"Sooner or Later" - Bernadette Peters
"Fever" - Sara Ramirez

What's Appropriate for Children

[This post not for the faint of heart or for while eating.]

Older son, daughter, and I went to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke last week for the first time (younger son was at camp).  It's a beautiful building, though it didn't have as much art as I expected.

At the entrance to the permanent collection display there was a sign warning that parents might want to preview the modern art works in a particular corner of this gallery before letting their children see them.  I appreciated this - there are art works there (involving violence and nudity) that I wouldn't want younger children to see.  The museum had a recommended route through the gallery which would avoid these works for those who chose to. 

However... after we saw these paintings (including nude men, one uncircumcised, a painting based on violence in Algiers (though with no overt violence), art works depicting guns pressed against head or chest, and, the one which probably gives the museum the most controversy, two men kissing) we went around the corner to their Medieval section - back on the "safe" route for children.  The first painting we looked at was one of three saints, two of whom died horribly, and one of whom was killed by her own father.  There was the artwork about a saint boiled in oil, and a church archway depicting the horrors of hell (such as a dragon chewing on someone's head).  Daughter had had enough, and wondered that we now complain about all the violence children are exposed to when, back then, everyone used to go to hangings for entertainment!

So we headed on to the Greek section - mostly pottery, though there was a handle in the form of a nude male.  Some of the pottery depicted fighting, but at least, in these cases, the combatants seemed equally matched.  The goriest the pottery got was Artemis hauling around a couple of dead swans.  Also, more uncircumcised men on the pottery.

One display was of pottery used for Greek Symposium which, the sign explained, was a male, aristocratic, social gathering involving wine, discussion (often philosophical), games, music, and courtesans.  One of the wine vessels depicted a couple obviously in the middle of an amorous situation (i.e. gone far beyond kissing) - though they were covered by a blanket. 

There were no benches in the Greek section, and daughter's shin splints were hurting so we headed on to the European section.  Which bench to sit on?  The one facing a beautifully painted banquet with a prominently placed serving girl?  Oh, it's Herod's banquet which means that the girl with the tray is Salome, and you don't want to see what she's carrying.

How about facing the other way?  A beautifully painted scene of the sacrifice of Iphigenia - the guard is pointing a spear at her mother, Clytemnestra (in full European court dress), who seems to be pointing at her own chest as if to say "Kill me instead" while her daughters frantically cling to her.  And, in the corner, the painting of the harrowing of hell - more nude figures, some redeemed, and some led off by demons.

Nudes were, of course, well represented in this gallery too.  They had a beautiful statue of Psyche (that was my favorite piece in the entire permanent collection gallery).  Story-wise, I didn't think that the Penitent Magdalene had to be so scantily clothed, though she did have a string around her waist with a bit of cloth attached as she prayed in her painting, arms outstretched (she was buxom). 

When we were done, we headed out the nearest exit, which happened to take us past the controversial modern art.  Compared to the violence in the last room, the controversial art didn't even get a second glance.


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