Road Trip – Museum Visits

I’m sitting in the Prius at a reststop. It’s dark and I can see that the Highway Patrol is doing a brisk business picking off the speeders on the downhill slope to Van Horn, TX. 80 by day, 65 by night.

A heavily packed SUV just pulled in. The dad got out for a quick visit to the restroom. But the backseat occupants seem to be sedated by the video screen. I remember childhood road trips as time to observe Orion’s changing positions in the sky, or to marvel at the morning’s light show. We fought over who got a window seat. I don’t remember asking about “there” and “yet”. But probably we did.

Wednesday I visited the San Antonio Museum of Art, mostly because I found it first while I was looking for the Alamo. This best thing about this museum is the glass enclosed elevator. You can watch the very clean mechanics in the shaft as they work. Thoroughly Post Modern, Millie!

strange monkey with hat
strange Mexican monkey with hat

This museum has an excellent collection of Mexican folk art. There is something strange about seeing these objects in such a formal and “hallowed” space though. They need more air.

At the SAMA I thoroughly enjoyed the Egyptian section, marveling anew at the delicacy and elegance of line combined with monumentality in solid rock, a quality that photographs just don’t seem to be able to capture. There were also some red-figure Greek vessels, and I was entranced anew by the Greek depiction of horses, both delicate and animated. Some nice Roman/Egyptian funeral masks, but I didn’t see anything that struck me as “primal”. Oola slept through the whole thing.

In my thinking “primal” is not used in the sense of Kubler’s “prime object”, the original object of which all others are replications. I am thinking more of that which by passes the thought process and goes directly to the limbic system; Robert Graves calls it the poem of the Great Mother that raises the hairs on the back of the neck.

Seeing the Milky Way for the first time without benefit of city lights is a primal experience. Maybe there are still people who live their whole life as a primal experience; maybe we medicate them. Or maybe we call them “primative” and they live where we haven’t found them yet. Maybe if everything is “primal”, nothing is “primal”.

"Sharpening the Scythe", Kollwitz
"Sharpening the Scythe", Kollwitz

The first primal art experience I remember was in Misch Kohn’s classroom. One day Misch brought in some example prints, and when I walked in the room I was immediately transported (almost without benefit of my feet) to an image by Kathe Kollwitz from her Peasants’ Revolt series. It was the claustrophobic depiction of the peasant, blind with rage, honing his scythe. It still gives me shivers.

At the Menil in Houston last week I saw several such objects in an exhibit of objects owned by Surrealist artists. Among them was a Navajo hood/mask with a square mouth hole. From the Switzerland/German area was a black leather costume and mask, totally covered in black spikes at about 1″ intervals. Filled with a human being, and in a low-light communal context, this was once a grand primal object. From an Eskimo shaman’s box, a rodent skull attached to a snake skin.

The Menil in Houston has a collection well worth seeking out and experiencing, and it is free.

As I said, I was on my way to see the Alamo. More in the next update.

Jan Dove

By jandove


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