I was going to begin this post with a snarky statement like: Did you know Philadelphia exists outside of sports? Here are things I did in Philly and its surrounding area that weren’t related to football …
But then, I did feel a lot of love for sports fans while I wrote this funny piece about Philly in the Super Bowl this week. It’s impossible not to get swept up in the wave of excitement for this team that I feel from lots of different directions (and strongly from work) this week. So I’m not fighting it.
Plus being antagonistic toward people who are excited about sports is not my vibe right now. Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights is one of the best books I’ve read in the last year, and THAT is the vibe.
In this spirit of this beloved book, one poet’s journal chronicling daily delight every day for a year, here is a list of places I have found delight in lately:
Paolo and Francesca by Auguste Rodin is a statue that has been delighting me since I was 18. I used to walk to the Milwaukee Art Museum regularly as a college kid to sit with this work (a different cast from the same mold) depicting two doomed lovers in hell.
The fact that Philadelphia has an entire Rodin Museum is so lovely, and we visited for the first time recently. There are a few exhibits I caught in MKE that I’ve since visited again in Philly, a comforting return (such as the casts of dancers Degas made so he could paint them). I delight in catching certain works or exhibits more than once, every time serendipity happens:
Historical church and cemetery, Haddonfield Baptist, the textures and colors here are all delights:
I actually took these early in January, on a day I got to see Philly Golden Hour at 4 p.m. or so and felt that particular delight:
Every single time I walk Knight Park, I feel delight:
That light. That light!
I don’t know the person who made this their front door decoration but I hope they know that this is my entire vision board (Delight!!):
I never would have admitted this when I lived there, but gritty punkrock New Brunswick, NJ, delights with all its roughness and charm:
THIS. MANIC, ECSTATIC BOOK. THIS, THIS is delightful:
Delicious meal with a friend and long walk on a mild day in Bordentown, NJ:
Walking the Labyrinth at the Delaware Museum of Art, a delight in the dead of a winter, and a delight to imagine how this will also come to bloom soon:
Everything about the Delaware Museum of Art brings me delight: Its cafe, Kaffeina. Walking around the Highlands neighborhood of Wilmington, where the museum is nestled between two parks and gorgeous Tudor style homes. Thanks, DuPont family dollars and industry!
My last Delight is the longest, deepest, just all-around biggest one: Catching two special exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art:
First, Sir Isaac Julien’s Lina Bo Bardi: A Marvelous Entanglement, which I cannot recommend enough. (It’s actually an ideal installation to take in while one is reading Figuring by Maria Popova. Reminds me of the time I caught Camille Norment’s singing forest (Plexus) at Dia Chelsea while reading The Overstory by Richard Powers! A perfect pairing.)
The nine-screen video exhibit is a tribute to and expression of the architecture and philosophy of Italian-Brazilian modernist Lina Bo Bardi. “A marvelous entanglement” is a quote from Bardi’s own work, about time, positing that time is not a straight line but everything happening all at once, bleeding out in all directions. (This is certainly in keeping with our contemporary philosophy for storytelling. Look at film: everything from the Marvel multi-verse to the excellent film Everything Everywhere All at Once that I sure hope sweeps the Oscars this year! These all suggest that linear time is a lie we tell ourselves.)
The exhibit explores built space and how humans work against, or maybe in sync with, natural spaces. One moment I didn’t catch (my photos will NEVER do this justice, it needs to be experienced!) captures the artist and an actor reading the artist’s words interrogating what a museum is, while inside a museum, with Baroque works of “classic” art encased in glass where patrons can view them close-up from all sides. It’s a stunning scene–don’t centuries-old works belong mounted on walls, high up, away from the grubby public?
And why do we make art, anyway? Before we even get to how humans construct museums (and cities, and personal dwellings, and everything a society will make, do, or, buy) BEFORE we even get there, we must admit that there is something fundamental about being human in making garments that have meaning, wearing symbols, fashioning objects not just to help us eat or hunt or survive but to worship and remember. Ceremony makes us human. And those objects and words and songs and gestures are sacred.
I was certainly taught that sacred items should be preserved in glass, placed physically high up and away from human hands for everyday life. Protect art. Preserve art. To honor art. Right?
But this drive to preserve “sacred” objects in thick glass in museums is a relatively new human impulse, and not necessarily part of every culture on the planet today. Some very intimate scenes from Brazilian culture are shown on screen, from singing and dancing to sculpting objects in clay using certain gestures and words to honor them. What if “everyday” and “sacred” or even “art” were not opposites? (Hint: we don’t have to think of them as opposites!)
After I took in this exhibit, I had the uncanny experience of overhearing a stranger in one of the museum’s many gifts shops. Certain parts of the Julien installation’s audio could be faintly heard in the gift shop, so the stranger said the noise was annoying. In truth the sound was distorted. But also in truth, this person was hearing the singing and percussion instruments of a religious ceremony in Brazil.
What a PERFECT encapsulation of the discomfort these questions raise … while being inside a museum. Why do we go to museums and what should they be like? Should museums be quiet and pristine vaults of culture?
I’m not trying to call anyone out or pick on them. I think what I witnessed yesterday was another form of entanglement, of the spirit of this work jumping out of its designated area of the museum and seeping to the *commercial* part of the building, the gift shop. This was the place where visitors are encouraged to hand over money so they can take home a piece, as replica or reproduction, of the art they just experienced. Cash for a memento.
Like it or not, I do have a script in my mind for how a shopping experience is supposed to go. And sacred songs and drums don’t factor into it, as far as what I have been taught.
But the most sacred experiences we can have or create as humans likely cannot be sold, valued at any price, or made into a small scale model or memento, anyway. So what EVEN are we doing with the gift shops in museums?
My brain is working overtime at all this!
The second exhibit I delighted in was Rhythms and Nature: The art & design of DRIFT.
Fragile Future comes from DRIFT studio in Amsterdam, and the exhibit curates both light installations that suggest the soft beauty and strength of nature in embodiments like dandelion fluff. But the exhibit also shows us how the studio began and what kinds of objects were made, showing varying stages and scale of projects.
And of course, displaying the successes that can happen when people collaborate suggests that all of humanity can live in better harmony with nature and the earth itself. Here’s hoping.