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The great Mucha exhibit

2012 December 27

It has been a good Christmas vacation, here. Plenty of snow on the ground, but very little on the roads. Good food, family, friends. Sunday was not the best week of the NFL season, but Christmas day brought some good basketball games. I got lovely loot, which I will share in a day or so here.

I also got to see this. Imagine my surprise when, Sunday evening, Mother mentioned an art exhibit at Cedar Rapids’s Czech and Slovak Museum that might be something to do while I’m around, someone, moo-something?

Alphonse Mucha…?

Yes, yes, that was the name.

I feel like Mucha doesn’t have quite the name recognition of Escher, among the broader public, but among those who take any special interest in design or illustration, he has to be right about up there. Naturally, I was not going to miss this.

Happily, I was not disappointed, either. The exhibit of Mr. Escher’s work, which I visited in Akron a year or two back, was nice enough but largely familiar. The Mucha exhibit was much, much more, and absolutely stupendous.

Unfortunately, it’s closing after Monday. I wish that I had known about this earlier; it wouldn’t have made much difference to me but perhaps one or two friends or acquaintances might have benefited from the information with more advance notice. As is, I don’t even have photos because the entire museum is a no-photography zone.

So I almost feel bad about reporting this, but it is, again, a glorious exhibit. The familiar is there, but that, alone, is wondrous to see in this context: Mucha’s well-known posters were big. Sarah Bernhardt, for example, was generally near life-size. And there’s still so much detail in these works at full size; I don’t think it can be appreciated reduced down to 8×10″.

The posters, however, are only one piece of the exhibit, which is also big. This isn’t just a rinky mini-display, any more than Mucha was a one-note artist. He did a good deal of photography, mostly of a snapshot variety admittedly, but even so many of the photos on display are fascinating. As an artist, meanwhile, it seems he did at least as much painting as illustration, and this was almost entirely new to me. He spent something like a quarter of his long life working on one cycle of paintings, in fact, his Slav Epic; these massive canvasses, alas, are not part of the exhibit, but a number of studies and other preparatory works are. And then there’s also the man himself. I came away with an impression of Mucha that’s a bit wispy, and chimaerical, but not for lack of glimpses into his life beyond its visual portfolio. Truly a giant, as a creative force straining to develop and express ideas through limited line and color.

Very, very good job, NC&SM&L.

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