Your experiences with art and travel

I love to travel and I love to see new art when I travel, and it seems I’m not the only one. In this blog post are the answers to the May/June contest question, “What was your best art experience while travelling?”
I was amazed at the detailed answers I got, the question seemed to stir up the wonderful trip memories. Emi wrote that she made the subject the topic of a dinner conversation and I got three great entries as a result.

Some people had their best encounters with art in Europe, where treasures of art exist both inside and outside the museums.

Amy wrote:
My best art experience while traveling was my very first art experience while traveling--and maybe my first real art experience ever (I don't count being dragged to art museums during field trips, because no one ever pays attention during field trips). My sister was studying abroad in Spain during my junior year of high school, and I went to visit her for two weeks. It was my first big solo trip traveling anywhere at all, and I was excited to go to Europe. My sister and I spent several days in Madrid, and she took me to the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen museums. While I was just wandering aimlessly around the Prado, not really sure what I was looking at because I was just seventeen and surrounded by surrealism, I saw Máxima Velocidad de la Madonna de Rafael. I loved it because it was like I was looking at Raphael's painting, except it had been painted over with some blues and some spheres of other colors. For me, it was the perfect mixture of the realism in Renaissance paintings with something new, bright, and different. I must have looked at that painting for at least ten minutes, trying to absorb every detail and facet of it. I bought a postcard of the painting in the gift shop and tucked it away inside my photo album of memories from that trip to Spain. Every once in a while, I'll pull it out and look at the image again, and I find it as equally mesmerizing as I did then--almost ten years later. 

Salvador Dali, Máxima Velocidad de la Madonna de Rafael

Emi wrote:
I was visiting the Czech Republic where a girlfriend of mine worked for Mitsubishi Steel in Prague in 1994. We went north of Prague into the countryside. The countryside was populated with razed denuded mountains that had been mined but the place we visited was pastural. We visited a former film-maker and his wife who host a sculpture event annually where people gather and created installations that take advantage of the natural landscape. For example, creating sculptures and patterns from the earth and metal sculptures through which through the woods behind could be admired - pieces that integrated natural landscapes and were intended to make a counter statement to the destruction of the nearby exploited natural environment. It was fascinating to walk around and admire these sculptures, some of which were naturally decaying with time. Down the road, we came upon a wonderful glass exhibit in an art gallery, which had formerly been a castle. It seemed amazing to find such a rich exhibit in the middle of an isolated countryside. My mother had just begun working with glass in Japan and I was keen to appreciate the medium better. The gallery was called Klenova Castle and is located in Janovice. It is apparently one of the most famous art galleries in the Czech Republic now. Later that night, we wanted to watch a world soccer cup game but there were few pubs or restaurants in the area and they were closed. We could see a few tv screens in private homes. Instead, we sat with glasses of wine and our host shone film spotlights onto the trees above us, creating beautiful shadows, natural entertainment, and art.

PW wrote:
Seeing Guernica at the Reina Sofia in Madrid made me think differently about the power of art to create cultural touchstones. The painting was constantly surrounded by a crowd about 50, almost all of them Spaniards. People would look on in respectful silence for a few minutes and then move on. They already knew what the painting meant because their parents and grandparents had lived through those terrible times. It was if they weren't looking in order to understand the painting but instead were using it as a reminder of what can happen when we lose our capacity for empathy. I think that this kind of secular worship gives a culture a moral foundation that surpasses any flag waving or anthem singing.

Picasso, Guernica

Some people love to travel and find local artists, then bring home art as a lovely souvenir of their trip. Souvenir in French means to remember, and what better memory of a trip could there be than an artist’s vision and your remembrance of meeting the artist?

Caroline wrote:
Sometimes you can find the most beautiful things where you don't expect them. So my best art experience isn't a famous one. When visiting The Forbidden City I encountered a local artist who spent his days painting there. I was struck by a painting of a detail of a gate, a handle shaped like a dragon head. I ended up buying it. 
I don't travel much unfortunately but whenever I travel and something catches my attention I buy it. On a trip to Wales I bought a lithography which depicts the local beach, by coincidence the one I visited, covered in snow. The first snow that part of Wales had seen in years. They're better memories than pictures to me.

Liz wrote:
Oh this is easy ;). While traveling in Italy years ago I found out there was a little gallery in Vernazza. We ventured upon it after hiking the Cinque Terre and found the owner to be a most charming gentleman. To this day, the paintings that I purchased from him are my favorite reminders of his gorgeous little town and our trip to Italy with our kids years ago. Those are the paintings that I would retrieve first if God forbid my house was burning!

Others found inspiration closer to home, back here in North America.

James wrote:
When I was on duty in Ranklin Inlet in 1983 as a peace officer, I watched Adam Totalik sculpt soapstone carvings. I realize now I should have bought a sculpture but hesitated at the time because they were $90 apiece!
I also remember watching a group of 10-12 men sculpting wood figurines (elephants, giraffes, zebras) for 45 minutes while in Namibia, Africa. They were quietly focussed, occasionally sharing a joke he didn’t understand. I enjoyed the energy of their purposeful work and watching the sculptures take shape.

Eiko wrote:
In 1961, when I first came to the US from Japan, I saw a Thai art exhibit in the Seattle Museum of Art. It was not the exhibit that was significant but who I met. I was introduced to another woman, who was going to go to the same school with her and we hit it off right away. Marion and I fast became best friends and were roommates at Yale School of Design.

Marianne P. wrote:
I have had so many unforgettable art experiences abroad but the one that comes immediately to mind is one I had close to home in Victoria at the Gallery there. I found myself completely alone in the little room devoted to Emily Carr. As I looked at her work and read the information I found myself in a complete state of emotional overwhelm. I was grateful to be alone as if anyone had peered in they would have observed me with tears streaming down my face. I suddenly had this deep feeling of understanding. That's really the only way I can describe the experience. It was so profound. Oddly enough, when I was much younger I was always very uncomfortable around her work as it evoked a feeling of fear and dread in me. Now 35 years later I feel a quiet sense of wonder.

Emily Carr, Dream Picture

Thank you for sharing these lovely and thoughtful answers. From a random draw, the winner is Amy, congratulations.