Queue Vadis?

The Great Wait #1

The Great Wait #1

Since acquiring its very first marble sculpture 500 years ago, the Vatican museums have grown to become one of the largest museums in the world with over 70,000 works attracting some 28 billion visitors a year.*

The Great Wait #2

The Great Wait #2

Behold the Laocöon sculpture, the Raphael rooms, the Transfiguration, St. Jerome in Wilderness and the ticket line longer than the 3.2 kilometre Vatican state perimeter!

The Great Wait #3

The Great Wait #3

See the Sistine Chapel with its ceiling and Last Supper by Michelangelo and its silence continuously broken by guards shouting Silenzio!

See the crowds, see the back of the person in front of you, get a contraband selfie stick poked in your ear.

The Great Wait #4

The Great Wait #4

So I recently visited the Vatican Museums for the first time in ten years. Not much have changed since my last time. I still love the place. I still tried to beat the crowds. I still failed spectacularly.

* number based on a rough guesstimate.

The Great Wait #5

The Great Wait #5

The Great Wait #6

The Great Wait #6

The Great Wait #7

The Great Wait #7

The Great Wait #8

The Great Wait #8

The Great Wait #9

The Great Wait #9

Rock Bottom. Fondling It.

Vigeland #1

Vigeland #1. (Among all the giggling tourists, this lady closed her eyes and put her head against the rock baby’s back, like if she was listening for a heartbeat.)

Giddy tourists petting stone genitalia. Families collecting pokemonkeys. Terrified small children whose fathers, inspired by the sculptures, try to juggle them. Yup. It’s the Vigeland sculpture park.

Vigeland #2

Vigeland #2

Vigeland #3

Vigeland #3

Vigeland #4

Vigeland #4

Vigeland #5

Vigeland #5

Vigeland #6

Vigeland #6

Vigeland #7

Vigeland #7

Vigeland #8

Vigeland #8

Vigeland #9

Vigeland #9

Closed Views

These are views both plain and magnificent of alleys and courtyards, city streets and suburban wasteland, mountains and oceans and nothing in particular, hidden behind what I call curtains and you call drapes.

The Parkway Hotel, St. Louis, Missouri

The Parkway Hotel, St. Louis, Missouri

We spent a month on US roads, driving 7.000 kilometres through 18 states. Before leaving Norway back in June, I was adamant that I would produce one series of photographs, besides all the other pictures I took along the way, that would span the entire journey, while at the same time adhering to a set of limitations. Having never before been to the States, I still had this almost romantic fascination for motels of the cheaper variety. For a long time I thought about doing a series of motel exteriors. But we weren’t staying in cheap motels exclusively, some hotels were, well, not exactly fancy, but they wouldn’t lend themselves to such a series very well. And one of my self-imposed limitations – decided upon before even deciding the subject matter – was that I would be photographing all instances of whatever I finally chose, i.e. the façade of every place where we spent the night, in case I went for that idea. So I didn’t.

Hotel 91, New York, New York

Hotel 91, New York, New York

Instead I started thinking about doing it the other way around, photographing from the inside and out, shooting out the windows of whichever place we were staying at. But shooting through the windows didn’t work consistently either, for a variety of reasons. And going outside to photograph basically the same view meant losing the window frame as a frame of reference. Not to mention the trouble I’d have when the room was on the eighth floor. So I elected to stay inside. And closed the curtains.

Knights Inn, Niagara, Ontario

Knights Inn, Niagara, Ontario

Throughout the journey I would thus shoot the curtain of every room we stayed the night in, from shitty Super8 motels and cheap Howard Johnsons to upmarket hotels in Chicago and charming B & Bs in Louisiana. So much did I obsess with the damn curtains that we at one point accidentally tried to check into a curtain store in Boone, NC.

Well, here are the curtains. What’s outside is pretty much left to your imagination.

Super8, Sarnia, Ontario

Super8, Sarnia, Ontario

Howard Johnson, Battle Creek, Michigan

Howard Johnson, Battle Creek, Michigan

The Tremont, Chicago, Illinois

The Tremont, Chicago, Illinois

Hampton Inn, Memphis, Tennessee

Hampton Inn, Memphis, Tennessee

Super8, North Jackson, Mississippi

Super8, North Jackson, Mississippi

Old Town Inn, New Orleans, Louisiana

Old Town Inn, New Orleans, Louisiana

Econo Lodge, Tallahassee, Florida

Econo Lodge, Tallahassee, Florida

Days Inn, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Days Inn, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Smoky Mountain Inn & Suites, Cherokee, North Carolina

Smoky Mountain Inn & Suites, Cherokee, North Carolina

Downtown Inn & Suites, Asheville, North Carolina

Downtown Inn & Suites, Asheville, North Carolina

Fairfield Inn, Boone, North Carolina

Fairfield Inn, Boone, North Carolina

Travelodge Bay Beach, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Travelodge Bay Beach, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Capitol Skyline Hotel, Washington DC

Capitol Skyline Hotel, Washington DC

Courtyard Marriott, New Haven, Connecticut

Courtyard Marriott, New Haven, Connecticut

Fairfield Inn & Suites, New York, New York

Fairfield Inn & Suites, New York, New York

Suggested soundtrack: Low – The Curtain Hits The Cast. And remember: a curtain is just a superhero cape that has yet to fulfill its potential.

