Friday, October 17, 2008

Albrecht Durer Exhibit at the Edmonton Art Gallery

Last Thursday evening my husband and I headed to the Edmonton Art Gallery to take in the last of the Albrecht Durer exhibition. I'd been meaning to go for ages, but I'd never had the time.

This was my first visit to the Art Gallery of Alberta. I have to say I was rather disappointed. The exhibit itself was rather nice--the gallery had a large selection of Durer's prints, with some fairly good notes on the exhibition. But the overall atmosphere of the museum was lacking. Perhaps this was because the AGA is undergoing renovations, and the museum is currently being held in another location (the old Hudson's Bay Building in Downtown Edmonton).

The other thing that took me by surprise was the Museum's stand on photography. While taking a picture of one of the prints with my cellphone, I was informed by one of the museum's overzealous staff members that photography was not permitted in the museum. I had not seen the sign at the museum's entrance that said we couldn't take pictures, so I innocently reassured the fellow that there was no flash. It didn't matter, he informed me, visitors could not take photographs due to copyright reasons.

Now, being a blogger, I am fairly up to date on copyright issues. There cannot be any copyright on Durer's work--it's been nearly 500 years since his death! Nevertheless, one could hold copyright on Images of Durer's work, so the museum is apparently trying to ensure that they have the only images of the work and that public will have to pay for copies of their images--which is just silly, given the fact that there are numerous copies of Durer's work in the public domain (such as the one included in this post).

I honestly have never been to a museum that did not allow non-flash photography, so I was a little taken aback. Nearly every museum in Europe allows photography, so long as there is no flash used (which makes sense, right? Museums are supposed to protect art, not keep it from the public). I do realise that keeping the public from taking flash photography can be rather challenging. I have seen priceless works of art at the Louvre being snapped with full flash, and it always makes me cringe (especially since there are signs EVERYWHERE telling people not to take flash photos). As a result, I can understand why some museums might be tempted not to permit photography at all. Nevertheless, I believe it's important to allow photography. It's important that museums be exciting, open places--The AGA is more like a tomb where art goes to die.

But back to the art. The prints were spectacular. Both of us were amazed at the depth of Durer's prints, given the fact that he was born just twenty years after the advent of the printing press! Javier's favourite was Melencolia, simply because it had so much symbolism to dissect! It was fascinating.

I have a question for you all! One aspect of Melencolia wasn't explained in the gallery's exhibition notes. That was the grid in the upper right hand corner of the painting. It reminds me a little of Sudoku. The numbers all add up to 34 in every direction, but that's all I know! If anyone knows what it is, I would love to hear from you!

(image courtesy of Wikimedia)


Melanie said...

I read that it was made in 15 14 which are the middle 2 figures on the bottom line. The magic square was made up around them. Durer was a keen mathematician. I think back then they thought that the secrets of the universe could be revealed through a combination of disciplines.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

So much glorious detail in this! One could get lost in it.
Rather like a medieval Where's Waldo.

lotusgreen said...

durer just blows me away sometimes in how contemporary he can seem. (not this one ;^)

acornmoon said...

I can't shed any light on this, it's all too much for me and my little brain. I can relate more to his nature studies, especially the hare and the study of a piece of turf. I read that the detail was such that the artist's window was shown reflected in the eye of the hare!

Margaret said...

--Melanie, thanks for explaining the little grid--that's really cool!

--So true, Pamela--I could stare at this engraving for hours. There's so much to see!

--I agree, Lotus Green. I was really surprised by how modern many of Durer's works looked.

--Acorn moon: I definitely could relate better to his more natural engravings--his landscapes were amazing and I was particularly struck by the detail he managed to cram into such a tiny space. I couldn't believe how accurate the details on his flowers, etc. were as well.


lotusgreen said...

neat that you saw that too, this one which is even... SIGNED WITH A CHOP!!!

this i had never noticed.

oh you know what i just thought of--the dutch were allowed in to a little corner of japan in the 1600s, if i recall correctly. i wonder... if there's any chance....

Margaret said...

That's so weird! But cool! Thanks for sharing, Lotusgreen

Cory Gross said...

I gave up on bringing my camera to once-in-a-lifetime exhibits of Rodin bronzes and Roman antiquities at the Glenbow in Calgary... It's the exact same problem of them wanting to provoke sales of glossy high-res catalogues, merchandise and return tickets under the guise of preserving the works. Maybe it's just an Alberta thing.

wanderlustnpixiedust said...

I chuckled when I saw this post. Once upon a time I sat in class (long ago...) studying the works of Durer. Instead of paying attention, I remember daydreaming about how handsome he seemed to have been. I've been quite appreciative of his talents ever since!


Fete et Fleur said...

This work is astonishing in its detail!
I would have been just as frustrated as you. I had the same treatment at the Marie Antoinette exhibit here at our museum. I was stunned! I’m still heart broken over it.


Margaret said...

I'm sorry you had the same experience, Nancy! I think it must be a sort of North American thing.

Sheramy said...

Hi Margaret!
Couldn't tell you about Melancholia, alas. I wonder if this is the same Durer print show that is coming here to St Petersburg, FL after the New Year. I hope so.

In the Netherlands, most of the major museums do not allow any photography at all, including the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and Kroller-Muller. If I may play devil's advocate, once I went to these museums and enjoyed an experience that did NOT include a bunch of rude folks pushing up to the front with their camera-phones, I was sold on the idea of no photography in museums. There really is no need for it anymore, not with fine digital images available on the web, including on most museums' own websites, or postcards to buy in the shops. Without flash, you can't get a great image anyway. So what's the point? The Musée d'Orsay is the worst: so many people pushing up to the van Goghs (for example) to snap a picture then they scurry away. The Met too. Yes, I understand people's right to take a picture, but I also understand my right to enjoy myself and look at the art without somebody pushing me out of the way for their picture that's not going to look good anyway. It's not just about copyright. Just my two cents (well, more like four). :-)

In Greece, you can take pictures in museums, but not if you've got someone posing next to the statues in a way that imitates the statues. That's seen as disrespectful to the art, and the guard will stop you.