A Winter Respite - RISD Museum, Providence, RI

We were in dire need of a break from the freezing temps, snow and post-holiday/winter blahs. Our bank, Bank of America, offers a “Museums on Us” program whereby BOA customers can get free admission to a number of US museums on the first full weekend of every month. Always budget-conscious and this being the first full weekend of January 2018, we decided to take advantage.

 Welcome to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum

Welcome to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum

We thought an excursion to the RISD Museum (Rhode Island School of Design) only ~30 miles south in Providence, Rhode Island, might just do the trick. According to the museum’s website, “The RISD Museum was founded on the belief that art, artists, and the institutions that support them play pivotal roles in promoting broad civic engagement and creating more open societies. Established in 1877 as part of a vibrant creative community, the RISD Museum stewards works of art representing diverse cultures from ancient times to the present.” What better way to spend a day, absorb a little cult-cha and raise our weary winter spirits?

With seven special exhibitions and eight galleries including 100,000 objects, there was enough to keep us busy for a few hours. Galleries ranged from Textiles & Costumes to Asian, Ancient and Contemporary Art and much more. Additionally, it happened to be Super Art Sunday with talented local artists offering free workshops and activities. The place was humming.

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One exhibition in particular, “Lines of Thought …. drawing from Michelangelo to Now from the British Museum” was high on our list and we made a beeline there first. Seventy works ranging from Egyptian works on papyrus to the sketches and illustrations by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Picasso, Durer, Cezanne and da Vinci. We learned that the author, Victor Hugo, had done more than 3,000 drawings ... who knew?  The exhibition was excellent. It also emphasized the extent to which many of the masters sketched different aspects of their works before deciding on the right approach. Sketches of hands, feet, draping, noses, buttocks … different perspectives, different light sources, different shading, shadows and textures … all provided food for thought and interesting conversation. See what I mean in the Durer drawings below.

 Studies for Adam & Eve - Albrecht Durer - 1504

Studies for Adam & Eve - Albrecht Durer - 1504

We headed up to the 6th floor to view the Asian galleries … an extensive collection of artifacts, textiles, costumes, jewelry and sculptures. A Japanese Buddha, reputedly the largest Buddha sculpture in the USA, was acquired by the RISD in 1933,  found stored for centuries in an old farmhouse after a fire at a temple when it originally stood. We saw an exquisitely carved, paper-thin jade bowl created for the Chinese Emperor Quianlong c. 1760. It was so elegant and so delicate, it was almost beyond belief .

We worked our way through ancient Greek and Roman, 18th and 19th century American and European art and decorative arts and design. We enjoyed entire rooms furnished in fine period furniture taken from old Providence homes.

 Period furniture and accessories from a 19th century Providence home

Period furniture and accessories from a 19th century Providence home

As we wandered from floor to floor and gallery to gallery, there seemed to be something surprising at every turn … a Chihuly chandelier lighting one stairwell, an Andy Warhohl painting hanging opposite a Jackson Pollock in the contemporary gallery.

Since it’s a school of design, industrial design was also included … this Olivetti manual typewriter designed in 1969 by Sottsass and King named the Valentine, for instance.

 Industrial design included this Olivetti "Valentine" manual typewriter - 1969

Industrial design included this Olivetti "Valentine" manual typewriter - 1969

A special exhibition entitled “Unsettled” was … well, unsettling. It focused on the current topics such as missing children, the uncertainty of foreign students in the USA based on the pending changes in immigration laws, the difficulty of feeling at “home” in a new country. Again, it left us with food for thought.

There are always a few paintings that leave us scratching our heads, like the one below which featured a fishing lure on a painted blue canvas. Here's the description "This composition similarly reductive [...compared to abstract art of 1950s and 1960s], but Cowan's gently satirical inclusion of a mass-produced object associated with outdoor recreation suggested a more ordinary appreciation of how colors and forms are experienced in everyday life."  Hmmm!  Very comparable marketing hype to the people who write descriptions on wine bottles. David felt he had missed out using all of his extensive lure inventory for fishing instead of creating a masterpiece.

 Untitled - Paul Cowan - 2012

Untitled - Paul Cowan - 2012

All in all, we experienced several hours of pleasant, thought-provoking escape from the winter blahs … nourishment for the soul.

N.B. - We discovered later that RISD always offers free admission on Sundays and we’d highly recommend it as as a worthwhile and thoroughly engaging visit.