This is the tenth and final chapter of the American blog posts. Links to the other installments below.

America part nine: DC, Then Dave
America part eight: There Died A Myriad
America part seven point five: Beach And Moan
America  part seven: Mountains (woo-hoo!)
America part six: The Place Where They Cried*
America part five: The Heroes of Gator-Aid
America part four: Some People. And Chicago
America part three: A Tale Of Three Cities
America part two: Viva Las Canada
America part one: New York Fact Sheet

Museum Watching

I go to formal openings for the same reason I go to zoos: to watch the people.

Say Scream cheese. Shooting a pen and ink version of one of the world's most famous works of art.

Say Scream cheese. Shooting a pen and ink version of one of the world’s most famous works of art.

Then a few days or weeks later, I return to actually see the exhibition. But opening day is all about the crowd. Yesterday was the reopening of The Rasmus Meyer Collection at The KODE Art Museums of Bergen. One of the largest collections of Edvard Munch paintings in the world was among the works on display. Some 700 people visited the museum during the day, and looking at the queue a few minutes before the doors opened, most of them thought it a good idea to come at the exact same time. I guess quite a few actually was interested in hearing the director’s speech, but I suspect that for some it was of equal importance to be seen themselves.

Women on The Jetty. Photographer in front.

Women on The Jetty. Photographer in front.

Long is the line. And cold. And wet. That out of light day leads into the dark arts.

Long is the line. And cold. And wet. That out of light day leads into the dark arts.

I was in that queue, but seeing that I wouldn’t get in with the first (and keenest and thus most photogenic) wave of visitors, I left and had a few coffees elsewhere. Returning a couple of hours later, the speech was over and the crowd had thinned out quite a bit (possibly to go and observe World Naked Gardening Day). At this time it was possible to actually see the Munch paintings, but considering what I had really hoped to capture – the ladies of the arts clutching their glasses of faux Champagne and investing in their cultural capital by mere attendance – it was also a bit of a downer.

Watching the watchers

Incidentally (or maybe not) two of my favourite photographers have also worked a lot with the theme of museums and their visitors – in two very different manners. Thomas Struth, a German photographer associated with the so-called Düsseldorf school of photography (including Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte and Thomas Ruff) makes extremely rigid, sober and straight-on pictures with large format cameras – and usually presents his works in gigantic prints often measuring two by two meters. In his museum series, he would set up his 13×18 camera in front of certain works of art and wait long hours or even days before feeling that the crowds in front of him fell into the right formation. I especially remember seeing a large exhibition of his in the Whitechapel Gallery in East London a few years ago. If I remember correctly, one of his pictures from the Art Institute of Chicago – printed so large that the people in the picture was almost life-size – was the very first thing you saw when you came in through the doors. And that meta feeling of me, an actual gallery-goer, looking at a huge photographs of other gallery-goers looking at paintings – that is really, really engaging.

The other museum watching favourite is Elliot Erwitt, a Magnum photographer and the grand master of ironic and absurd photography. He actually has a book called Museum Watching, consisting of pictures from 40 years of attending museums in his spare time in between assignments. Compared to Thomas Struth, Elliot represents the opposite end of documentary photography. Working with small Leica cameras, his work is spontaneous and affectionate and more often than not very witty. His Museum Watching book is in no way one of his best, but at times it is absolutely superb. I honestly think that his 1995 picture from Museo del Prado in Madrid is one of the funniest photographs ever made (Erwitt has several contenders for this prize).

Elliot Erwitt's picture Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1995, photographed off of his book Museum Watching.

Elliot Erwitt’s picture Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1995, photographed off of his book Museum Watching.

Looking through Erwitts and Struths work today, there is one thing that strikes me: no one in the pictures are taking their own pictures of the art. Since then of course, the camera phone arrived. Yesterday at the The Rasmus Meyer Collection, as good as everyone was snapping away. A few were seemingly trying to capture the mood of the opening, but most were taking pics of the paintings, and I guess a fair share of those pics were going straight on Instagram and the like – showing that yes, we were there.

According to Thomas Struth: “[…] when art works were made, they were not yet icons or museum pieces. When a work of art becomes fetishized, it dies.” I’m not so cynical myself. Munch’s work is obviously fetishized, but I have a feeling that it’s still able to evoke some feelings independently of the fact that they are Munch paintings. But it’s difficult, of course. The Scream, for example, is so much a part of our common cultural heritage that I find it impossible to separate the picture itself and my emotional response to it from its role as an artefact in popular culture. The only Scream on display at The Rasmus Meyer Collection is a tiny pen and ink version. I don’t think that will be able to elicit any new emotions. But maybe some of the other works will. I’ll have to return another day to find that out. And leave my camera at home.

The director's speech. Spoken.

The director’s speech. Spoken.