vatican just left it there. Okaaaaaaayy....
|Angelic Landscape by Salvador Dali|
The Splendor of Truth, The Beauty of Charity
|Then, Flashes of the Spirit, 2011 by El Anasui|
(and a photobombing boy)
The above work titled "Then, Flashes of the Spirit" was created by the one of the most important African artists today, El Anatsui from Ghana. It's formed out of hundreds and thousands of discarded metal pieces. The Vatican has displayed this piece in a way which seems rather mundane and static to me. Getting up close (but don't touch) is when it really becomes interesting.
|Detail of Then, Flashes of the Spirit|
Once Again, I Have No Clue
As I was flipping through my Vatican Museum photos, this one caught my eye. I have no clue what's going on. I didn't take any notes in this room because we'd already been looking at art for 150 minutes. Is that a statue of a man removing his shirt? That woman in the painting seems to be looking at him disapprovingly. And what's up with the brass door closer and the bright red fire extinguisher that my eyes keep gravitating to? The Vatican Museum is on the warm side since it has no air-conditioning. Maybe that's why the shirt is coming off. This whole set up seems a little voyeuristic to me — as if I'm intruding on a special moment. What's your interpretation?
Are you a fan of Contemporary Art? Would you expect to encounter it at the Vatican?
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