Backtracking to Pittsburgh for a post, as the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History must be mentioned. There are three things about this complex that are great: the natural history museum, the art museum, and the architecture. But the best thing is that they are all together; Greta could look at dinosaurs and animals while I looked at art and architecture, and neither of us got cranky.
First, the Natural History Museum was remarkable, even by Greta’s high standards. As I mentioned in the post about my friend John Wenzel, who runs the Powdermill nature center for the museum, we went behind the scenes to meet the curators, etc. As he points out, it is one of the greatest archaeological collections in the country; many other museums display casts of the fossils that are in the Carnegie.
Second, the art collection is one of the best in the country. You may recall that many of the best paintings in the National Gallery were given by the Mellons; they obviously kept a lot of good things home in Pittsburgh too. Perhaps the most interesting circumstance that determines the collection is that starting in 1896, the museum sponsored an annual (then biennial, then triennial, etc.) exhibition of contemporary work, and they often they acquired important entries. So there is a fantastic collection of late 19th-century American and European paintings and sculpture. Many of modern western civilization’s all-star team, but many less well-know artists who are quite interesting. Here are a few images, without getting all lecturey about them:
Third, the architecture is superb. The original Beaux Arts building is opulent yet under control, with grand halls and stairs:
In 1970, Edward Larrabee Barnes (an architect about whom those under the age of 50 have not heard) designed an excellent addition/remodel/insertion, with elegant galleries and a beautiful entry/lobby/courtyard.
I could have spent a week in this museum, the collection is that good. Highly recommended, and Greta still needs to blog about the Indian food around the corner.
The best and most important thing about museums is the well-arranged collection of physical objects in the back rooms. The public exhibits are good to the extent that they represent the depth of the collection. My favorite exhibit in several natural history museums is the mineral hall consisting of examples fitting into the classification system that mineralogists have adduced from going out and collecting all that stuff.
I feel the same way about display cases full of insects.