Friday, June 19, 2009

I See Right Through That Kimono (Not in a Gross Way)

The heat is still on in Rome, and when that's the case, I prefer indoor activities that include air conditioning in the cost of admission. I'm also a sucker for museums - I think it's because museums allow me to engage in one form or another of elitist escapism while simultaneously putting my rhetorical critic skills to work (think of it as scholarly self-flagellation infused with Catholic guilt - fun, right?). Today's museum encounter was no exception, as I laid out 9 euro (which, by the way, would've been 7 euro if I was under 26; a mini, just-over-quarter-life crisis ensued but ended quickly) for the Hiroshige exhibit at the Museo del Corso. The exhibit consists of ink and paper and wood block prints from the James Michener Collection at the Honolulu Academy of Arts (PA sidenote: the James A. Michener Art Museum is located in Doylestown, in Bucks County - Michener's hometown).

So I'll start with the escapism elements: the pieces themselves are simply displayed, complete white matting and plain wooden frames. The blues in some of the scenes are phenomenal - gorgeous stuff. And now for the critic: the exhibit is curated in such a way that you first walk onto a faux-Japanese bridge in a faux-Japanese garden, and silhouettes of human figures dressed in kimonos populate these scenes, although sparsely. The folks policing your museum experience, whom I usually expect to be wearing burgundy blazers and black slacks or some awful variation thereof, are instead dressed in pseudo-kimono inspired tops and black skirts. All of said 'policers of experience' are Italian women.

Further, visitors are invited to keep a record of their travels through each of the four rooms of the exhibit inspired by Japanese travel diaries (the best explanation of which I found here, after doing a basic search of the surface Web). You just pick up a blank booklet and a stamp in each room (the stamps are elements taken from Hiroshige's scenes) serves as evidence of your journey. Now you're faux-traveling like a real Japanese person. Here's the evidence of my journey:

Did I enjoy the exhibit? Most definitely. Am I a little weirded out by the presentation and abbreviated explanations of the ways in which visitors are to inhabit a particular moment in Japanese history and culture? But of course. Is this what it is to experience a conflicted trip to the museum with Mia? You betcha - and I didn't even touch the Michener stuff. So who's up for a visit to the Palmer when I get home?

Hiroshige poster taken from Museo del Corso website.

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