Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Museums Can Be Fun Too

Clearly my day couldn't only be laundry, and dealings with the lovely young lady at the front desk – much as I would have loved that to be the case. No, eventually my clothes were dry, and I had no more excuse to sit in my room, watching internet streaming video (we're so the same – me and her.) So where was I off to first?

There were a number of museums on the docket for today. As much fun as museums and galleries can be – and oh let me tell you just how much fun they are when you've seen about twenty or thirty of them, yawn – there are some that stand out – and are free. Never let it be said that I will avoid a free time suck, I love free things; free things love me. It's perfect!

Also – this would give me the excuse to run my metro pass down into the ground, and feel good about it, all at the same time. First up – Anden 0.

The informational pamphlet they gave me was mostly in Spanish, so I can't say much about it aside from the short paragraph I read from the internets that prompted me out this way. But the story begins far before that. You see, the real trick is finding it.

I took the subway straight up on the #1 line. That was convenient – not having to switch lines, just grabbing a seat, opening up my Tom Clancy, and reading until the Spanish computer voice alerted me to the fact that Proximo Station was the one I wanted. Up I walked into the real world, north of the city centre. There was life outside downtown. In a city of over three million this should not be shocking. Still -

So I bumbled around to the area I had circled on my map. Arriving there I looked around at the square, lined with buildings. Anden 0, Anden 0. You wouldn't think it hard to spot. But it was. In fact there was only one building with people filing in and out. That must be it! In I stumbled, walking past the front desk (in was a free museum after all) and past the security, as I had no bags on me for the x-ray.

And then I was stopped. And politely, but firmly, told to leave. Ohh – isn't that cute, this wasn't the museum. This was a political building, with people filing in after their lunch break! To be honest, I'm surprised I made it in as far as I did. I don't look very official.

So there I was, in the square, dejected, and without purpose. I had failed. There would be no Anden zero for me today. Defeated I walked back to the subway, when something caught my eye. A big glass cylinder decending into the ground. And inside there was an elevator, not unlike the one leading to the hipster cave in New York City (all it was missing was a big glass cube, and a ridiculous Apple logo illuminated on the outside.)

So I went down the stairs (I don't need your stinking elevator) that wound around the ascender. At the bottom I smiled, nodded, and accepted the previously mentioned Spanish brochure. Not understanding much of what was said, I was let in.

Anden Zero is a subway station that they couldn't retrofit to take the new larger trains. So instead of locking it up, and turning it into an abandoned station (I'm looking at you Toronto) they allowed it to become a museum piece. Still decked out the way it was decades previous, when it was last used, this station exists as a frozen moment in time showing what the system looked like way back when.

Honestly, aside from the ticket booths, and the grunge, and the old advertisements on the wall – not that different. But walking the abandoned platform of a darkened station is still exceptionally cool. Very Neverwhere.

And watching the still active trains rush by without stopping? Fantastic.

And that was that. Back to the sun for me. And back to the subway, to travel up the 1 line a few more stops. I was now headed to the ONCE building. I had read that there was a Blind Museum there, featuring art by blind people, and for blind people. It sounded unique, as well as hitting my curiosity in just the right place. Plus, at free to enter, the price was right.

I arrived at quarter to two. The museum closed at two. Crap. I was told I could come back when it reopened at five. But I was not hanging around for three hours, so after much pleading, I was allowed to scamper around for the final fifteen minutes (I don't know why this was such an issue anyway – perhaps they were anxious to get to their siesta stations?)

Inside the museum I was not disappointed. One half had art by blind people, the other for.

Now, when you look at the art by blind people, some of it is fantastic sculptures, made with the tactile in mind. They are made to be touched, and to evoke from that sense. A museum where you are not only encouraged to touch, but really have to touch to fully appreciate the artistic intent is wonderful.

There was one sculpture with woman's body turning into a preying mantis, holding a mans head. It was rough, spiky, and smooth as you descended from head to toes. The art in this room also begs the question, how can one accurately recreate a preying mantis when one has never seen one? (also – is it praying, because of how it holds its hands, or preying because of how it kills?) Some objects, like people, faces, etc – I understand, because you can touch them. But how could one ever touch a small insect like that to get a feel for its shape?

There was also an oil painting of flowers through a window. When you see the work, you appreciate at such a level the workmanship that went into each piece. But the painting was also somewhat disillusioning. Just like sighted people, who learn at a very young age, that the sky is coloured blue, the grass is coloured green, and the roses are coloured red – deviation will not be tolerated, not by any kindergarten teacher anywhere, so too did this painting conform to those rules. In the land of the blind, the basic rules still find themselves followed, even when the concept of colour has very little meaning, or value.

The other side of the gallery held sculptures of famous buildings throughout spain, and around the world. There was a model of the Taj Mahal, The State of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Egyptian Obelisk, and far more. The idea being that for the blind, these sights are often robbed from them, due to the incredible scale, and distance. But here, these fll recreations, can be accessed, touched, seen.

This museum was so spectacular, for what it was, that it made me wonder why there were not more of them? Why in such an accepting country as Canada, have I never heard of such a place existing? And if it does exist, why do we not know of it?

Now here is where my day took a pause. The Prado Museum would not be free until six o'clock. So it was off to the Chinese grocer to buy bread, cheese, and Sunny D (I've almost had all the flavours now – California Orange, Pineapple, Strawberry, Lemon Lime... just one left. The much feared, Pina Colada. As an aside, the orange is good and tangy, the pineapple is not as tart as I would have liked, the strawberry is was too sweet and thick, and the lemon lime tops as my favourite. If they have this beverage in Rome, I will have no choice but to try the coconut version.)

The Prado museum houses all number of paintings. And as you walk through you'll either care, or you won't. But you have to see it, because it's the thing to do in Madrid. For me all it made me think was – man, what would art be like today if so many hundreds of years weren't wasted painting Jesus, or God, or Jesus as God, or Jesus with God, or other similarly Jesus/Goddy situations. Dali-esque work could have hit the scene ages ago.

Strange that all the Roman mythologies, and Norse mythologies don't bother me in paintings. But all the other religious works have cool beasties, and crazy creatures. It's not just people, and a guy either bleeding, crying, suffering, or glowing. Boring!

But I'll tell you what this museum does very well – it tells you why you should care about each piece. If you read Spanish, you're in the zone. If you read English, you're half covered, if you read French and English, you're solid once more.

Beside each piece is a plaque explaining the historical significance, and the meaning of each painting. This is the thing that always holds me back from caring about art – if I don't understand what makes one piece different from another, I just shrug and walk on. Still, most galleries have at least once piece that strikes me. And so too did this museum. It had two actually, companion pieces: By Hans Baldang G(my notes get a bit sloppy here. Bless my students for ever being able to read what I write... I think it says Gfren, but that hardly makes sense.)

The two pieces are The Three Ages of Man and Death, and Harmony or The Three Graces.

Fantastic. And that's that.

That's Madrid.



    If you liked the 'blind' museum, you might be interested in this. There are worldwide venues. I don't know the price ??

  2. OH fuck, you didn't go to the Reina Sofia to see Picasso's "Guernica?" It's one of the most astounding paintings I've ever seen. AND HUGE. I watched it for half an hour, it's like a puzzle.

  3. DitD does look interesting. I wish I was in Munich longer to check it out.

    And I did see the painting. I make a point to see every piece in a museum. Picasso and me, we just don't really get along. Maybe I'll have to give him another shot.


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