Art in Bloom

Art in Bloom is the Saint Louis Art Museum’s most popular annual show. We caught it yesterday, on its final day. It is an event that is so well attended that special traffic signage and shuttle buses are introduced to handle the crowds. We parked just outside the park and hike into it and then up Art Hill.

The noble Duke of York, he had 10K men, he marched them up the hill, and marched them down again…

Inside the museum, we were greeted by throngs of the vast unwashed mob. I swear that for many people this event is like their annual pilgrimage to worship upon the altar of culture. The event is pretty simple to explain. About a dozen or so local florists are invited to compete. Each artist is paired with one of the museum’s artworks and asked to create a bouquet that complements that work. Floral displays are judged, and ribbons awarded for bragging rights. Works chosen are always from the permanent collection and usually only ones that are on display in one of the museum’s larger rooms. Remember that vast unwashed mob? They must throng someplace. Our visit last weekend was not the usual quiet, contemplative Slammer experience.

Some observations:

  • Florist who draws art from the contemporary wing have an advantage over those getting more classical artworks. Flower arrangements tend to be much more pixilated than brush strokes. Although the use of a pair of Painter’s Palettes to represent the boatman’s red kerchiefs was an effective touch. Usually, the floral artist just tries to match the painting’s colors.
  • We caught this show on its last day and after four days of display, many of the flowers were beginning to look wilted. Being members, we could have caught them earlier at their peak radiance, but other activities got in our way. Something to remember for next year.
  • This year’s Art in Bloom coincided with an unusually large amount of turnover in the museum’s displays. If not for the distraction of this flower show, a visit to the museum would have been rather disappointing. Still, these developments bode well for this Spring.

By the time that we made it upstairs to the American section, I was getting tired of having to wade into these throngs, when I overhead a pair of women. One was pointing out to the other which figure in one of Bingham’s large crowd paintings, was the artist himself. I interrupted by mansplaining how Bingham created these tableaus by first individually drawing their human subjects and then inserting them into the crowd. He maintained a portfolio of people that he reused from one painting to the next. Late in life the artist fell into debt and had to sell his portfolio. I should have stopped there, because while he did sell them to the downtown Mercantile Library, they are no longer there, but are now held by the Saint Louis and Kansas City art museums. The Mercantile Library is not even downtown anymore but has since moved to UMSL.

Like I said, I should have stopped there, but I was on a roll, and I had an audience. I led the women to the next room where the statue Zenobia in Chains was on display. I swear, a Slammer security guard told me that a WashU student found it in an antique store on Cherokee Street, bought it for a song and then donated it to the museum. The true story is only intertwined with these facts. A collector originally purchased the statue and then donated to the art museum in the 19th-century, back when the SLAM was part of WashU’s art department. In 1950 the museum loaned it to the Cherokee Caves Museum. When that museum closed in the Sixties, it was auctioned off, before coming home again.

Age of Armor

Yesterday, we got out and about and made it to the Saint Louis Art Museum. We viewed their new show, that opened last weekend, of treasures from the Higgins Armory Collection from the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. Worcester boasts the largest collection of medieval armor and weapons in the US and the second largest in the world. This show is on display in the new East Wing of the museum, but not in the normal exhibition space. That place is reserved for another show on Monet that is slated to open next month and will run concurrently with the Armor show.

In the meantime, the Slammer has gone all in for this show. The first photo in the gallery above shows me wearing a helmet in the gift shop. What you cannot see is how uncomfortable it was. My nose was squished when I put it on. I could not even get it all the way on because of my nose and had to tilt my head forward just to see out of the visor. Maybe the pictured dog-faced helm or as I like to refer to it as, Madonna’s brazier shaped visor, would have worked better, but probably the also pictured grotesque visor would have been best.

In the exhibit, most of the artifacts were behind glass or plastered with do not touch signs, but even in there, there were hands-on items. I was fascinated with the armored gauntlets. I even tried to take a photo of one, with my hand in it, while it was holding my iPhone in the gauntlet, but I could not manage the task. This failure begged the question presented in the next gallery; how did the armored knight ever manage to reload his pistol? I guess that I will have to go along with Anne’s opinion that he probably had someone to do that for him.

Henry: Where is the number of our English dead?
                [Herald gives him another paper.]
Henry: Edward the Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk,
Sir Richard Ketly, Davy Gam, esquire.
None else of name, and of all other men
But five and twenty. — Henry V, Shakespeare