Museum and Memory: Part four

Titian (1488-1576), Sacred and Profane Love, c. 1513-1514. Oil on canvas, 46 x 110 in. Galleria Borghese, Rome

This is the fourth installment of our Museum and Memory series for International Museum Day. Read parts one, two, and three.

It was a sultry day in the fall of 2001 when I went traipsing through Rome’s Borghese gardens on a quest. My mission was to see a famous painting housed in the Villa Borghese’s painting gallery, the Pinacoteca, for a Venetian Renaissance art class I was taking. I was a recent transfer to a university in Rome and had committed to move abroad for two years to complete my undergraduate degree as an art history major. Although I had been an art aficionado since childhood, I hadn’t yet truly fallen in love—until then.

As I said, it was hot. I had a delicious gelato on my walk over (raspberry and vanilla, I distinctly remember). I was still licking my lips while waiting in line to enter the Pinacoteca. As my ticket was timed, I only had about an hour to find the painting and gather my thoughts for the essay before heading out. I climbed the narrow stone spiral stairs that led to the upstairs galleries and began my search.

I wandered amongst stately Raphael tondi and statues of slumbering putti before rounding the corner to the very last gallery when I saw it. It stopped me in my tracks. It was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen. Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love was lush, ripe, and sensuous.  The dense, glazed layers of paint didn’t just sit on the canvas, they glowed. The citrusy red and creamy white drapery that caressed the pale flesh of Titian’s female protagonists made me swoon. I wanted to lick those colors right off the canvas, convinced that they would taste like the raspberry and vanilla gelato I had just eaten. It was, without a doubt, the first moment that I realized art could physically grab you by the lapels, or, in this case, seduce you at first glance.

That moment is what has directed my course ever since and is arguably why I find myself working in a museum years later. I live for these moments with an artwork that leave me so smitten, moved, or jarred that everything else melts away.

Amanda Jirón-Murphy, In-Gallery Interpretation and Public Programs Coordinator

Museum and Memory: Part three

This is the third installment of our Museum and Memory series for International Museum Day. Read part one and part two here.

John Marin, Tunk Mountains, Autumn, Maine, 1945. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in. Acquired 1946. The Phillips Collection

In 1955 my grandparents moved into a custom-built home overlooking Chehalis, Washington, a town located about half way between Seattle and Portland. They drove to Seattle specifically in search of a work of art to hang above their stately fireplace, the focal point of the brick house. The only one they could agree on reminded them of summer vacations spent with their four small children at Lake Chelan in Eastern Washington State. It was a relatively inexpensive reproduction of an oil on canvas, with “Marin 45” scrawled in black in the lower right corner. Over time that “painting” came to symbolize home for the whole family, but knowing very little about art, we didn’t know who the artist was, what year it was painted, its title, or how to find those things. In 2006, when my grandmother followed my grandfather in passing, at the reading of the will the grandchildren were given an opportunity to select a work of art from their collection to keep for ourselves. Instead of one of my grandfather’s high-value Japanese prints I chose the tobacco-stained reproduction above the fireplace as a remembrance of them, and of the countless good times we spent together in that house. My sister had it wrapped and boxed, and she shipped it to me in San Francisco, where I lived at the time. It was too big to hang in my tiny apartment, and so I left my sentimental treasure boxed and secured under my bed. Continue reading

Museum and Memory: Part two

This is the second installment of our Museum and Memory series for International Museum Day. Read part one here.

Replicating the familiar ease of Ferris Bueller’s museum jaunt was a teenage dream of mine growing up in largely languid San Antonio—a city which has numerous cultural treasures, but no home for the arts as canonical and ambitious as the Art Institute of Chicago.

During the years I attended the University of Chicago, I often dropped in on free Tuesday evenings to absorb the aura as much as the ad-hoc art history, especially when it came to contemporary marvels such as Rineke Dijkstra, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Joan Mitchell, and others who textbooks often overlook, undervalue, or have yet to uncover. You do not need scholarly or painterly aspirations, though, to find an object of fascination among the early to mid-20th-century American furniture, 16th-century European armor, and (my personal favorite) the basement trove of photographs, textiles, and dioramas. Girlfriends and I found the museum to be a highly efficient first date screening because of how quickly it could reveal incompatibility in the way people think about the confluence of history, identity, and the need to create, in the arts or otherwise. Continue reading