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30 September 2011

Best object you've ever seen in a museum? I'm thinking about a Tumblrblog for this and wondering what objects you would nominate. What grabbed you on a museum visit at any time in your life?
At the Nautical Museum in Erie, PA was the pot in which Commodore Perry's body was boiled after he was killed. I was 5 years old. Also, the moon lander was bigger than I expected.
posted by Ardiril 30 September | 21:27
I've been to that museum! THey now have a mockup of the side of a battleship which they shot cannon at, so you can see how completely splintereed the cannon made it. It's pretty cool.
posted by Miko 30 September | 21:33
I think the pot was a mock-up too, but the story caught my attention.
posted by Ardiril 30 September | 21:34
I don't recall this story about PErry being boiled. Can you retell? It sounds...strange.
posted by Miko 30 September | 21:45
I looked him up - are you sure it wasn't just whatever container his preserved body was shipped back to the US in?
posted by Miko 30 September | 21:50
The most recent one would be Salvador Dali's painting Santiago el grande. It was in an exhibit of Dali art here in Atlanta last year. There were a lot of paintings there I'd been familiar with practically my whole life, including "Persistence of Memory" (the melty watches painting), but for some reason this painting just overwhelmed me.* I went back twice while the exhibit was here just to sit in front of it and study it. It's ginormous, so you can lose yourself in the details; also, I'd never even heard of this painting until I saw it in person. I think its permanent home is a museum in Scotland, and damn if I wouldn't love to go there to see it again sometime before I die.

*The actual painting is as big as the side of a house, for one thing. As were a lot of Dali's... they all seem to be either really tiny or gigantic.
posted by BoringPostcards 30 September | 21:58
Darth Vader at the Air and Space Museum. Of course, he was up on a pedestal, but dude was HUGE.

I do adore the Seurat when I visit the Art Institute of Chicago, but the really amazing thing, for which I hold my breath, is the El Greco. It's also ginormous.
posted by Madamina 30 September | 22:02
Jour de pluie a Paris at the Art Institute -- I just stood there and mentally fell inside the painting -- and various totem polls at the Field Museum -- partly because they were big and I was little and I was in the room all on my own, but mainly because they're just really powerful.

A lot of Mayan carvings keep me entranced, too, in large part because the faces look so modern and alive.
posted by occhiblu 30 September | 22:27
Guernica, when I was in Madrid.
posted by gaspode 30 September | 22:48
gaspode, I am jealous.
posted by BoringPostcards 30 September | 22:58
I can't find any specific reference to the boiling pot, however Perry died of yellow fever in Trinidad. Filling in the pieces, I would guess that lacking any way to embalm him, they boiled off his bones and sent them to the US for burial. They could well have used the pot as a shipping container that ended up back in Erie as some kind of relic. It was about a foot deep and 2 1/2 feet in diameter with a rim that would accommodate a lid.

My mother grew up 2 blocks from that museum, and she is the one who originally told me the story and took me to see it. 2 months ago, I looked up its location on Google maps and found that my mother's house is one of the few remaining in that neighborhood.
posted by Ardiril 30 September | 23:29
So many. Highlights:

All of Yad Vashem. Get teary thinking about it. Also the US Holocaust Museum, which reduced non-teary me to constant sobbing, especially the special viewing mounts for child-proof footage of the killing.

Guernica in the Sofia museum in Madrid. Devastating.

The unforgettably beautiful Japanese landscapes at the Boston MFA.

Feeling Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters reach across the room and grab me around the throat in the Amsterdam Van Gogh museum.

TheVermeers in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum.

The gorgeous Minoan jewelry in the Iraklion, Crete museum.


A fabulous Andrew Wyeth temporarily on loan to the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. And that museum's own copy of Sargent's Madame X.

Most ofvall, Michelangelo's Pieta, the version on display in St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

posted by bearwife 30 September | 23:55
Dizzy Gillespie's horn, at the Smithsonian touring greatest hits collection.

The Steele of Hammurabi in the Louvre. (The Mona Lisa is smiling because she knows that one of the foundational pillars of Law is over in another wing, and there's no crowd in front of it.)

The sections of the USS San Francisco, which was took heavy damage in the battle of Guadalcanal. They've made a monument out at Land's End in SF, and looking at the big holes punched in the armor plate is a visceral experience.
posted by Triode 01 October | 00:32
Ohmigod, yes, the Pieta'.
posted by occhiblu 01 October | 00:32
A new favorite of mine: seeing this boat in Falmouth, Cornwall this summer made the whole seaside-themed trip worth it! The shark motif on the sail is the essence of seafaring. I love everything about its simplicity and its timelessness.
posted by mdonley 01 October | 02:57
One more -- the Bear and I kept returning to look again at this masterpiece in the Prado. And he's anti-religion, I'm Jewish.
posted by bearwife 01 October | 06:39
Just this past August I was fortunate enough to see one of the very large sound sculptures of Jean Tinguely: an enormous contraption (about as big as a panel truck) that is being exhibited as part of this show (ends tomorrow) at the Sezon Museum of Modern Art in Karuizawa, Japan. The piece (whose name I don't remember, I'm embarrassed to say...) is a pure delight. A sputtering, cantankerous beast composed of enormous wheels and gears and pulleys and such, the machine exists for the purpose of automatically striking drums and junk metal and bells and pots and pans. Absolutely wonderul, playful kinetic sculpture that brings a big smile to your face, and sounds fantastic in it's random rhythms. Clatter and clutter.

It is my deep regret that there is no proper film or video of the piece in action. Couldn't find it anywhere when I went looking on the nets. YouTube has some Tinguely sound/kinetic sculpture clips, but they're mostly poor quality, and none of them are of this particular piece from the Sezon Museum collection. Darn it.
posted by flapjax at midnite 01 October | 07:00
Thank you for all these wonderful moments.
posted by Miko 01 October | 08:54
The list is so long - I think that's why I ended up working in museums!

