(click on pictures to enlarge)
My flight to Rome involved a stop in Philadelphia. When I got there in the evening, the boarding gate was jammed with people and the airline staff were pleading for volunteers to give up their seats as the flight was overbooked. I thought about it for a while and decided that I had nothing to lose and something to gain as they were offering a travel voucher of $800 US on American Airlines and its partners, as well as a hotel for a night, and a meal allowance. All it mean’t was that I would have to spend the day in Philadelphia and leave the following evening.
The hotel was close to the airport but in the middle of nowhere. However, there is a train from the airport to the city centre so although it was snowing the next day, I set off into the city and took a cab from the station to the Philadelphia Art Museum.
What a pleasant surprise. They have a fine collection of works by French Impressionist painters and also a number of works by the Modernists. The collection by Marcel Duchamp is probably the largest in the world. I found one piece almost shocking in that you go into a fairly small darkened space in which there is an old-fashioned wooden barn door. In the context of his everyday objects (Readymades, including a urinal) as art, this is not unusual. However, there are two little peepholes in the door which are hardly noticeable and which I might not have looked through if I hadn’t seen the person in front of me doing so.
All of a sudden, you see a three-dimensional image of a nude woman lying on a bed of sticks holding a torch. It feels voyeuristic and somehow invasive which I’m sure is what the artist intended. He worked on this piece in secret for 20 years in his New York studio while his contemporaries thought that he had given up working on art. The work is entitled Etant Donnes and the Modernist artist Jasper Johns described it as “the strangest work of art in any museum”.
The Museum has reconstructed a number of cultural ‘rooms’ from original materials acquired by them such as an Indian temple courtyard, a Japanese tea house, a Chinese temple roof and a French Abbey church amongst others. They are beautifully displayed and spectacular. On the one hand, I feel that these types of artefacts should be left in their original context but it is probably thanks to museums such as this one that these survive to this day instead of being destroyed or left to fall into ruin.
There was a temporary exhibition of Mexican contemporary artists with a number of works by Diego Riviera. All his work is striking but I was taken by this one depicting the “Liberation of the Peon” painted in 1923.
It was influenced by Giotto’s fresco in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua which Riviera visited in 1921. I remembered seeing the fresco a little over two years ago when we were in Padova. Although there are many depictions of lamentations of Christ taken down from the cross, the arrangement of Riviera’s figures around the body have a similarity with Giotto’s fresco.
All in all, I had a delightful day in Philadelphia, snowy weather not withstanding. I may have gotten to Rome a day later but what a gift to see these wonderful artworks and to get enough credit for another transatlantic flight. It’s a good start to the New Year.