Two weeks ago for Bookman’s birthday we were going to go see the special Rembrandt exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. We were not surprised that we needed tickets for the special exhibit at the usually free museum – we’ve been there for other ticketed special exhibits like Georgia O’Keefe. What surprised us was that we had to get the tickets in advance. You see, the exhibit hasn’t been advertised much and it had been here for almost a month before we found out about it. Not until last week or thereabouts have I begun seeing ads for the show in various places around the city. Needless to say, we did not get to go for Bookman’s birthday, tickets were sold out.
But we were not to be defeated. Lesson learned, we planned ahead. Each got today off work, and we bought tickets for a 10 a.m. (opening time) a full week in advance. We arrived a little before 10 and they were already allowing people in. Yay!
The exhibition was set up in a series of linked gallery rooms in a sort of chronological order always beginning to the right of the entry door. But by creating an order, everyone entering the exhibit bunches up in a crowd trying to see the two tiny early paintings. Neither Bookman nor I are tall people and jostling for position to get close enough to read the plaque telling about the paintings was not possible in the scrum. So we bucked the order and went left where there was no one looking at that painting. We didn’t end up getting to see the small early paintings until the very end when we were walking out. But this ended up being okay and very interesting after seeing all the brilliant and mature work to then see how he began. In these two pieces by eighteen-year-old Rembrandt we could see the elements of what he was going to become. If we had seen them first we would not have been able to see that.
Amongst the authentic Rembrandts were many paintings that had once been attributed to him but have since been attributed to other artists in his workshop. There were also several paintings signed by Rembrandt that had been begun by his workshop lackeys and finished by him. Having the chance to see these paintings alongside “real” Rembrandts was fascinating. At first it was hard to tell the difference but gradually it became easier to see what was Rembrandt and what was Rembrandt-like and why.
My favorite painting in the show was Minerva in Her Study. Minerva was modeled by Rembrandt’s wife Saskia and the info plaque described the painting as his “love letter” to her. This painting was so amazing, the quality of the light, the detail, the composition. Love in paint. Sadly, Saskia died in 1642 probably from tuberculosis. During her illness they hired Geertje Dircx to care for and nurse their infant son Titus. Even before Saskia died, Rembrandt and Geertje became lovers. Poor Saskia.
As much as I loved the experience, there were a couple of downsides for me. There seemed to be a large number of mostly elderly people wearing very strong perfume and cologne. I am allergic to most perfumes and one man’s cologne especially nearly sent me into a panic because I suddenly couldn’t breathe. When I left the exhibition I had a headache and was slightly nauseous – my personal sacrifice to art. There were also audio tours available to rent that tell you about the paintings. Audio tours have been the worst thing to happen to art in recent years. People wearing headphones are oblivious to their surroundings. They also have the bad habit of standing in front of the info plaques and reading them while their audio tour is giving them the same information.
While my fellow visitors were annoying, the worst part about the exhibit was the lighting. Rembrandt’s paintings tend to be dark and varnished. The museum had spot lights on the ceiling shining on the paintings in addition to regular room lighting. The spots made the worst glare that blotted out half the painting when I stood directly in front. No matter how far back I stood, there would still be glare. Often, to see the whole piece without glare, Bookman and I had to stand off to the side of the painting.
The lighting was disappointing and my fellow visitors often annoying but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. The exhibit was made up of works in collections in the United States and is the largest Rembrandt exhibit assembled in the U.S. ever. I am very lucky to have seen it and thank you Minneapolis Institute of Arts for putting it together. We will be returning to the MIA in winter for another special exhibition, they are going to have the terracotta warriors there!