A Moment of Culture

This past weekend saw the opening of a major new attraction within the city limits. The Museum of Practical Art announced daytime and evening hours now through November. Admission is three dollars for adults, one dollar for children and students, twenty-five cents for the old and insane.

The Museum is quite an eye-catching series of rooms that reminds us of art's changing value in today's efficiency-minded society. Bertolt Heensma, the curator of the Museum, told this reviewer that "People's attitudes about art are becoming less tolerant of the concept of 'art for art's sake'. Today's culture hound demands utility in paintings, sculptures, and the like. I myself see no reason a great masterwork cannot also be a practical part of any room or home workshop."

Heensma's theories are put into practice with striking results. As one enters the museum, he is greeted by all sorts of works from the most renowned modern and classical artists. Right away one is greeted by Van Gogh's Sunflowers, on loan from the Japanese. One can revel in its colorful forms and peaceful, simplistic beauty—and then be delighted by the fact that the painting is here laid on a slant for use as an access ramp for the handicapped. As wheelchair-bound spectators roll up the bumpy face of Vincent's beautiful still life, one can truly appreciate the museum's modus operandi. Museumgoers may then marvel at a lesser known work by Rodin, an eight foot hollow sculpture that doubles neatly as an electronic security post. People pay their admission fee and walk under the Rodin to enter the first of seven tastefully decorated rooms. If the sculpture beeps, guests are asked to step over to a tasteful print of Bruegel's Triumph of Death, and to empty their pockets on top of it. The raised, gilded frame makes a perfect tray to temporarily collect metallic valuables.

The wonders of the museum are far too many to go into fully. Suffice it to say that Heensma has demonstrated most aptly the necessary duality of great works as both art and household appliance. A temporary exhibit features three paintings by the great Wassily Kandinsky. The paintings are of course hung from the ceiling, since Kandinsky boldly painted on both sides of the canvas. And what better place than the face of a slowly revolving Kandinsky to remind onlookers of the day's specials in the museum cafeteria? The signs are pasted onto the center of the work seamlessly. The opposite side of the same Kandinsky points us to the nearest restrooms.

Yes, the paintings and sculptures at the corner of 5th and 1st Avenue are all priceless. One can stand in front of Edward Hopper's Sunlight on Brownstones for hours. Hopper used yellows and reds to paint striking city dusks. The museum, in turn, will use Hopper's great canvas through Saturday to prop open a heavy fire exit currently under renovation. And what can one say of a lovely Henry Moore bronze head that, after taking one's breath away with its understated dignity, can be opened in hinge fashion at the browline to offer up a delicious and fat-free almond cookie? A variety of teas and coffees is also available, of course, free of charge.

It will take you hours to walk through this wonderful and innovative museum, but don't worry. If you ever get too tired and need a rest, just head for the Red Room, where Leonardo Da Vinci's depiction of Christ's last supper can now easily fold out into a surprisingly comfortable deck chair. Feel free to sit on the apostles for as long as you'd like—the guards at this museum are congenial and want you to feel at home.

The museum opens at 9 a.m., and specially written lyrics sung gracefully to Handel's piped-in Water Music will tell you when the gift shop closes for the day. You'll wish you never had to leave.