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I’m an art historical novelist (Oil and Marble: a novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo), have a degree in Art History, and studied art in Italy. I’m an art geek who spends many vacation hours wandering through art museums.
From outside, the Mobile Museum of Art looked like any other.
But inside, I went on a wild ride through what felt like — to me — Willa Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for art lovers. The art delighted and startled me at every turn.
Contemporary was mixed with traditional with folk. Landscape paintings next to abstract, next to moss coats and quilts. On their own, these pieces might not have attracted me, but side by side the whimsy of one brought out the seriousness of another. The traditional highlighted the abstract.
Before this trip, I would’ve said I didn’t care about looking at a chair made out of vines. But in this museum, that vine chair came to life when juxtaposed with a contemporary scuba painting, traditional pottery, modern glass… Suddenly my mind was trying to make associations between vine chairs and scuba divers. Stories were erupting.
I was seeing plain old art in new ways — instead of how I expected it to be.
I’ve seen other museums attempt such an eclectic mix, but most of the time, it’s jarring or confusing. It doesn’t make sense.
But at the Mobile Museum of Art the disparate pieces build on each other, as though the pieces are speaking to each other, and I’m just eavesdropping on the conversation.
Take these two chairs in the wood room…
The wooden chair on the left seems alive, like something out of Beauty and the Beast’s enchanted castle or Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. And it seems to be playfully engaging the brightly colored vegetable chair on the right — is the chair on the left trying to kick the ball to the chair on the right? These pieces aren’t just talking to each other, they are playing with each other, and I get to be a spectator.
(I’m convinced that at night, when the doors are locked, the objects in this museum come to life and have their own parties. This museum will make you think this type of thing is not just the fantasy of movies…)
My favorite work was probably this glass, metal, bead and found object piece called Bounty by Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman.
It is indeed a bounty of art, an eclectic mix of objects hung together to tell a story as if pulled out from the sea… It reminds me of the museum itself: a fascinating mixture of texture and color, worth much more as a whole than individual pieces alone.
Upstairs there’s a special exhibition by Janet Cardiff called Forty-Part Motet (You still have a few days to catch it; it closes on September 25th). In addition to being an art geek, I’m also a music geek, so this was a special treat for me. It’s an awe-inspiring sound installation that will change the way you look at music, art, and maybe your life, too.
Each sound speaker plays a different voice in a choir. You can walk up to each and get a close listen to that individual — be it a soprano, bass, or even child singer — as it blends in with the whole. Each voice is its own unique beauty, something to be admired. But perhaps if you listened to only that one voice, you might not be so swept away. However, when all these beautiful, eclectic voices are brought together as a choir, the music sweeps you away beyond your expectations.
Single parts brought together into collaborative wholes that have the potential to change you and the world…
Now that’s my kind of art museum.
The Mobile Museum of Art located in Mobile, Alabama
Open Tuesday – Sunday 10 AM to 5 PM
Free regular admission on Thursdays from 10 AM to 9 PM