LASM visitors can ‘see a fine picture,’ much more

Photos provided by the Louisiana Art & Science MuseumDale Chihuly's 'Orange Stem Form with Cobalt Blue Persians' is a blown glass piece, and was a gift to the Louisiana Art & Science Museum by Lance Hayes and Thad Hayes in memory of Paul D. Hayes.
Photos provided by the Louisiana Art & Science MuseumDale Chihuly's 'Orange Stem Form with Cobalt Blue Persians' is a blown glass piece, and was a gift to the Louisiana Art & Science Museum by Lance Hayes and Thad Hayes in memory of Paul D. Hayes.

By Robin Miller

Arts writer

A quote comes to mind when walking through the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s main galleries.

It speaks of how each day one should hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture and speak a few reasonable words.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said this. His quote was the sum of his parts, which were poet, dramatist, novelist and philosopher.

He died in 1832, but his words are a gentle reminder of the good things in the world, the things ready to be realized through a visit to the museum’s exhibit, 50 Years of Collecting.

“It could be said there’s something for everybody in this show,” Elizabeth Weinstein said.

She’s the museum’s curator, the person who chose the items to represent the LASM’s 50th anniversary from its 4,000-piece collection.

Even she admits the task was daunting. Just how does one whittle down a vast collection into a few representative items?

Well, visitors wouldn’t describe the items as “few.” Weinstein is right, there’s something for everyone in these galleries, things that might spark a memory of a little song and reminders of a good song. They’ll see quite a collection of fine pictures and talk about the treasures that surround them.

And their words will be more than reasonable — they’ll be filled with excitement.

Because this is where art, history and science mix not only to become part of the museum’s story but that of Baton Rouge, home to the Art & Science Museum since 1962.

“The museum began in a house, then moved to the basement to the Old State Capitol,” Weinstein said. “Then it moved to the Old Governor’s Mansion, then to where we are now in the old train station.”

And through it all, the museum has been collecting art and artifacts, preserving them and displaying them for the public to see.

“Since the early 1960s when the first objects were catalogued, the collection has steadily grown,” the exhibit label states. “Today, LASM houses more than 4,000 objects gathered through donations, bequests and thoughtful purchases ... LASM has collected and displayed objects with the aim of educating and inspiring present and future generations.”

The collection includes artwork by Modernist and contemporary Louisiana artists; American and European paintings prints and sculptures; antiquities from Egypt, Greece and Rome; decorative arts; miniature furniture; photography; and memorabilia.

“As such, LASM’s holdings reflect an encyclopaedic approach to collecting, not unlike one of the earliest types of collections, the wunderkammer, or wonder chamber of the 16th century,” the label continues. “LASM was inspired by the concept of this museum prototype in the selection of objects and manner of display in 50 Years of Collecting. In the days before museums, treasuries of princes and churches contained all manner of things. The contents were sectioned into categories as the owner saw fit, ranging from nature, art, science, antiquity, ethnography and even the marvelous.”

Objects were arranged according to the owner’s predilection, which enticed the viewer to make connections between seemingly unrelated objects in an effort to understand and make sense of the world.

“We have arranged our exhibit to reflect the wunderkammer,” Weinstein said. “The categories in the first section are artificilia and naturalia, which reflects man and nature. The other categories are exotica representing far-away lands, mirablia or marvels, scientifica or science and relics, representing the spiritual realm.”

This contemporary wunderkammer is designed to inspire and pique the imagination, prompting visitors to make comparisons and contrasts to create their own.

Take the artificilia and naturalia themes, for instance. Dale Chihuly’s 1988 blown glass sculpture, “Orange Stem Form with Cobalt Blue Perisans” greets visitors at the exhibit’s entrance. It immediately captures the eye, glowing in its brilliant colors.

Chilhuly’s piece is part of the naturalia, showing man’s representation of nature, and it’s definitely a show-stopper.

Meanwhile, in the scientifica category upstairs, there’s another glass piece that isn’t brilliant in form or shape, yet it’s just as much a showstopper.

Now, this piece won’t immediately catch the eye, because it appears only to be a clear, glass bubble. But a quick glance at the exhibit label opens an entirely new world, where one small step becomes a giant leap.

For the object is, indeed a bubble, a pressure bubble that NASA technically labeled an intravehicular helmet. It was created from poly carbonate in 1969 and worn by astronaut Neil Armstrong in June 1969 while training for the Apollo 11 mission.

Some visitors will recall the moment of Armstrong’s first step on the moon in July 1969. Others will remember reading about it in history books.

And everyone will recall that Armstrong died at age 82 on Aug. 25.

“NASA had several of these helmets that it donated to museums in 1973,” Weinstein said. “LASM was one of those recipients.”

She stepped closer to the glass case enclosing the helmet, examining the bubble.

“This was the inner helmet,” she explained. “It was covered by a visor helmet to shield him from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. And the inner helmet was pressurized against the near vacuum on the moon.”

The helmet was designed to attach to the spacesuit neck ring, and oxygen was fed into the bubble through a small opening.

And this is where the imagination kicks in, where visitors put themselves in Armstrong’s place. Imagine the magnitude of the trust and faith he placed in his NASA colleagues, because this bubble could very well incite a panic attack in the average person.

What if the oxygen tank didn’t function? And to have the bubble covered by yet another helmet? What if the visor helmet didn’t deflect the ultraviolet rays?

But it did. And Armstrong returned safely to Earth as the first man to walk on the moon.

Man versus the moon. Man versus nature. Brilliant glass depicting nature’s wonders, a humble bubble representing his wondrous triumph over what once was the natural way of things.

It’s all here in the museum’s galleries, as well as fine artworks representative of different countries, periods, styles and media, including work by such past and present art world luminaries as Conrad Albrizo, Elizabeth Catlett, Asher B. Durand, Frank Hayden, Clementine Hunter, John Marin, Ivan Mestrovic, Will Henry Stevens and Hunt Slonem.

There also are useful and decorative artifacts from cultures ancient and contemporary, including Native American baskets, Egyptian artifacts and Tibetan statuettes.

And there are plenty of surprises to be discovered in between.

All coming together to give life to Geothe’s words, maybe bringing to mind a verse from a good song or poem, definitely amplifying appreciation for a good picture.

And inspiring the imagination.