By Paul Caputo and Jeffrey Carl
Lots of people thought Richmond was just full of uncultured redneck whitebread crackers. In our review of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, we proved them right. (You can tell by Paul’s overuse of the hackneyed cliche “WHOOO DOGGIES!.” It’s worth noting that, at the time, my sophisticated appreciation of modernist art was roughly on par with my appreciation of food that did not come in a wrapper or styrofoam container.
Hi. We are Jeff and Paul™ Culture Ahoy!
Culture: what is it? How was it created? How did it get there? Will it cost you 39 cents extra (41 with tax)? Is it bigger than a breadbox? Do you serve red or white wine with it? Does it go with tan or navy slacks? Will it change your life? Do you have to change your underwear?
These are the questions that we will answer for you, valued State reader (yes, both of you) in our landmark one-part series:
Among prolific and respected historians, Dr. James Vünderthise is one of the least prolific or respected. This notwithstanding, it is Vünderthise who is responsible for what many consider the universe’s most worthwhile definition of “Culture.” In his book, Ancient Greece, Modern Scotland and other Cross-Dressing Cultures, Vünderthise defines Culture as “objects which are æsthetically pleasing, morally uplifting, and not nearly as interesting as ‘Knight Rider’ reruns on the USA Network.”
For any serious Art Critic, or even us, this definition of Culture leaves several problems. First, according to this, objects such as Action Figures and Taco Bell’s Bacon Cheeseburger Burrito classify as Culture. The second is that Dr. Vünderthise does not specify which “Knight Rider” episode he’s thinking of. For instance, the episode where KITT ends up in the Hicksville to save the Hick Woman from the Hick Mob is not even close to being as interesting the episode in which KITT’s evil twin, KARR, tries to kill David Hasselhoff. Incidentally, we applaud this idea.
In our relentless, almost maniacal pursuit of Culture, we selected the its nearest local purveyor, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. We figured we have exactly what it takes to be Professional Art Critics: Free Time. As Famous Mayoral Candidates – where we were greeted with a humongous wave of total apathy – we had the requisite Free Time to go to the museum and select several objets d’art (French for “objects of – duh – art”), review them and give them a Culture Rating in stars (or something), so you – wise State reader – will know which will give you Culture and which you can skip, saving valuable minutes of inconvenient and expensive walking.
The Suggested Donation Rating: FIVE STARS
The first display as you enter the building, it is a striking example of Modern Art. “The Suggested Donation” portrays a small wad of crumpled bills and change, encased in glass, mounted (and we use this word in its classy, artistic way) on a wooden stand. Its meaning, like much of Modern Art, is open to interpretation. Some say it represents class struggle; some call it an indictment of materialism; others call it a comic, satiric piece. Most critics admit that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Anyway, entrance to the museum is free.
Big Scary African Masks Rating: TWELVE STARS
This section of the museum contained a bunch of HUUUUUUUGE African masks designed to SCARE THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF various Wussy Belgian Explorers who came to conquer the continent. These masks were great: about eight feet high, 12,000 pounds and shaped like buffaloes or Republicans. Either way, they were Huge And Cool-Shaped, obviously designed by smart African Tribesmen to be distributed to archæologists, rather than to be Actually Worn, because they bear tiny African inscriptions saying: FOR IDIOT AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGISTS ONLY! WEAR ONLY IN CASE OF HURRICANES!, of which there are obviously none in Africa.
English hunting pictures Rating: TWO HORSES AND ONE COCKER SPANIEL
This is an actual section of the museum. We saw it on the free museum map and thought that maybe there would be pictures of gored animals or crazed, gored Englishmen hunting wild bison. This is not what was there.
We said, “Look! A horse! Standing!” And, “Look! Another horse in a very similar pose!” And, “Look, a DIFFERENT horse.” And, “Hey! A horse jumping!” And, “Hmm … here is a horse NOT jumping.” And, “Oh. It’s a horse.” And, “Ha ha, how amusing, the same horse from a different angle.” And, eventually, “PLEASE DEAR GOD NO MORE HORSE PICTURES!”
The whole section looked like vacation pictures from Sea World, if Sea World had fat horses instead of dolphins and they drained all the water out. There were pictures of Englishpeople (exciting!) standing by horses, riding on horses, and … um, standing by horses.
Did our tax dollars buy this?
If you were to rank all of the parts of the museum (and why would you, since we’re doing it for you?) according to the level of interest they arouse, the English hunting section would come in just above Andy Warhol, and just below the floors tiles and parking lot.
The Enormous Head in the Arts Café Garden Rating: NEGATIVE 7 STARS
On loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this sculpture is one of the most unsettling pieces in or even near the museum. In fact, it is so unsettling, they put it outside the building just so it wouldn’t spook the horses in the English Hunting Art section. The sculpture itself is an enormous disembodied old man’s head, positioned just up a small hill from several tables where patrons eat and relax in the Arts Café Garden.
Of course, it’s impossible to eat or relax because there is this … huge … HEAD. Watching you. It looks like a cross between God and Mr. Magoo. Creepy.
A Bunch of Elvises, by Andy Warhol Rating: TWO THUMBS JAMMED UP YOUR (censored)
Okay. It’s a bunch of colored pictures of Elvis. True, it serves as an important precursor to the Velvet Elvis Period in American art. Warhol supposedly popularized “Pop Art,” which sounds like soda stains and looks worse. But … oh, come on. Andy, your 15 minutes are up.
Dégas ballerina Rating: WHOOOOOOO DOGGY!
Don’t you think this guy was a bit too interested in little girls in leotards?
Something I Just Did in a Hurry, by Vincent “Vinnie” Van Gogh Rating: THREE GROSS SEVERED EARS
We guess every museum has to have a Van Gogh. But the VMFA’s is sort of a “Van Gogh Lite” – one of the less expensive ones that The Louvre uses for napkins. It is the size of a large postage stamp, and looks like the kind of thing Van Gogh used for a game of Pictionary. Still, it’s a Van Gogh, even if he DID sneeze all over it.
On the whole, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has a lot going for it, and, while the “cool” kids these days might not think it’s “hip” to “hang out” there, that’s okay, because you “young people” are “idiots.”
If you are a classy, educated individual, which clearly you are not because you are reading this column, the art museum is a place to revel in the glories of Culture and fine art. If you are a cretin or a derelict (which is fine, if you like that sort of thing), the art museum is a great place to vomit in while the Art Museum Elite Strike Force Guards glare menacingly at you. Or whatever.
As you leave the art museum after your next visit, do not rub the giant golden bunny’s head for good luck.
They hate that.