This is the first of "Within 24," that is to say, a trip that is conclusive in 24 hours. But, of course, we have already violated the titular promise on our first outing. We did not leave the destination, Columbia, South Carolina, until the 24th hour and then we hit 26 coming back into Asheville. While we can leave the destination earlier, 26 will probably always make "Within 24" flat out impossible. Anyway, the purpose of the trip was to see the Van Gogh Exhibit at The Columbia Art Museum.
Why 24 hours? If you have dogs, you know why. (See our post "Dogs Rule the Road"). So, first things first. My friend Gail is taking care of my two greyhounds, Kobe and Domino, while we drive to Columbia to see Van Gogh. That's right, Columbia, South Carolina. Van Gogh. Believe it. Gail is also the Director of Ciao Asheville, the Italian Cultural Forum in Asheville. Why am I suspicious that the hounds will only eat dinner now if I say "mangia." That's OK. Someone in this house needs to be bi-lingual and in all likelihood, after this many decades, it will not be me!
We made it. The Columbia Art Museum is an impressive and stately building with a solid permanent collection. Now,Icouldjust spend the further paragraphs telling you about how thought provoking and interesting the Van Gogh exhibition was but you already know the work of Van Gogh has a way of waking you up from a museum sensory overload and getting under you skin, in a good way. AWAKE! ALERT!
What you might not know, though, are some myth busting truths the curator told us about Van Gogh. First, he was not a starving artist. Vincent had a nice stipend from his brother, Theo, who supported Vincent's adventures through the world of art. And he was not the first artist to lay on thick strokes, oh let's just say it, gobs of paint on the canvas. And Vincent had never planned on being an artist. It was not his life long dream. It was more like one day he said to himself, hey, I can do this stuff! And he did.
Having worked in an art gallery, Vincent had been exposed to many styles and palettes and so when he decided to take up the brush, he had been influenced and he was ready. Hence, the name of the exhibit: "Van Gogh and his Inspirations." One more fact you may not have known, Vincent was strongly influenced by Japanese art. I know. I Know.! You are probably thinking that is high brow art world speak and really reaching. But it is so true. And once you see it, you really see it, if you know what I mean. Awesome.
But the weird truth is that the three things I remember most about my excellent adventure to Columbia are the sign announcing the exhibition, the wine at the exhibition reception and the sidewalks!
Imagine a Van Gogh Exhibition, one that also includes a Rembrandt and a well known painting by Jean Leon Gerome was at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or National Gallery in Washington DC, what would you see outside the building?
You would probably be confronted by an enormous banner from the tip of the most awesome architecture to the door opening announcing VAN GOGH! True, there was a fairly large reproduction of his self portrait, the centerpiece of the collection, outside the front but around the corner at the side entrance, this is what you saw:
I love it! Those big banners, although stately and beautiful can make you feel slightly underdressed for the occasion or that you should know more about he subject than you do or that you aren't the type of person who should be partaking of world class art.
But here in Columbia, this was art for the public writ large. The sign beckons you to come on in one and all. Come and see how Van Gogh became Van Gogh! Come and see why Van Gogh remains one of the world's favorite artists. Come and see the many who tried, who were influenced by him but, in the end, they found out and we know that only Van Gogh is Van Gogh.
The exhibit reception was lovely. The museum served Picpoul!! Can you believe it. Now that shows good taste and forward thinking. Oddly enough, the best selling wine @MetroWines since we opened the door is Picpoul. Indigenous to Languedoc, the light, acid driven, citrus palate of Picpoul is irresistable and very affordable. Once only used as a blender grape, this less than gorgeous varietal and one that was certainly never the subject of a Van Gogh, makes a lively glass of wine!
And Van Gogh likely had a splash of Picpoul on a lovely sunflower soaked day in Languedoc. In fact art-vanGogh.com, a respected source of information on the artist says: "Most of his best-known works were produced in Languedoc and Provence during the final two years of his life." Bravo Columbia Museum of Art, you nailed it!
This was my first time in Columbia and, overall, I like it. Wide sidewalks and streets, boulevards if you will, at least around and leading to The State House, the capital of South Carolina. The downtown area had a bit of a European feel. The casual vibrancy of new buildings sidling up to the traditional architecture was comforting.
Oh, one more thing I remember and will likely not forgot: while walking through the impressive permanent collection, a young boy about 9, stopped at an American painting from the early 1900s and said: "I see Starry Night." I had not noticed but he was so right. Kid probably picked up on that Japanese thing too.
If you can, you should cruise n down to Columbia and see Van Gogh. You really can, if you stick to the plan, do it in 24!