3.27.2015

Where the Heck-o is El Greco?


My 12 year old daughter, Grace, and I went to the Portland Art Museum yesterday. My intention was to take her to see the exhibit on Ancient Egypt. She has loved learning about this subject this year in school and was really looking forward to it.

It does not exist.

Sometimes the world wide web leaves me baffled. I read "ongoing exhibit" and "Portland Art Museum" on the same page, made an assumption, and am still confused.

This is the link I read, but it doesn't matter. The docent at the museum was as confused as I.  Our five minute discussion was exactly 4 minutes and and 55 seconds more than she cared to engage on the topic I'm sure, but she indulged me while my daughter stood, arms crossed, just far enough away to give the impression we were not together.

Although it was hard to let go of the disappointment, I was still determined to see the visiting exhibit of El Greco.  In fact, not long ago I had read Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham.  It was written at the turn of the last century and El Greco played an important role in the main character's quest for meaning in his life.  After reading Maugham's descriptions of El Greco, I was intrigued to say the least.

But first, I had to talk to a couple more docents, who sported important black blazers, because we could not find the exhibit. They all smiled, and again, indulged my questioning, but I discovered the possibility that "Country Mom in the City" is not their first language. I guess we were in the wrong building.  So, these docents and their blazers smiled, pointed, and sent us off.  We walked up and down concrete stairs, rode up and down an elevator that opened on both sides, but no luck. I began to fear the El Greco exhibit didn't exist either.

Maybe my long, secluded years raising babies and preschoolers had somehow destroyed a large part of my brain. Suddenly, I longed for a forest trail to the beach or at least a diaper to change.

Finally we ended up in a different elevator and some museum janitors, sporting blue polo shirts and spray bottles in their hands, leaned against the walls. I was afraid it was a staff elevator, so I asked them for directions.  Happily, we spoke the same language and finally the elusive "main building" was found! (I suppressed the urge to offer to help them clean something in exchange for a personal tour which would have been awesome.)

We turned a corner and could see, in large letters, EL GRECO.  But first we had to pass through the red room.  The red room had many beautiful paintings and icons of Mary and Jesus in various biblical accounts and places.  I tried to savor each one before I walked into the long sought after and awaited exhibit.

I stepped in, Grace close on my heals, and there it was, silent and alone. It hung against dark velvet drapes at the back of a small dark room.  The light was only on the painting which added drama, of course, but, to be perfectly honest, it was anticlimactic. After running up and down stairs, in and out of elevators through puzzling modern art, around giant statues and small busts and walls and walls of paintings, one painting in one dimly lit room seemed odd yet somehow consoling.

I caught my breath and took it in, while Grace stood right by my side and whispered repeatedly for us to go.  I studied the painting as quickly as I could and tried to ignore my daughter, at least for a brief moment.
The Holy Family with St. Mary Magdelan

In the end, we did not get to see any ancient artifacts at all.  All the ancient stuff from Rome and Greece had been stowed away for the El Greco exhibit and Egyptian artifacts do not exist, as we already established.  El Greco stole the show, so to speak.  We did not leave disappointed, however, I hope to go again someday.  Kids under 17 are free, so it's well worth the cost.  We were able to view other great works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Rembrant, and others, so it was well worth it.

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