Friday, March 23, 2012

Inside/Outside the Head (& the Museum of Anthropology)

National Museum of Anthropology / Museo Nacional de Antropología
03/23/12—Calle Alfonso XII, 68

This is a museum diary, but when I extend its reach to cultural display, all Madrid’s my oyster.  One small observation can set off a chain of connected thoughts.  Let’s begin with the utter lack of visual stimulation inside our local public high school.  My sons each sit in one room all day, while teachers appear and disappear at intervals.  The walls of their respective classrooms are completely blank.  No posters, inspirational quotes, maps, or samples of student work. No Matisse prints or even “hang in there” kittens. Nada. This austerity strikes my 13-year-old as sad and bizarre.  (The 16-year-old is more perturbed by the requirement to sit still for hours on end.  He’s bitten his cuticles to the quick.)

Outside, though, Madrid is a riot of movement and color.  One moment you are admiring the parade of French bulldogs, the next, you’re face to face with monumental baby heads. 

Antonio Lopez, Día y Noche, 2008

Across the street, oh happy day, spring is finally blooming, as this tree announces outside the National Museum of Anthropology.  

A bright and modern space with three levels covering Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania, the museum might be a nice place to spend an hour while you wait for your train to pull into Atocha Station.  


Due to a lack of pizazz, and a perhaps an overly-cautious paring of the collection on display, I don’t recommend the Museum of Anthropology as a destination for the short-term tourist. You will see more, and better, at the Museum of America. Then again, on the top floor, the beaded dress of a 19th century Lakota Sioux will pull you straight into her orbit.  


Returning to the lack of visual stimulation in our local institution of secondary education, I wonder if the classroom-as-monastic-cell is a pedagogic strategy, or just a sign of apathy.  Either way, I say, the world outside is teeming, please let it in.  In my mind’s eye I still see a picture I gazed at in Mr. Engberg's class, Muirlands Junior High, 1977: Picasso’s hands with a bunch of flowers, next to a quote by e.e. cummings, “i thank heaven somebody’s crazy enough to give me a daisy.”