The Irish Elk in the Museum of Natural History in New York when I was really tiny. For some reason I just loved that elk, more than the Brontosaurus who was my next favorite and the blue whale. And at the Charleston museum there used to be a two headed snake in a jar.

The Walters: A 19th century self portrait that I fell so madly in love with when I worked there. The completely goofy 19th century academic painting of lions in the ruins and oh, a Hudson River school landscape that I used to just stand and absorb into. The carved medieval alterpiece with one Roman soldier who looked just exactly like Mick Jagger. The cabinet of curiousities, the "chamber of wonders" at the Walters was installed after I left Baltimore - I think it's one of the best museum rooms ever.

Whistler's peacock room in the Freer Sackler. The Dia Foundation earth room - when I lived in New York I used to go there all the time just to stand and breathe. The Polynesian carvings at the Baltimore museum of art - and the ones at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

The Whitney is probably one of my all time favorite museums - the Calder mobile in the landing there and the tiny little adobe village that's nestled into the stairwell are two that I visit every time I go to NYC. The Whitney is also where I saw a Jonathan Borofsky show in the 80s that completely blew me away.
posted by mygothlaundry 01 October | 08:55
The entire classical collection at the Pergamon in Berlin, but the bust if Nefriti is really transfusing in person, photos can't really capture it, it's so ..." sharp"
posted by The Whelk 01 October | 11:10
Oh geez. This is one of those things that make my sucky memory even suckier.

I've seen lots of Ancient Egyptian art (sculptures, jewellery, etc.), Japanese netsuke and kimonos, Fabergé Eggs, etc. but damned if I can recall specific items.

Last year on my summer road trip I went to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, MO. Seeing Charles Ingalls' fiddle was the highlight. It more than anything made the books real (although I know there is a lot of fiction in the books, the fiddle was/is real). Also seeing a dress that Laura wore as an old lady - man, she was tiny!

Whelk - so, so jealous of you seeing the Nefertiti bust!
posted by deborah 01 October | 12:22
Discovering that Venus of Willendorf has a vulva.

The opalized fossil at one of the Andrew Coadys in Australia.

Flapjax, there's a museum dedicated to Tinguely in Basel.
posted by brujita 01 October | 13:08
Well, this no doubt betrays my interest in the problems of museum display, but...

In San Jose, I went to the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, which is an underground structure.

Of course, the artifacts are stunning (I particularly remember a display of grave goods with dozens of pieces of gold figures and jewelry), but what really struck me was the exit. As we left, I noticed several large horizontal columns set into the doorway. They looked so weirdly familiar that I stopped and looked closely...

... and realized they looked just like deadbolts, but MUCH MUCH BIGGER. I turned around to look back into the museum and realized: Oh, of course! This multi-story building is filled with irreplaceable priceless gold treasures. It's essentially an enormous underground safe.
posted by Elsa 01 October | 14:12
The Apollo 11 capsule, encased in plastic so you can get up-close to it and peer inside. That and the unused (but real) lunar lander at the Smithsonian were high on my list of things to see in the half day I had there. I didn't have the time to go into many of the museums.

The antiquities I've seen that impressed me are to big to put in museums: Aztec and Veracruz pyramids, ancient settlements of the southwestern U.S. (Mesa Verde and others), etc.
posted by D.C. 01 October | 15:47
Argh, "too big"
posted by D.C. 01 October | 15:49
Michelangelo's David
posted by theora55 01 October | 16:33
The whale hanging from the ceiling of the Museum of Natural History in NYC. As a child I was afraid to stand directly underneath it.
posted by Splunge 01 October | 16:50
The Virginia Museum in Richmond had the Dali Jewels on display for a few years when I was a teenager. I could not look at them too often. The beating ruby heart!

The Maritime Museum in Halifax has an exhibit on the Halifax Explosion of 1917. I had never heard of the event before, so to learn all about it through the exhibit was fascinating.
posted by JanetLand 01 October | 17:52
When I was younger, my uncle worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art - he was a restorer, who specialized in clocks but also worked on numerous pieces. He would take my brother and I to the museum (on the train, then the subway), where we'd have free reign. I loved that museum. My favorite painting of all was The Storm, by Pierre-Auguste Cot. Something about this painting always captivated me. There were plenty of other items that I always sought out, but this one I returned to again and again.
posted by redvixen 01 October | 21:06
This is inspiring stuff to read. To think, all this could have been privately held and never seen by any of us regular folk.

And I had never heard of some of this stuff!

I've seen some research on why people entered the museum field, and IIRC the Natural History's Blue Whale is apparently responsible for a LOT of museum careers.

I'm going to have a lot of fun with this blog. Thanks for the great thoughts.

Seeing Charles Ingalls' fiddle was the highlight.

OMG I have to go RIGHT NOW.

posted by Miko 01 October | 21:55
I am looking forward to your curation of a virtual tumblr museum.
posted by Ardiril 01 October | 23:29
I enjoyed seeing the bullet that killed President Lincoln. At another museum they had one of his stovepipe hats and it showed how it opened up and he stored things inside it. I've also really enjoyed taxidermied extinct animals [dodo, passenger pigeon]. I have also seen the Halifax Explosion Exhibit and it was much more intersting than you'd think it would be. The things that leave imprssions on me are often random. I remember an airstream trailer that was decked out with a nest inside it and inside that nest was a bed. I liked Louise Bourgeoise's giant spiders and some of the tiny rooms she made out of windows and doors.
posted by jessamyn 02 October | 16:05
Annoyed by Zentangle || The rabbit will jump on my, and take my heart out