Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Day at the Museum

Today was a rainy day so we went to one of the museums we had been saving for just such an occasion: the Museo del Patrimonio Industriale. I don’t know about you, but whenever I see “Industrial” in the name of a museum I picture an exhibition with train engines and various turbines, or even a full-sized coal mine like they have in Chicago. The fact that the museum was housed in a huge palazzo—huge even by palazzo standards—with double-doors flanked by gargantuan sculpted muscle men increased my sense of expectation. They could probably fit an airplane in there !

My optimism decreased quite quickly when we entered a room full of glass display tables housing teeny objects. I thought it was the gift shop. It was actually the museum. My expectations of seeing a Ferrari or even an impressive pulley system pretty much melted away as I found myself looking at an entire display case of keys. When we tired of those we passed on to the collection of weights and measures, and escutcheons—those decorative metal gizmos that frame keyholes. We were also treated to what is perhaps the hugest bellows in existence, probably about three feet in length. When we came across it I was ready to tell the guard, “In Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry they have a real submarine that you can get inside of—but this is nice too,” but I resolved instead to appreciate the bellows for the essence of its bellowsness. Sometimes being an artist is very handy. When all else fails you can fall back on the visual qualities of your surroundings. In the next room, for no reason that I could think of, there was a large marionette theater with perhaps thirty puppets. Boris was very excited about this so I told him that the theater was the reason we wanted to come in the first place…as a surprise for him !

By the time we got to the scissors display Bill was pretty much convinced that the museum was established by everyone in Bologna getting rid of their junk. And perhaps that’s true, but I have to say that after the initial disappointment, the museum guard won me over. He led us to a contraption that was clearly a press of some sort and explained that it was used to make coins. I think a little molten metal might have helped his presentation but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Without any warning the museum morphed into an art gallery. What a dirty trick to play on Boris. Suddenly we were in a room full of Annunciations, San Sebastions and other scenes of martyrdom. Things got better when we came across the most impressive exhibit in the place-- a beautifully painted carriage. It just showed up unexpectedly in the last room.

On our way out, the museum guard showed us a painting of a Madonna and Child and explained that the artist had been a student of Giotto. I don’t really know if he meant "student" in the sense that the two artists were in the same room together, or in the sense that I am a student of Picasso because I was born later and my 6th grade art teacher Miss Katzourakos (“all you have to do is say cat, zoo, ray, kiss” is how she clarified her name on the first day of class) had us all make cubist masks. In any event, the guard and I looked at the painting and decided that, yes, there were similarities in the way the faces were depicted. It must be said that Giotto’s technique was a whole lot better, but on the other hand that’s to be expected. By way of compensation we didn’t have to reserve tickets in advance for a fifteen minute visit as we had to do for the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.

I forgot to mention that like the majority of museums in Bologna, this one was free of charge. As an added bonus we got to take a peek at the second floor of the Palazzo. It is just amazing that a family could have ever built it for their own private use—and they weren’t even ruling a country.

Right now Bologna is facing budget problems like every other municipality in the world. They are trying to save money on schools, and apparently they aren’t putting a lot of effort into the graffiti problem. I wonder what will happen to other public services like the accessible and easy-to-understand bus system. And I wonder how long the city’s museums can remain free of charge. As things stand I am enjoying this feature a lot. Today for example I stopped by the Morandi museum and looked at half a dozen paintings. Admission was free so I didn’t feel pressured to see everything. And besides, I really just stopped in to use the restroom.

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