An American museum tour
I began in Dallas (OK, not exactly the mid-west). It wasn't a particularly auspicious start, when the cab driver from the airport said, in response to my query, that there was really nothing to see in Dallas (if you want to see things, you should go to Fort Worth, was his line). As it happens he was wrong, although with only a day there I didn't get to see much.
I was lecturing in the Dallas Museum of Art (a two hour session for their docents in the morning and a public performance on the Roman triumph in the evening, with an hour's radio interview in between). The Museum looked great, but it was their closed day -- so even if there had been time, the possibilities were limited (only the travelling Tut show was open, and I've been avoiding that in most places it's been).
What I really wanted to see was the Kennedy assassination museum, in the very book depository (with the very window) from which the president was shot. There was no time for that either, but I did meet someone who had been in the crowd lining the streets on the very day. The next best thing I guess.
From Dallas, I went on the Green Bay Wisconsin.
There I was giving a lecture on the Parthenon at St Norbert College, a small Catholic Liberal Arts College, with only just over 2000 students altogether. It wasn't just the one gig. I also went to a couple of student classes, where we talked more about the Parthenon (they had been using my book as a course book -- yippee) and also had a session on mythology. One smart guy asked me a good question about the relationship between Greek and Roman myth, on which I waxed lyrical. It turned out to be their essay topic for that week!
After a night in Green Bay, it was on to Chicago -- for two lectures in the Art Institute (more on the Triumph, partly to fit in with a series of events they are having on globalisation). I've been to Chicago quite often before but never to my shame been to the Art Institute.
It turned out to be packed with Impressionists -- not usually my favourite paintings to look at. As the husband rightly points out, you dont have to know anything to understand them, and that makes them a bit dull in the end (contrast all those great eighteenth century history paintings -- on which you'd be lost f you didn't know the Greeks and Romans). But this collection was really stunning (including Seurat's Grande Jatte, which I've put at the top of the post).
There was also a special show on Munch -- which turned out to e a nice demonstration that Munch wasnt quite the tortured soul one always imagined. It was more of a clever publicity line, which he found sold his paintings very effectively.
There was only one big disappointment. On my last morning I decided to get some exercise by walking along to lake to the Field Museum. I had fond memories of taking the kids there fifteen years ago now, and being shown round the stores (with all kinds of natural history specimens). Perhaps I had just forgotten what the main museum was like, or maybe it has changed. But it was a museum in truly ghastly theme park style, aimed at the under tens, with a choir singing hymns in the main hall and no restaurant better than Macdonalds. (To be fair I did eventually find some old dioramas that no one was looking at, although they had been re-branded as a "Nature Walk".)
What is it about natural history museums that makes their curators go in for this patronisingly didactic, video game style of display? I don't think our own South Kensington version is much better.