Two weekends ago, two of my girlfriends and I visited the newest exhibit at the Frist Center for Visual Arts: Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age. It was interesting to see the influence of Protestantism on art after the Netherlands broke from Catholic Spain, and while still life isn’t my favorite, there were lots of other pieces I really enjoyed.
The first pieces were Rembrandts, and they were my favorite. I especially liked his Visitation, which I had never seen before.
It also included one of his portraits of Christ (of which there are many). Not his most famous one, but a very nice one.
Two of my favorite Rembrandts that weren’t in the exhibit were his Storm on the Lake of Galilee and his Return of the Prodigal Son.
The way the Frist is laid out, it’s easy to find yourself in a completely different exhibit while in the middle of walking through another. While we were walking through the Dutch Masters, we ducked into a modern exhibit by Camille Utterback “whose interactive installations and reactive sculptures engage participants in a dynamic process of kinesthetic discovery and play.” There were four interactive stations where your movement in front of the wall impacted what you saw in front of you. For example, one of them had a projection on the wall of letters falling from the sky — when you walked into the room, you appeared on the screen and the letters fell onto you. You were able to lift the letters up, shake them off, etc. Another included the projection of modern art on the wall and as you walked into the room the art changed depending on where you moved, how you moved, etc.
After leaving this highly-interactive exhibit and entering back into the Dutch Masters rooms, my friend joked something along the lines, “And now we just look at these?” She was kidding, of course, but it could be a thought-provoking reflection on our society. Rembrandt and the great masters created profound works of art after quietly studying their reality. We could even say contemplating reality. To full appreciate their art, I think it could be argued that one has to enter into that same contemplation. Is our modern society able to 1) produce similar masters? 2) appreciate the work of the past masters?
How many people are able to enter that art museum off the street, silence their phones, pause their iPods, leave the noise behind, and engage reality in a completely different manner than what they just silenced and left behind? It’s not just a matter of looking at the Visitation by Rembrandt, but encountering it. It’s not going to make noise, it’s not going to change, it’s not going to move, it’s not going to “refresh.” But if you allow it, it may speak to you. It may change you. It may move you. It may refresh you. But is modern man able to engage it in that way? I’m not so sure.