Sunday, September 9, 2007

Please do not kiss the art

Another Clinton Day is upon us. Which means this blog may have gone on far too long.

I must keep this fresh for you, just as Clinton has kept Olde Home Day fresh. This year's princess was Snow White, the raffles were spread out throughout the park, and the Icon Museum was open.

The what-now?
I think you heard me.

It is the largest collection in North America, and one of the largest outside Russia. And it shares the distincton of being from the same hometown as Agnes Moorehead.

I leave you to explore the website on your own. What I want to discuss is how the curators and docents hope to keep little old ladies from kissing the art.

It's an ethical delimma in one way. This collector (and it is a private collection) purchased his collection outright -- they are not raided from ruins and the like. Some of the pieces are 600 years old and displayed in open view, not behind glass or ropes. Visitors are invited to approach with magnifying glasses provided to see the fine details. But please, say the signs, do not touch the icons. They say this every few feet. And for good reason.

Because the faithful expect to venerate them as religious objects. And this must be a difficult habit to break.

I witnessed this myself as 2 women -- likely a mother-daughter crew, about 70 and 90 -- made their way past this 1590 likeness of St Paul, and another of Christ Crucified. The older woman blanced herself on her walker, kissed her fingertips and touched them to Paul's feet. Then moved to the crucifixion scene and did the same on Christ's feet and each hand, with a fresh kiss for each touch.

Add to my list of things to worry about the worry that the museum will eventually encase their pieces to preserve them from the things they were created for. Or that continued attention from human hands will eventually wear away these antiquities and early Church artifacts.

In some of the pieces in the main gallery one can already see sections completely worn away by faithful hands. The fondling of statues seems to be an acceptable practice, and unrelated to any questions of theology.

I once attended a Good Friday service with a Catholic friend. This is not the practice in my sect -- we will have a Passover, or a Maundy Thursday, called Tenebrae usually now. I was surprised at how moving the service was -- a real funeral, with all the shock and fear as if it was happening right then. I was unsure about venerating the cross, but I gave it a try. I now understand how the tengible gesture of that intangible relationship can be both electrifying and calming, and at the same time.

Now I don't know if I want those ladies to hold that back when facing a wall of Mothers of God.

I am trying to get my hands on the proceedings from this 2006 conference to see what they came up with.

1 comment:

  1. you know, i can almost understand their compulsion. of course, they have religious reasons for wanting to touch the art. i have found myself inexplicably drawn to touching works of art that make me want to cry a little. like when i see a van gogh in the "flesh," i really want to reach out and touch what he created. i can't explain it.


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