The weather was a bit better today and I felt I had to get out - too many Santa faces looking up at me from crumpled tinfoil wrappers to stay home. So it was off to the RISD Museum for me.
It would be hard to overstate the importance of this Museum in my life. I first visited years ago, as a directionless, unemployed college dropout looking for distraction and a place to spend time. I hadn't prior to that time even been aware of the Museum's existence. My family was passionate about music, but visual art was something for other people. I have very clear and vivid memories of exploring the collection, learning to look through repeated immersion in the galleries. Later, I would visit when a student once more, and then later still to bring students of my own to discuss works on view there. In time I would work at the Museum as well; it was with no small measure of amazement and pride that I then walked through the halls.
So I'm not objective on the topic. But I haven't visited in quite a long time, and even those last visits were more dutiful than anything else - checking up on a certain work, making notes for an assignment, and so on. Terry Teachout has been reflecting on his holiday visit home, and I had thought of offering Larkin's "Poetry of Departures" in joking response. I've already posted the poetic version of my feelings regarding my city. But going to RISD has instead reminded me of the old line that you can't go home again. So, too often, I haven't.
I miss old arrangements. The two paintings seen here in inadequate images - John White Alexander's The Blue Bowl and Manet's portrait of Berthe Morisot, Le Repos - used to hang across from one another, the former in the first room of nineteenth century painting, the latter in the final one. Standing in the room between, one could look back and forth at these two very different essays on that great theme of the later nineteenth century, the solitary female. The Alexander painting, while wonderful in its own way, is of course far more prim and literary than Manet's forthright rendering of Morisot. I always thought of the lyrical grace of Alexander's work as in some sense Jamesian, though that may be because I always misremembered the title as The Golden Bowl.
The main temporary exhibition is a group show of new art from the Caribbean. I am slightly acquainted with the curators, so I regret to say that I did not see much of real interest. A great deal of the work was didactic and dull, with a striving quality that spoke of a lack of attention it threatened to reinforce. I am not happy to write this, and feel I should look again before giving a final judgement. My own feelings at visiting, as well as the crowds of Christmas vacation families with children, may have interfered.
What else? A fine display of German works on paper from the early 20th century stood out. I've not much more to say at this time. Mostly I found myself reflecting on the past. Providence is, for an American city, an old one; even as it undergoes redevelopment and gentification, it keeps a few hidden corners. Today reminded me of when more of the city and its tarnished treasures were mine.