It’s not for everyone, but once you start…
Last month, I read a question by someone on a travel forum…“Is it worthwhile to visit the Louvre Museum in Paris?” Her question didn’t surprise me that much, though Louvre is amongst the most-visited spots in the world. Anyway, I was curious to know the replies, so I scrolled over the comments till I reached the most interesting one. “Don’t waste your money on the expensive ticket. Shop for LV at Galleries Lafayette instead.” This fashionista was advising a splurge on a logo-splattered Louis Vuitton piece of leather arm-candy rather than investing a few hours and a few euros on real art. Talk of divergent perspectives…specially when it comes to value for money!
I like my retail therapy and I like my handbags. But I love museums too. You can be human AND arty, right? And judgemental (okay, just a teeny bit)?
Confession time. A few years back, I wouldn’t have been as surprised to read the LV fan’s suggestion. I hadn’t cultivated my ‘museum-y’ side by then. It was only we started travelling to Europe, that I decided to open up my mind’s windows to all things arty. Yeah, decided. Consciously. Willingly. It’s possible…like a good habit. And then I started enjoying it.
My first brush with a museum of epic proportions was…yes, the Louvre! And what a way to start…with one of the world’s grandest, largest and most impressive art homes. On that crisp morning of October 2003, I remember feeling somewhat dwarfed, standing there at the pavement of Rue de Rivoli, facing the elegant, colossal palace. Somewhat like that feeling of non-existence you get when you’re faced with a breathtaking landscape…thinking how privileged you are to be able to travel and see the wonders of this world. I knew then that I would grow to love museums.
Admittedly, the big trigger for that visit was the anticipation of seeing Mona Lisa, but at that instant I was so ready, I could have devoured any art that came my way. Tracing the whirlwind of memories now, I recall wandering from one mammoth gallery to another, hungrily studying the amazing paintings that hung from huge ornate frames and circling the gigantic marble sculptures with raised eyebrows, before we culminated our search near Da Vinci’s inimitable muse. Weaving skilfully through the crowd, as I reached the front and came face to face with one of the most celebrated paintings of all time, I had felt a victorious thrill. The Louvre had hypnotised me…changed me forever. But you know what they say about hypnosis…no one can hypnotise you unless you want to be under the spell. Well, I had wanted to.
Over the next few years, museums became a natural fixture in every itinerary of ours. London’s Victoria & Albert, Natural History Museum and National Gallery, Athens’ Acropolis Museum and the Florence’s Uffizi and the Vatican Museums….we didn’t want to miss any. As you see more and more, you started understanding why you’re enjoying it so much…specially if you love all things beautiful, all things artistic, and specially, all things old.
It was not until our trip to Austria in 2010, that we really started relishing the museum experience fully. In Vienna, we delved deep into the Museum Quartier and Belvedere Museum, and continued our art trail in Amsterdam with Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. By the time we toured Madrid the following year, skipping the three biggies…Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen, was unthinkable. The next year, at Berlin, we spent an entire day at the Museum Mile. And when we travelled to France again in 2014, we returned to the Louvre more mature, more aware, and ended up spending at least thrice the time since our first visit. When we went back to Mona Lisa, there was a sea of people crowding her like paparazzi. This time too, I squeezed my way to the front, happy that I was as excited to see her again. Some people think of her as a let-down. She’s small, but that makes her more of an enigma. But she has a special corner in my heart…she’s the reason I fell in love with museums in the first place!
So, what did we do differently since Vienna? Two words… ‘audio guides’. Being armed with succinct, yet elaborate commentary on the artists’s perspective adds so much more depth to what you’re seeing. Over time, you start recognising colours, techniques, styles, names of artists and genres. The more you get familiarised, the more comfortable you feel. And then you discovered you like some art better than the others. You spend more time on each piece you’re drawn to. And you filtered out others that don’t appeal as much. In the process, you discover your own personal choices.
A cousin of mine is vehemently against going to museums while traveling. She would rather roam a dozen more streets instead, feeling the pulse of the city. I think it’s a personality thing. Also, maybe a museum feels like school…too much work, and who wants to work on vacation? You do feel like that, until you unleash a curiosity to know deeper. Allow yourself to flow from one exhibit to the next. And get drawn in. Feel the tone. Feel the past. Feel the character. Deny your brain all attempts to memorise. Concentrate on feeling. Contemplate the human hands behind every creation, every brushstroke, every sculpted sinew, every stone arch. And connect the pieces, see the rhythm, smell the theme, hear the voice. And know…that all art forms – paintings, sculpture, architecture, music, poetry, theatre, dance have the power to uplift the soul.
Museums are not for everyone. But I gave it a chance and now I’m addicted. For good.
During a short break to Palampur recently, where our plan was just to walk under pine trees and roam tea gardens, we were drawn irresistibly to Sir Sobha Singh Art Gallery and Museum in the nearby artists’ village of Andretta. The artist’s impeccably preserved studio, bedroom, personal possessions, in a little house looked straight out of Stratford-upon-Avon. Wonder why it reminded me of Van Gogh’s bedroom in Saint Paul of Mausole Monastery, on the outskirts of St Remy, Provence, France. I guess that’s the power of art…it grows on you…pulls you into its folds…adding just a little more pink hue to those rose-colored glasses of yours.