Sunday, December 23, 2012

OMG - Ponce Museum of Art

Here in Puerto Rico you learn to expect to be disappointed.  You learn that if your meal comes and is wrong you eat it anyway...that if it takes 2 hours it isn't because they are harvesting fresh food for expect garbage, no soap in the bathrooms (or toilet paper or paper towels or even an open bathroom) and you expect to see piles of what once were live animals but are now carpet swatches or fur piles on the road. The trip to the Ponce Art Museum MADE ME CRY with joy and disappointment that the rest of Puerto Rico couldn't be this good. This museum is FABULOUS!!!!!!! It is located in Ponce along a normal garbage lined road with dirty buildings. There is a small parking lot next to the museum that has a guard sitting to watch the cars. Parking is free but you have to do the "back in" parking that is a bizarre "cultural" thing I suppose. When we first moved here the museum was closed and stayed closed for a couple years. We got tired of trying to figure out if it was open or not and basically gave up on it. Last week our friends called and arranged an in English Tour and we headed off. We left early since you cannot predict what will happen on the roads. Traffic was totally stopped in our direction (during prime holiday shopping on the only highway) while (during lunch) they decided to swing a new highway sign into position overhead. We got there, parked easily and were greeted with Roy Lichtenstein's Brushstrokes In Flight in front of a gorgeous building. No graffiti, no garbage around, no broken parts. Nice primary colors inviting you into the beautiful and spotless building! The space is full of bright natural light supplemented by nicely positioned spotlights. The building was designed by Edward Durell Stone and is a series of hexagonal galleries (14). The building renovation cost 30 million dollars and is 77,745 square feet of beautiful space filled with an amazing collection of art ranging from the 14th to 20th century.
You really need to have the guided tour to fully appreciate the collection. When we first went in I immediately recognized several pieces I had only seen in art history books and assumed were reproductions. They were real! This museum lets you REALLY LOOK at the pieces - no glass, no barricades, no cordoned off areas. I couldn't believe it! You cannot touch things (obviously - sensors will go off) but you can be an inch away and see brush strokes and crackles and detail. Photography is allowed without flash. I only brought my crappy cave camera since caving was on our agenda and I don't store the better camera in the tropically heated car. I did not have enough time and wish I didn't even bring the dam camera! The museum contains European art and Puerto Rican art and has one of the western hemisphere's most extensive pre-Raphaelite collections. There are 4,500 pieces. The museum started in 1965 when Luis A Ferre (governor) started buying up art. He bought things based on value, not popularity, with the guidance of Rubens specialist Julius Held and also Rene Taylor.  You can to to their website (part of which is in English, not the Collections part {but a name is a name}) 

I really miss art. Art makes living soooo much better. To look at something someone created and to see their emotion and view of the world tells a lot of the world, and lets you glimpse into things you may not otherwise examine. When I was selling my art photography at art fairs I was surrounded by creative people. Some of them truly created magical work that took you to other places. This museum brought back a wave of emotions I really miss. I prefer the more historical pieces but a few new works caught my attention (painting above and bellybuttons on right). I especially like the tormented soul below. Edward Burne-Jones' 'Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon' was a large unfinished work started in 1881 that was unfinished at the time of his death and you can see the lack of strings on the instruments, the braids are not completed, the people have no shoes. He worked on that painting for 17 or so years. You can see his process by what was left until last. The collection inclues Rubens, Rousseau, Jose Campeche, Boccati and more. Amazing!
Upstairs was a gallery where they had used string to show the lines of sight of selected people in all the paintings. They positioned the paintings so some of the lines of sight made it appear that figures in one painting were actually gazing at figures in another. I found this very very interesting!
The 2 hour tour ended at the Frederic Leighton "Flaming June" painting. Personally it wasn't my favorite but is a well known painting. I was impressed by the quality of the tour. When I say that I don't mean the quality for here - I mean the guide was extremely knowledgeable and adjusted who he said things to and what he said after he gauged interest and knowledge. There were 6 people in our tour and 2 apparently weren't really interested and left (they missed out). The museum is spotless, well staffed, well-designed...the placement of art and relationships between galleries were obvious and made sense. There is no way to see everything unless you have at least a half a day. The placards are in Spanish and English and are well written and presented. The curator, Cheryl Hartup, is from Portland Oregon.

Some hints before you go. It is very cold in the Museum - bring fleece and wear pants. There is coffee available at the entrance to be consumed before or after you go in (little muffins and drinks for purchase). There is also a restaurant that looks like it has non-Puerto Rican food in it. We will try it next time. It is best if you call to find out what time the English tour is if you need it in English. Definitely have the tour. Entrance is $6 which is a steal! If you are interested in art restoration you can make an appointment to observe restoration work upstairs. For real. They are closed Xmas, Easter, 3 Kings Day, Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. They rotate exhibits and their website is pretty decent. I still cannot believe you can be so close to the art! All the framing is original or at least from the same time period. In one case they found artist notes about who made a frame for the original piece of art and they went back to that frame builder (whose family still built frames) to have one recreated from the original notes and sketches. This place is amazing and even I will drive the 2  hours or more to go back! All I can say is that it is so wonderful I cried. Go there!


Linda said...

this looks fantastic. I'm so happy to see art anywhere!

Cassie said...

Wow that is great! We loved Ponce when we drove past the huge cross and big mansion that overlooks the whole city. We also saw the Parque de Bombas and their big church, but we must not have seen this place! I have heard Ponce is the Pearl of the South, and it sounds like it is true!

Fran and Steve said...

I love Ponce and LOVE LOVE LOVE this museum. It is truly world class. They have special exhibits all the time, so plan to go back during a visiting exhibit. The restaurant is EXCELLENT and affordable for lunch. This place makes me feel civilized again. No one should miss it! -- Fran

Anonymous said...

The little outdoor sculpture gardens are where we got a visual 'break' and more important, got warmed up. Yes, it is COLD in there. We too were shocked at the beautiful space and art. The restroom was also clean with all amenities, so you can add that to your list. Don't miss the video of the artist who only uses his mouth to bite off pieces of foam rubber to create sculpture. Great place to spend the day. Wil