By Jonathan Blackwell
I was lucky to schedule a site visit to Duke for my job at ASI Modulex on the same day as the preview for El Greco to Velazquez at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University today. In the spirit of Ferris Bueller visiting the Art Institute of Chicago on his infamous day off, I gleefully hopped up the steps to the Nasher shortly after 4:00pm when I usually work until 5:30 or later!
Upon visiting El Greco to Velazquez it took me a while to acclimate inside the Nasher atrium. The information desk has moved to make way for the new, black and beautiful Calder sculpture, so I had to pause and get my bearings. There it is! The round information booth is now to the left after entering and has become a point of sale for Audio Tours!
Right away that has to qualify my favorite museum in a new tier of legitimacy: Audio Tours! I had to get one which happened to be from my friend Kyna who heralds her own brand of Duke and Durham connections. She encouraged me to volunteer for the Nasher during the El Greco show. I told her that sounds like a great idea.
Audio Tour in hand I rush to the large banners. I have no ticket. How did this happen? Oh! There it is back there! The Ticket Booth! Which is now a straight desk, not curved and in the middle of the Atrium, but to the right of the entrance to the permanent collection pavilion. I hurriedly got my ticket (Thanks, Juline!) and made it into the show.
I encountered more new intellectual territory when I passed the Label Books (Gallery Copy) that guide you through the show in addition to the Audio Tour. With my Label Book open to page one I start to listen to the show. Background music! Sarah Schroth is at my command, excitedly adding spice to the informative male voice in the recordings.
The paintings are beautiful and you don’t need me to write about that. That’s been done for you by experts. What I will tell you is that what the exhibition notes say is true: Some of these works have never been out of Spain, and I encountered new elements within familiar religious themes. Look for the Seraphim in the Carducho Stigmatization. What does the Leopard represent to the right of the Apostolado?
I only made it through the first room, so I didn’t even get to see the portrait of the Duke of Lerma. That’s where the historical significance of the show really takes off. The patronage of contemporary art in the court of King Philip III had a lot to do with the Duke of Lerma. I gathered from Sara’s interview down the page on this blog that he was a very diplomatic and peaceful man.
Many people out there may dismiss political leadership in an art exhibition, and if so that’s appropriate. The art is good enough by itself. However, when the art historical context of El Greco to Velazquez elevates my idea of making peace with other countries by fostering creative expression, it’s like the show was custom tailored for my best intentions.