The Peabody Essex Museum; a Gem, Scale, Alchemy, Shadows and Sticks

I had the most wonderful day with my teenage daughter and her friend at the Peabody Essex Museum.  We began our visit with Sizing It Up which made me think back to the first museum exhibition I ever saw at the age of eighteen; Caravaggio at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The paintings were enormous and they hung in enormous rooms. The scale was monumental. I stood in awe, amazed that an artist could create such dramatically lit figures with a brush and paint that burst from their two dimensional frames dwarfing the observers.  (I also wondered where Caravaggio got all of that paint!  I had but a small box.)
Sizing It Up is all about scale and portrays it quite differently from the traditional perceptions of scale and the traditional artistic representations of scale.  One of my favorite works in the exhibition was the image of a castle drawn on a grain of sand; a collaboration between the artist, Vik Muniz, and the designer/researcher, Marcelo Coelho.

The girls watching the video explaining how this work of art was created.
The process, which involved an electron microscope, not paints and brushes, fascinated me.  I felt the result spectacular and haunting.  The grand imposing castle created on a tiny, obscure grain of sand was not only beautiful but represented the melding of science and art which can give birth to new and creative pursuits. The knowledge that a drawing of a castle exists on a grain of sand created a grand scale of imagination for us.

Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty is an out-of-doors installation.  I really liked the in the moment feel of these shelters and the transience of the material as if they could just blow away at any moment yet at the same time invite and provide shelter. The exhibit was a playground for the girls.  They ran about ducking in and out of the sculptures and took lots of cool pictures.

When we first entered the exhibition Alchemy of the Soul it was beautiful but the girls and I weren’t quite so sure what the art was all about.  We viewed the short film about Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons depicting her childhood home in Cuba and the sugar cane industry. It created a bond with the artist and her life that we would otherwise not have experienced.  The girls and I viewed the exhibit through different eyes thereafter and had a greater appreciation for her work.  Perhaps I should not be admitting this but I really do enjoy the inclusion of film in exhibits.   Neil Leonard’s music transported us completely into the artist's rendering of her imagination and memory of her life in Cuba. Alchemy of the Soul is a sensory feast.  Visitors will love the mini excursion in the freight elevator; a great touch. 

Deep in thought at Alchemy of the Soul
Last but not least was the installation Intersections by Anila Quayyum Agha.  I walked into the room and WOW just popped out of my mouth. The giant lantern that lit the room created a dizzying pattern, which invited us to dance around the room.  Our moving shadows against the static shadows thrown by the motionless lantern created a great juxtaposition. I am sure those manning the security cameras were amused. 

The girls are creating some collaborative art of their own!

I was almost impossible to take a bad photo of this exhibit.

Now as I sit at my computer quietly making the illustrations for my latest picture book, I am grateful for art and the joyous experiences it creates. It can be big and it can be small, out of sticks, glass or drawn on a grain of sand with an electron microscope.  Thanks PEM, a gem of a museum, for a great day with my girls.  Thank you artists for sharing with us what you see.

PS:  We want to try to make one of these flowers.  The girls loved them.
Native Fashion Show Exhibit