School’s in session; summer vacations are over, but there’s still lots of fun to be had close to home. Stretch your mind and imagination at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Right now there are two special exhibits that couldn’t be more different — taking the traditional definition of art and stretching it to delightful absurdity.
In a totally conventional vein, the exhibition “Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums” is a 40 painting survey of paintings from Niccolo di Buonaccorso’s late 1300s “St. Lawrence” to a late 19th century painting by Luigi da Rios titled “Overlooking a Canal, Venice.”
Two of the most important pieces in the collection are by the early Renaissance masters, Bellini and Botticelli. Bellini is often credited as ushering in the Venetian Renaissance. Sandro Botticelli, in Florence, was in headier company working at much the same time as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
During this period, much of the art produced was religious in nature. This is reflected in the two paintings on display here. Bellini depicts the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus while Botticelli treats us to a vision of “The Annunciation.” In this picture, the artist paints the Virgin’s house as a contemporary Florentine palace — a setting also seen in several depictions of this subject by Botticelli’s teacher, Fra Filippo Lippi.
Also in this section is a large oil panel, “Adoration of the Magi,” by the Master of the Glasgow Adoration (is this a fancy name for “Anonymous”?). An accompanying video shows the painting before and after restoration with a quick overview of the nine-month-long process needed to bring the work to its original state.
The next area — The 16th Century — was dominated, in the beginning by the Florentine masters. You won’t find those here but you will find a large canvas by the Venetian star Titian. “Christ and the Adulteress” was for many years attributed to another artist but now scholars believe it is the work of Tiziano Vecellio, known as “Titian.”
The painting was originally larger than it is now. A copy of the original painting by another artist exists and by comparing the two, it is obvious that a small strip was cut off the bottom and an entire person was removed from the right side of the painting. Only a piece of the original canvas with the figure’s head has been found. It has been framed and here is displayed alongside the larger painting. Titian makes full use of the art of chiaroscuro — the contrast of light and dark — and his colors are deep and rich.
Through the centuries, Scripture continues to influence subject matter but in the 17th and 18th centuries, landscapes began to come into their own. And travel, in the form of the Grand Tour, began to be a ritual of the rich. Wealthy Brits and Americans toured the European continent and brought home paintings, sculptures and furniture to decorate their mansions.
Taking the Grand Tour was considered a rite of passage for scions of society. For youngsters visiting the exhibit, the museum offers a table, crayons and blank postcards with a fancy printed frame so children can draw their own masterpieces inspired by the Italian exhibition. There are also seating areas with children’s books on art and stories of Italian cities appropriate for early readers.
While the Italian masterpieces are pretty heavy stuff for kids, the museum is currently hosting another exhibition that will have them giggling and ogling in wonder.
The title of this show is “Halo Amok,” which, unscrambled, spells “Oklahoma.” More analytical minds than mine may make much more of the name, but this is an exhibit you can enjoy just on the surface or explore more deeply.
The artist is Wayne White, probably most well-known for creating puppet characters for TV’s “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” Beyond that frivolous-sounding exploit, he’s a bona fide illustrator, cartoonist, animator and puppet designer.
This exhibition, which features three, huge puppets, has an Oklahoma rodeo theme interpreted in the cubist style. Set into motion by heavy ropes, the puppets represent a bull rider, a bronc rider and a roper’s horse. These creations were made on-site, specifically for OKCMOA, and will be destroyed at the end of the exhibition.
A worksheet for children defines cubism as “art that plays with the basic shapes of drawing” — circles, triangles and squares. It challenges kids to count the shapes and to find hidden shapes like the state of Oklahoma and an oil derrick. It describes cubism as scrambling and distorting images — “a wild rodeo for the eyes” — and suggests investigating cubist masters like Pablo Picasso and George Braque. It’s possible to go into the exhibition and just have fun, but it’s also possible to learn and expand artistic understanding at the same time.
One of the coolest things about the exhibition is that much of it is created from throw-away items — pieces of cardboard, chunks of Styrofoam, bits of wood, nails, screws, springs, you name it. It might just inspire some seriously fun home projects.
The wonderful things about the art museum are that there are always new things to see; everyone will find something they love; and it’s great to visit old favorites like the permanent Chihuly collection.
“Of Heaven and Earth” will be on display until Nov. 17. “Halo Amok” closes on Oct. 6.
ELAINE WARNER is an Edmond-based travel writer.