Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Chrysler Museum

We took the opportunity of Wednesday late hours to visit the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, and received the added bonus of the Kraft Corporation picking up our admission fees. It’s a great idea to have extended access to a museum at least once a week, and I wish the Carnegie in Pittsburgh would adopt the practice.

Shortly after we entered the museum, a jazz outfit began performing covers of mediocre easy rock tunes from the 80’s. They had tables set up in the great main entrance hall, and they were selling beer and soft drinks. Once again, I think it’s nice for the museum to make a special evening for folks, but I have to say that the warbling sounds filtering through the exhibit spaces distracted me from appreciating the art. Imagine trying to process a Gustave Dore masterpiece to the groovy vibe of James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend”... it’s really not the best way to experience the Western canon.

As I walked through the first floor galleries I was struck by the immense amount of priceless pieces Walter Chrysler collected. I stood aghast in front of artifacts that ranged from hundreds to THOUSANDS of years old… stuff pillaged from tombs and wrested from the holy grounds of ancient tribes. In a conversation with a docent, I was reminded of the sort of machinations by which these acquisitions were gathered. Some poverty-stricken treasure seeker in a third world country digs through archaeological sites, and steals these objects. They then sell it to a dealer for a paltry amount of US currency. These middlemen in turn approach museum directors and broker huge deals to acquire the plunder. And of course, with our access to these great American institutions (remember- FREE, thanks to Kraft), we are the ones that benefit.

After awhile all this booty seems to meld into some total abstraction… one symbol in totality of a single individual’s obsessive pursuit to collect every beautiful thing in the world. Where did he put all this stuff before it was bequeathed to this institution? Was it warehoused carefully in crates, out of the sight of most, except for a few other wealthy individuals… to briefly glimpse and covet? Did the Chryslers have beach houses throughout the world with antiquities serving the utility of the inhabitants? How many irreplaceable objects were jostled from their resting places by little Chryslers?

One thing I can tell given the evidence… Chrysler and his handlers didn’t have much eye for modern art. Some of the biggest names of the twentieth century are represented… but only by minor works. I guess even a car magnate of the most prosperous years this country has ever seen can’t have everything.


Anonymous jefg said...

For places with other collections of stuff (or just one piece, but unusual), try this site:
Unfortunately, not much located near your present location. I'll await your commentary on the Edgar Cayce museum/college/tribute/phenomenon

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, you found this experience free but cheesy?
Look on the bright (flip) side, were it not for the riches of others, and greed to have more than one should need and disregard as to how one obtains it (sounds a bit like Nike profits), were it not for all of this, neither you nor anyone else (other than those rich) would have live access to such collections.
(permission if you need not post this remark)

9:25 AM  
Anonymous jefg said...

On a more serious note, in visits to various art museums, I've come to this conclusion. (Actually, I would not have come to any conclusion were it not for your post which prompted me to think at all)...Except for the very top museums (Met Guggenheim in NYC, National Gallery in London, for example, or those devoted to single artists, such as Wyeth and Warhol in PA, or Dali in Florida), it seems that many art museum collections are put together based more on artist name recognition than on the piece itself.

This is certainly an observation of the uninformed (that being me), but I've seen alot of pretty dull stuff hanging with a recognizable name on the accompaning placard. Perhaps you've seen them...two circles of different sizes in charcoal on 4" x 6", denoted "early drawing of such and such artist serving as the basis for a final piece ten permutations later".

Then again, it's certainly a case of those who have the big bucks get the best works, and probably to some degree the best museums getting the best publicicity (ergo the works become most famous, and published). To me, "serendipity" is finding a beautiful, or thought-provoking...not always a lesser collection. In the local art museum there are a handful of paintings I enjoy on every visit, and none of have names of artists the average man would recognize. Note re exception: Monet's famous paintings seem to reproduce themselves, and it begs the question....just how many Water Lillies and Sunflowers can one man paint?

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm...Serving alcohol in the lobby of the Chysler Art Museum (while listening to obtrusive levels of James Taylor). Kinda makes one want to drink and drive (preferably off a cliff).

9:55 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Thanks for thinking to recommend the roadsideamerica site. I love that one, and check it before going on any trip to see if there is anything strange to see where I am going.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Certainly, I completely agree. We benefit constantly from our compatriots' spirit of acquisition. And I don't want to sound hypocritical... I'm really not excluding myself from these urges. I have an extensive movie collection on dvd, and shelves worth of books. I have to be grateful that Chrysler collected art, rather than cars, which I have no interest in whatsoever beyond getting from place to place.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Regarding your thoughts on the collections of major art museums- I really couldn't have put it better myself.

10:59 AM  

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