07 February 2014

Photo for the Day - Art Treasures

Museums are our history

Musée du Louvre, Paris, France. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

Isn't museum hopping an obligatory part of being a tourist? Except I truly enjoy museums.

I  always try to take in the arts while traveling. I have learned it best not to see every item in an entire museum or I get museum head, instead I pick certain exhibits and always try to roam solo. I also like to sit in on talks by docents, it's a good way to learn more about specific pieces or periods.

Whether visiting the Louvre museum in Paris (above), the incredible public museums in London, the awe-inspiring collection of museums along the Mall in Washington D.C. (Smithsonian, Natural History, Space, Modern), del Prado in Madrid, the Ufizi in Florence, the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, or the Getty Museum in Los Angeles - I always walk out feeling more connected to the bigger world around me.

Some of my favorites have been the smaller museums: Calouste Gulbenkian museum in Lisbon, Rembrandt Museum in Amsterdam, Vimanmek Mansion in BangkokMusée Picasso in Nice, or the Clyfford Still Museum right here in Denver, Colorado.

On my first trip to Europe at the age of twenty-one, I remember seeing my first sculpture by Michelangelo. I can still remember my emotional response to it's beauty. Can you imagine the millions who have looked upon that carved hunk of stone over the years and had the same response of awe. That is the timeless importance of art, and much of what had survived for centuries was destroyed just 70 years ago.

Museums do not just belong to the country they reside in, the treasures within their walls tell our communal story over the ages. It takes lots of hard work and money to preserve our story and I am grateful to those who make the masterpieces visible to the public and to those who share their private collections.

I am a WWI and WWII history buff and so I am interested in the story of the Monuments Men, the George Clooney movie in theaters this weekend. The movie itself hasn't gotten great reviews, in spite of the star-studded cast, yet the story is pure gold. Last November while I was in California I met a women who held my dream job. She had years of experience in tracking the historical lineage of ownership of works of art for the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Can you imagine what an awesome job that would be?

"When are you writing a novel?", was all we wanted to know. She said soon, but not until after she completes a couple technical books. For now we are left to read more about the real story of the Momuments Men:

"The “Venus Fixers” as they were sometimes called by fellow troops—“Monuments Men” by most others—were mostly young museum directors and curators, art professors and architects who volunteered for service. After the war, many would become leaders of the most prominent museums in the United States (such as the Met, the MOMA, the National Gallery of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and many others. Other revered institutions, such as the New York City Ballet, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts, were the tangible results of ideas of the Monuments Men). Virtually every major American museum had one or more employee who served as an MFAA officer during World War II. Still, their numbers were ridiculously few when compared to the overwhelming task they confronted."

The Monuments men were both men and women from 13 countries. The Roberts Commision was formed in America in 1943 for the specific purpose of preservation of art in wartime:

Only 70 years has passed since we lost countless numbers of masterpieces.
Tourists freely walk among public art in Paris.
Photos by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
Allies bombed the train station in Florence Italy during WWII to cut off supply lines, just blocks away from the Duomo and countless works of art. They hit the target and missed the art, which was not always the case throughout Italy.
Photos by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

Theft was both organized by armies and random by locals and soldiers. The hope is that as generations pass, the well-cataloged art will resurface in homes or museums across Europe, Russia and America and be returned to rightful owners or again be made public. 

An old documentary with footage of the stolen art and the method behind the thefts (quite long at 1:37:36, but informative, not Hollywood but with shades of propaganda). It shows footage of locals who attempted to move the art out of harms way of war, and of the blatant theft: