Until visiting the Otsuka Museum (Wow Place #4) in Naruto, Japan, I thought it was a fairly ridiculous idea to display copies of famous artwork in a gallery. Why see a fake when you can travel to the actual museum to view the original? The Otsuka, however, won me over with its accurate ceramic copies of the Mona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel, the Girl with a Pearl Earring, etc. – all bright and shiny, in exquisite detail. I remember feeling grateful that I could study a large body of the world’s greatest artistic creations, all in one place, without spending tens of thousands of dollars in airfare and accommodations.
My reaction is similar upon observing the monumental plaster creations in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Stepping into the Cast Courts is like hopping on a time machine back to the Renaissance and beyond. Here you see a plaster cast of the very life-like David by Michelangelo. There you see Trajan’s Column in plaster, cut in half but wildly impressive in its size and detail. Way over there, you can’t miss the 25-foot-tall set of doors known as the Gates of Paradise, from Florence Cathedral. Essentially my entire art history text book has come alive, right here in London’s South Kensington district, in large thanks to Queen Victoria and Prince Edward, who founded the V&A Museum in 1852. The world’s largest museum of applied arts, decorative arts and design, the V&A houses a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects. Think your grandma’s living room chintz collection, spread out over 12.5 acres and 145 galleries.
I love the V&A Museum, and not just for its plus-sized plaster casts (which are utterly remarkable). It’s one of those places where you can wander all day long, never knowing what you’ll stumble upon next. One room might be dedicated to glasswork. Another might be devoted to textiles and costumes. The next gallery might be all about ironwork, or jewelry, or printmaking. I swear there was a room dedicated to tiny, collectable spoons, although that might just be my memory spinning fancies. As mentioned in my last post, I’m a total variety junky. I rarely eat the same meal twice, or walk the same path to the market. I like to mix it up constantly, and the V&A museum is totally the place for me!
A final note about the V&A’s plaster David. When Queen Victoria saw the statue in all its nudity, she was so shocked that she requested that David’s manhood be covered by a suitably proportioned fig leaf, to be hung when dignitaries visit. Although the stone fig leaf isn’t worn by David today, it remains one of the museum’s most popular exhibits. It’s a cover up, I tell ya!
(As the old proverb goes, variety is the spice of life. But is it? One could argue that ritual is the spice of life – performing the same action again and again with great mindfulness. I don’t have an answer to this debate other than, “Mix it up occasionally.” If you like your tea the same way, the same temperature, the same time every morning, try drinking it in a different cup…at least some of the time. You can have your ritual cake (or tea) and eat it too.)