One of the pleasures of travel for me is to see art, architecture, music, dancing, theater, etc. outside, in its natural element. For me, the place we visit IS the museum. Of these, viewing outdoor sculptures is perhaps my favorite. You can pass by and see a sculpture unexpectedly, then sit and contemplate it while you munch your sandwich on a park bench. I think a lot of art only enters our pores when we are not observing a painting or other work of art “on purpose,” with too much intent. It’s what horseback riders call using “soft eyes” – if you are focused too intently on something specific, you miss everything else, and you only see what you expect to see.
I recently learned about an art teacher who has her students sit in front of one painting for two hours. Yes, that’s hours, not minutes. That’s far more than we give the average museum painting, which is a few seconds. In that time, all you can see is who it’s by, the subject matter, and the superficial totality of the painting: It’s a painting of a goldfish in a goldfish bowl in front of a curtain and an open window in bright colors by Matisse. Nice! Next painting. According to one of her students, it was only after about a half hour of contemplation that the painting started to open up, to reveal its secrets, when they started to notice the totality as well as the individual parts and how they all worked together.
Now, I’m not suggesting you sit in front of a painting for two hours, unless as an experiment, but I do suggest you select a few paintings that attract you in a gallery full of paintings, and spend 5 or 10 minutes just contemplating those few paintings fully. What’s nice about art in public places, such as sculpture, is that you can observe it at your leisure, usually without too many other people trying to take selfies in front of it or clustered in front, listening on their headsets. Plus it’s free!
One place to view sculptures is in sculpture gardens, such as the PepsiCo Sculpture Garden in Purchase, NY, where dozens of sculptures of all sizes, shapes, and styles are assembled together. Bring a picnic lunch and sit on one of the tables or in the grass and soak in your favorites. My personal favorite is the little creature by Miro peeking out from behind a hedge.
Another great area is Paris, which is chock-a-block full of sculptures. Most have a plaque so you have some idea of what you’re observing. The parks in particular are full of sculptures, as are many of the bridges. In the Tuileries gardens, there are 20 statues by the Catalonian artist, Aristide Maillol, of his muse, model, and sole heir to his work, Dina Vierny. Twenty years after the artist’s death, in 1964, Vierny donated the sculptures to the French state, which installed them here. She was a fierce defender and protector of his legacy, and founded the Musée Maillol in Paris as well as assisted in founding La Metairie museum of his works at his last home and studio in his hometown of Banyuls in the eastern Pyrenees.
If you’ve been to the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, you’ve seen Maillol’s monumental work, “La Rivière,” suspended over its reflecting pond.
Outdoor sculptures abound in the little towns and villages of the eastern Pyrenees due not only to the presence of Maillol, Violet, and Terrus, all local boys, but also to the numerous out-of-town artists who visited the area for inspiration and artistic companionship, most notably Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Gris, and Manolo, among many others. They flocked to the region’s main town of Perpignan, Madame Matisse's hometown, as well as the smaller towns of Céret, Collioure, and Banyuls.
If you love art of any kind, come join us for our Picasso's Pyrenees Tour from September 10-18, a stroll through the abundant outdoor and indoor art offerings of the eastern Pyrenees, including dancing, singing, brass bands, lace-making, theater, and of course, the delectable Catalonian cuisine. Make your reservation by July 30 and save $570 per person. Reserve now and you will have a stimulating and relaxing vacation to look forward to!
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