A President's Reflections

Vienna highlights

Posted on December 30, 2010

We have been to two wonderful museums in the last two days. The first was the Albertina, part of the Hofburg Palace and where the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa lived. It now hosts special art exhibits and we saw three terrific ones: Michaelangelo’s print drawings; Picasso (focusing onnhis political sensibilities, an often neglected area beyond his well known Guernica); and, William Kentridge, a contemporary artist working in variety of media, but best known for his animated stop action shorts. While the first two were the blockbuster attractions, we were blown away by Kentridge.

His crude drawings and herby jerky animations, especially our favorite and his best known series, Felix In Exile, were strangely powerful and emotional. The work is both political and yet intimate and personal. He has found ways to make drawing new again by crossing media boundaries. If you ever a chance to see his work, do it. Michaelangelo was as one might predict: masterful, powerful, and a genius. Yet I find myself less taken with his monumental work and his muscular figures (were steroids common in the Renaissance?), preferring instead his flawed and gentler works such as his captive slaves, still trapped in the stone, or the Pieta. While his David is a Platonic ideal and much celebrated, I actually prefer Donatello’s fey David. But these are preferences and maybe it is only because Michaelangelo’s works are so well known that one doesn’t thrill to them anymore.

Now a mea culpa about Picasso. I have never thrilled to his work. I respect it intellectually and understand it’s importance, but it doesn’t please me or touch my heart. We attended an organ concert in St. Stephen’s cathedral tonight and I have to confess that I feel the same way about Bach. I know the work is of immense complexity and demanded virtuosity on the part of the organist. I know there is brilliance in the score and mathematical elegance, but the repeated motifs and signature counterpoint seem formal and structured and without the power and drama I hoped to hear from the cathedral’s mighty pipe organ. For that sensibility, we had to wait for a piece by Louis Vierne, a more modern composer. Side note: with no real expertise in Classical music, I nevertheless have written off any piece described as a pastoral, a music term denoting time to nap. The Bach Pastoral we heard tonight was worse than the fugue.

Back to visual art. We also spent hours at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, a truly world class museum that I am embarrassed to say I had not heard of before. The building itself feels like an extension of the Hofburg Palace, which sits just across the street. It is a palace of art and one of the most beautiful museum interiors we have ever seen. The collection is world class, especially for the European masters, and includes a large number of Titians, Tinterettos, and the newly favored Caravaggio. But the list goes well beyond to include Raphael,Vermeer, the Brueghels, and a large collection of Rubens, and so much more. The Egyptian, Greek, and Roman collections were exemplary. We spent hours, ate in the museum cafe (one heck of a setting, under the grand dome), and went back for more.

Music, art, architecture, and grandeur. Reminds us that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was for hundreds of years the center of the world in many ways and while that Empire met it’s end with WWI, it retains still an elegant and rich heritage amply on display for happy tourists like us. How did we miss it for so long?

Tomorrow, the food.

One thought on “Vienna highlights

  1. Nitya Dhakar says:

    I am quite envious of your museum exploits. I have to agree with you about Michelagnelo. His drawings are much better than his more famous steroid enduced works (except the Pieta and David). His female subjects are always so manly. (Best David is Bernini’s.)

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