European Art Adventure

A couple of weeks ago, I joined 3 art teachers and 14 students for a field trip to the Beyeler Foundation museum in Basel, Switzerland. After a beautiful morning/afternoon, a student exclaimed: “I feel so European!” I could not have agreed more. We had just spent the morning hopping from one public transportation system to another. That factor, in itself, felt like a true European experience. Yet, that wasn’t even the main event of our morning.

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We began our Saturday, that day, at the unhealthy hour of 8am. That was when we were to meet at the bus stop outside of BFA. (Some of you are wondering if you read that correctly. Yes, I DID say Saturday.) All of the staff and students that participated in this trip did so by choice on their day off. Nobody’s grade depended on it, no student received extra credit for it, and no teacher was offered a bonus (haha, poor missionary joke) for leading this trip. Where was I? Oh yes, 8am. (It’s a blog, calm down. I’m allowed to be as ADD here as I am in person.)

At 8am, staff and students arrived at the bus stop wearing their intelligent, art museum apparel. Those of us who were smart were accessorized with a cup of coffee and/or breakfast. Together we waited in anticipation for the 55 bus to round the corner. When it arrived, we piled onto the bus while one of the teachers purchased our ticket from the bus driver with the German phrases he had carefully prepared.

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On the way there, most of the staff and students were engaged in reading the small biography of Degas (the artist featured at the museum) that I had prepared. After a quick hour passed, we arrived in Basel. From the Badischer Bahnhof we were to jump on a tram that would take us straight to the museum. We found our way pretty easily and we arrived just as the museum was opening. We even successfully met up with two students who live in Basel and took their own public transportation to meet us.

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After everything had gone so smoothly with our public transportation transfers and meeting points, it was not surprising to me that we would run into a problem with purchasing our museum tickets. Mike, the art teacher who had planned this trip, had looked at the museum website extensively and was well aware of the ticket prices and opening time. What the website neglected to mention was the museum’s policy for large groups. Apparently it was customary for our group to have made an appointment. It didn’t shock me that we were almost stopped by Germans who expected us to abide by an unstated rule. That’s how things work here. Yet, our students were well-behaved and Mike spoke kindly to the sales woman, so they permitted our entry. Thank you Lord!

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Upon entering the museum, I was filled with excitement, as were the other staff and students. The building was very modern, with white walls and wooden floors. In the center of the gallery stood a large sculpture/structure by Alexander Calder, with a long leather couch for viewing. The path to the left took guests through the more permanent museum pieces, while the path to the right led to the Degas exhibit. They should have been labeled the pathways this way: “For a peaceful artistic experience, turn left,” and “For an overwhelming artistic experience, turn right.” I took the path to the left and I am grateful.

I took my time wandering from pieces by Mondrian, Picasso, and Braque to the awe-inspiring Water Lilies piece by Monet. I was joined by students who were eager to try out there art analyzing skills on the pieces they had before them. We discussed how the first of  Mondrian’s Tableau pieces was not white, like the others. We observed Picasso’s unattractive, but interesting, cubist pieces. We even stared at Braque’s Woman Reading, trying desperately to see the woman in the mess of abstract art before us. I could not have asked for more. Yet, I received more when I rounded the corner and found the serene room where Monet’s Water Lilies canvas was on display. Not only was the room empty of most other pieces of art, but it too had a long leather couch for viewing. So, I sat and gazed upon this incredible work of art for an unknown amount of time. It wasn’t just the piece that captivated me. (I had just visited l’Orangerie in Paris, where Monet’s longest and largest Water Lilies canvasses filled entire rooms.) I was captivated because the room was built-in a special way. To the left of me was a large, wall-sized, window that made up the front of the museum. Outside, a pond ran right up to the window. So, I felt as if I was completely lost in the world of water lilies, being that I was practically sitting in a pond with water lilies.

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After a stroll through these peaceful rooms, I wandered into the pop art gallery filled with Warhol and Lichtenstein paintings. It was a nice palette cleanser before I entered the large exhibit of Degas pieces. I am not a huge fan of either of these artists, but I appreciated them much more after passing through the rooms filled with large 2 color paintings by Mark Rothko. I still don’t understand them.

Anyway, as I passed through the pop art palette cleanser room, which felt more like a trip to the beach than to an art museum, I found myself in a world of dancing and bathing women. If you know anything about Degas, you probably chuckled just then. If you don’t, you probably think I am a very big art nerd. Regardless of the first possible response, the latter response is still valid.

Degas had a passion for many things, but two of them were more obvious than the others: the arts and the female body. Degas was a patron of the arts and was often allowed back stage during major ballet, orchestra, and opera performances. One can see that he was incredibly involved and in love with the arts by all of his paintings and sculptures of ballet. This, alone, would not cause me to think any less of Degas. Yet, I walked through 3 rooms filled with paintings of women before, during, and after a bath before I got to the rooms filled with ballerinas. So, call me crass, but I think Degas was a creeper. I can appreciate his art and his dedication to cultural events. Yet, I don’t think I can get over the combination of the two subject matters. Many of the students felt the same way. Some, in fact, had begun with the path to the right. By the time they got to the other art, they were overwhelmed and ready to leave.

So, we hopped back on the tram and ate lunch at the closest place to our bus stop… McDonalds. Who can resist the golden arches? We certainly couldn’t. It was close, it was affordable ($10 to $13 rather than $20 a person), and the restaurant had enough space for most of us to be together for a debriefing on our experience at the museum. Everyone had a lot to say. I was glad to hear that so many of them had a favorite piece that they wanted to share with the others. Some students, however, were so overwhelmed by the enormous collection of repetitive themes that they were just ready to eat their fast food and go home for a nap.

IMG_0028-Edit(Art Discussion before the meal.)

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(Typical teenage antics after the meal.)

After a tasty lunch, filled with art discussion, we walked to our bus stop. Everything had gone as planned. We were right on schedule. Yet, we did not anticipate the amount of people who also seemed interested in heading towards our small town. When the bus arrived, several people boarded the bus and the bus driver made it clear to us that we would not be able to fit. Rather than wait at that bus stop for another hour, we took the students on a walk to the first bus stop on the bus route. We were already off schedule and could not risk being rejected from another bus. Fortunately, this bus stop happened to be across the street from a Starbucks. You can imagine that the inconvenience of our walking trip through Basel was quickly washed away by Latte’s and yummy baked goods.

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All in all, it was a fabulous day and well worth the early traveling experience. Special trips like this don’t happen often. So, I choose to treasure them. Above all else, I was most satisfied with the experience that the students had. They were excited to have this cultural opportunity and they came away from it feeling educated and hungry for more. As an Art Appreciation teacher, what more could I ask for?

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