I’ve found a new method for deciding what museums to visit when on a trip to a city with many many of them: head to the gift shop and browse their posters. Usually, there is a good selection of the works there and you can gauge if you are in the mood to be in the presence of such pieces! This is how I decided to visit two museums in Munich that I probably would have passed on if not for the above method. And, boy, I’m glad I visited them!
The first museum, the Alte Pinakothek houses works from Old Masters. In the past, I could not connect with these works in a meaningful way and felt a cultural barrier blocking my understanding of them, so when I visited the museum’s gift, I was very surprised when I suddenly felt an urge to be in the presence of these works, to be in the same room as these great canvases that depict such maddening energy. It also helped that the galleries were deserted and I could be (mostly) alone with gigantic canvases that depicted maddening scenes of joy and suffering, sometimes in the same room.
These galleries started with the beautiful works of Bruegel which provide a window into everyday life. These were followed by some amazing work by Jan Sanders van Hemessen. One painting in particular with christ begin tortured and beaten before crucification moved me for the way that each character symbolized various human emotions: ignorance, malice, ridicule, …
Next came many scenes of ecstatic lust and boundless joy, senseless violence, transcendence, tender love, madness, saneness and everything in between. Visions of heaven and hell covered the walls of these amazing space, I felt the rooms would start screaming, I could hear Mozart’s Requiem and Orff’s Carmina Burana in my head!
How could anyone (including myself) walk past these walls and not be consumed by the passion to live, to love, to cry, to laugh. I had to sit and take a few breaths. I realized these artists had touched life’s reality intimately. They knew what it was all about and, moreover, they had the ability to express it. Their technique, intellect, mastery came second, first there was the Truth of their Internal Experience. While the methods they used, their language was different, if you could tune into it, you could see the thread of your personal time-less narrative reflected unto them.
On one wall was a picture of mischief himself:
On another, a vision of heaven I’ve seen strived to be recreate at many festivals and gatherings to this day:
And on another the resolution to a tragedy of unbearable sorrow:
I was overwhelmed but happy!
The following day, still surprised by my reaction to visiting the Alte Pinakothek, I went for a long walk around Munich. Eventually, I came across the strange neo-classical Brienner Strase which is a large avenue surrounded by imposing buildings that were once the heart of Nazi Germany in Bavaria. Most of the buildings house music and visual art faculties. I remember about 7 years ago when I visited Munich for the first time with my mom and brother, we were looking for a washroom in the area. We walked into an imposing building that didn’t have a clear sign. We realized this was the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich which was great to visit because my brother was attending the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. But what was striking was that the interior of the building looked uncannily like a scene from a WWII movie. We found out later that this was in fact a Nazi Party headquarters and Hitler had an office in the second floor (which is now a rehearsal room). When I looked at these buildings today with their imposing walls (some still with bullet holes in them), I remembered Radiohead’s You and Whose Army?
Next, I went to the Glyptothek which houses exquisite greek statues. I never thought I would enjoy this museum as much as I did. The guidebook, rather strangely, dismissed this museum as of interest if “you like Classical art or simply enjoy watching nude guys with missing noses and other body parts”! Again, the gift shop made me feel I might get inspired by my visit and I was! Spacious room after spacious room were filled with these beautiful sculptures whose colourless skin makes them look even more timeless and at the same time ephemeral.
Seeing these statues in Munich is a bit disturbing because of the way these images were used by the Nazi’s to further their idea of the “perfect human” or “perfect race”. (Radiohead’s self-loathing Creep was playing in my head.) And, no doubt, these statues do identify and celebrate “ideals” of beauty, a dangerous idea. But for an hour, I tried to suspend these criticisms and enjoy the grace and refinement of these statues of the past win me over and take me to a place where I co-existed if not with ancient artists but with their ideas embodied in stone.
After looking into the face of Socrates and Alexander the Great, I went for a traditional Bavarian lunch of liver dumbing soup and cold sausage salad!