Michelangelo at the mall
Anyone who has seen the Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison movie of Irving Stone's bestseller "The Agony and the Ecstasy" will know that as well as dealing with vicious papal politics, Michelangelo got a lot of paint in his eyes while doing the friezes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
On top of all that, he had to rethink some of the figures in his Noah story so they were big enough to be visible from the ground — too many people! Hardly any animals!
Five centuries later, mall-walking Portlanders will have no such problems when Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition comes to Pioneer Place (in the Atrium, just along from Gucci) from June 25 to Aug. 21.
All 34 frescos of the ceiling ("The Old Testament") and the altar piece ("The Last Judgement") have been printed on fabric and will hang, tight as a drum and fit for close inspection, in the quieter end of our mausoleum of materialism. (Who "goes" shopping any more anyway?) Viewers can get a good look without cricking their necks or flying to Rome.
Most people are familiar with the Sistine Chapel's central ceiling, which tells of creation from the Big Bang though "Adam and Eve" to the "Drunkenness of Noah." It's fun to take a long look at Michelangelo's anatomy textbook nudes, who relax in unlikely contortions, without being shushed by a Vatican functionary and told to put away your phone.
("God the Father," reclining on a half shell of pneumatic cherubs, looks like that tenacious web ad "Buff Guys in their Sixties Do this One Thing every Day." In another scene, "NGL," you see His bare bottom.)
This show also lets you get closer to the peripheral prophets and sibyls, as well as inspect every pendentive and lunette (skylight). Look for the genderfluid Cumaean Sybil, and Jonah looking startled next to his fish.
Eric Leong, the senior producer at SEE Global Entertainment, told the Portland Tribune that people should allow 90 minutes per trip, which includes the whole audio track and some walking time. The audio guide talks you through the cast list, and it contains comments from an art historian who can explain why this is great art.
"It's up front and in your face. If you've seen the Sistine Chapel, I can guarantee you'll see something new," said Leong.
SEE has produced touring exhibits about "Star Trek," the Titanic, "The X-Files," Frida Kahlo, Michael Jackson, and one called "The Museum of Failure," so they know how to present complex information to a moving crowd.
Behind the altar in the same chapel is another five-year commission Michelangelo didn't really want. "The Last Judgement" is 40 feet tall and SEE only exhibits it a couple of times a year because it doesn't fit in most venues. It shows Jesus directing the show, but also less recognizable characters such as St. Bartholomew, holding his own flayed skin suit, and Minos, King of Crete, wrapped in a compromising position by a snake. In Dante's poem "The Inferno," Dante casts Minos as the judge of souls entering hell. Michelangelo gave his Minos the face of a papal critic who hated his nudes, and adds a pair of ass's ears, like that other poor judge of art, King Midas (who favored Pan's music over Apollo's).
Michelangelo painted himself into "The Last Judgement," which is a fun easter egg to look for, (no Googling).
"Don't say 'Oh I'll add the Sistine Chapel to my bucket list,' because we saw with the Notre Dame fire in Paris, it can all disappear in a flash," said Leong.
"Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition" has been touring for seven years, so it predates popular reproduction shows such as "Beyond Van Gogh" and "Banksyland." Leong says it is very efficient — canvases and lights fit in one semi truck.
It would help in advance to check out a coffee table book like William E. Wallace's "Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture,"
Leong says the show has wide appeal.
"Renaissance art lovers are going to appreciate it because it's from Michelangelo. It's religious iconography, so it appeals to the faithful, not just Catholics, but people of all faiths, the Jewish faith as well, and anyone who's interested in religious history and art. And then there's also the history element to it. It straddles that line between education and entertainment."
Attorneys too will enjoy it. Leong says they began by approaching the Vatican. "Every time they wrote me, it would come as a PDF in Italian, and I'd have to go get it translated. Like, 'Guys, I'm sorry, I'm a dumb American, can you please just write back in English?'"
Eventually SEE licensed images from a service called Bridgeman Images.
"We go out of our way to say we clearly did not peel this art off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and we do encourage you to go see the real thing."
"Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition"
Pioneer Place at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Yamhill Street.
Tuesdays-Sundays, June 25-Aug. 21
$24.20 adults, $18.30 children, $19.90 seniors, students, and military.
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