Big Art Comes to East Lansing

Last Friday evening we made our first visit to the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in East Lansing. The opening of this museum has been much anticipated by many people, including my wife and I. Our kids, too, had taken a keen interest in the building, noting the progress of this striking building anytime we would pass by the site on Grand River Avenue.

As you can see, the museum, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, does not look like anything else in the area.

It was dusk so I apologize for the less than spectacular photos. Besides, I’m no photographer.

Henry really liked the sculpture (Containment I by Roxy Paine) in front of the museum’s entrance.

Entry to the museum is free, though a small donation is suggested. There is far more space and light inside the building than you might think just from looking at it from the outside.

The film and multimedia pieces were the highlights for me. I can’t offer more than a few impressions because kids don’t exactly afford much time to examine and contemplate. We all liked Damien Hirst’s The Kingdom of the Father, even if I think it’s a bit morbid. It’s a beautiful triptych constructed of dead butterflies. I’m wondering how Hirst explained it to his workers, “OK. Here’s the deal. I’m going to need a couple thousand dead butterflies. Blue ones, orange ones, yellow one, you name it. Then I’m going to arrange them…What do you mean you don’t know where to get a couple thousand dead butterflies? That’s not my problem! Just get them for me, already! I have a vision to execute for how beautiful death can be!”

The kids thought the museum looked cool. We even rode the giant elevator a few times because Meredith wanted to.

Meredith also liked the odd corners of the place.

In one corner on the first floor was a small canvas, about one square foot, that was red with a slight orange tint to it. It was shiny. My wife asked our son what he thought of it. He said, “That’s boring!” A middle-aged woman nearby laughed and said something about admiring the honesty of small children. I actually agree with my son on that one particular piece.

Thanks to Orson Welles and his phenomenal movie F for Fake, I often think of this Rudyard Kipling poem, “The Conundrum of the Workshops” when I come across art of dubious integrity, because in a sense all art has to fight for its own integrity. Here are the first two stanzas.

When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

Wherefore he called to his wife, and fled to fashion his work anew –
The first of his race who cared a fig for the first, most dread review;
And he left his lore to the use of his sons — and that was a glorious gain
When the Devil chuckled “Is it Art?” in the ear of the branded Cain.

Regardless, an art piece like a square foot canvas of shiny red paint is quite easy to fake. By that I mean, you could reproduce it or several similar to it, and pass them off as having been done by the original artist with far less difficulty than say Rembrandt or Van Gogh. But then we have passed out of the age of the artist as craftsperson and into the age of the artist as conceptualist.

I’m looking forward to going back to the museum, without the kids, so I can linger a bit longer around the art, and then cross the street and chow down on a burger and fries at Five Guys. Yes, there is a Five Guys across the street. Some find this disturbing. I find this comforting. Why? Because what better way to show off the mixing of high and low in much of art from the last four decades than by having a burger joint across the street from a forward-looking art museum?

What a community builds tells you what a community values. Spurred by a large gift from a wealthy art patron, our community has gotten itself a first class art museum.

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2 thoughts on “Big Art Comes to East Lansing

  1. What a great place to children. Well, actually for adults too!!!

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