Get naked for art's sake

Elise T.Chisolm

February 19, 1991|By Elise T.Chisolm

I WENT TO the the National Gallery of Art in Washington last month.

I saw the Titian and the Van Dyck exhibits, which were both wonderful in their color and beauty.

I was amazed at how well the paintings have endured time. Some looked as if they were done yesterday.

But let's go from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Some British dandy writing in the Observer, a British newspaper, does not think old paintings are holding up so well.

He is telling us that visitors to museums may be contributing to the destruction of paintings. He talks about ''evil'' gases in our art museums, and baby, he's pointing figures at you and moi.

It was after I came from the museum in my cloth coat -- it was cold and rainy -- that I read more from this fuddy-duddy about the demise of art by gases.

The chemist, Peter Brimblecombe, who seems to blow things out of proportion, says that sulfides are destroying priceless art in museums and galleries throughout the world. He names wet woolens as one culprit, or rather the fumes that wet woolens give out.

Then he says that another source of destruction results from bio-effluents from museum-goers' flatulence.

So he has accused us all of wrecking the art by just being there.

Now here's a direct quote from him that you won't believe: ''If people want to go to galleries and museums they should wear no clothes and control themselves.''

Doesn't he know that people flock to museums when it is wet just to get out of the rain.

I do.

The National Endowment for the Arts won't like this at all. No clothes on the art lovers might mean some kind of government censorship at museums, and we've had enough of that!

Besides, lots of people don't like to go around nude in their own homes.

But I have to say I did notice a kind of wet ''fur'' odor in the National Gallery that January day, you know, like you've just bathed your dog. And there were many museum gawkers in fur coats, mostly women -- all types of furs, upscale clothes.

Washingtonians dress up for art exhibits. They always have, and I don't think they are ready to disrobe and give up their expensive minks and more to a security guard.

I imagine people's wool and fur coats got wet in Van Dyck's time too, and it sure didn't daunt the color or texture of his paintings.

Not for a moment do I think that people with wet coats are hurting Van Dyck. What about kids' coughs, smokers' breath, spray net and that oh-so-strong perfume on some women that makes you sneeze?

Ah, coughing and sneezing -- I can see those things contributing to bad air.

As a matter of fact, most very precious paintings at museums are roped off so that the viewer can't get too near, so you can't exude anything directly on the painting.

We all know about the cud-chewing cows and their threat to the world's atmosphere. I swallowed that line, so I do stay away from belching or exploding cows. But giving up going to art galleries? Never.

I can frankly see worrying about bio-effluents at wrestling matches, or burp and scratch bars, but come on, let's leave our clothes on in museums. Van Dyck would be shocked if everyone came naked to his exhibit.

This Brit chemist should be trying to figure out how to convert bio-effluents and evil gases to energy to heat our homes and run our cars, instead of fooling around at art museums and accusing art lovers.

Well, maybe this new worry will take the place of your Persian Gulf stress. But, try to control yourself.

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