Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Kiss of Rome

It still hangs on the lips of Humbolt. Outside the statues that line the rooftop ledge recall the twelve apostle statues at St. Peter's. The statue of Humbolt himself in the center of the square rises like The Obelisk in St. Peter's. It gives a distinctly imposing feeling in a space otherwise open and inviting. On his cheek there is a chip that looks like a tear. The Beatles might demand "Tell me why you cry," but walking around in fromt with a gaggle of chattering student tourists taking pictures in this place of imposed severity, it seems obvious.

On the other hand, maybe he cries because the world is not changing, but is still only being "interpreted." We seem a part of that. But, of course there needs to be some sort of interpretation before understanding and action can be taken. A quote out of context is not worth much, but here the context is Humbolt: this distinctly German space with it's post-germanic gothic grandeur, stone exterior walls blackened over time and bombs, the red-marble entrance hall, the columns of the same marble, the consistancy of the marble, the solid bronze lettering of Karl Marx, the sheer physical weight of the stone and metal that themselves seem to say to you "This IS a serious place. Act as such."But unlike the words of Marx, this tear is not given any context, or at least, we have no knowledge of it's context, which makes it all the more intrigueing should it be noticed.

The tear on the cheek merely reminds us of a human emotion. Totally accidentally. It weaps. For us? Because of us? Because we don't notice? Because we too easily pass it off as accidental? Is accidental art art at all? I think I would say "Yes." Or "No." Or, maybe, "It depends." On what, I have not yet determined.

Regardless of what it means, or where it takes my thoughts, it is, I believe, meaningful enough to recognize that they are taken somewhere, and that somewhere is, in general, Rome: Bernini's Rape of Proserpina, St. Peter's Square and Cathedral, the Capitoline Museum.

Inside Humbolt's main building, the stairwells hang molds of classic reliefs. This is the mother of all universities, and it wants so much to be Roman, or perhaps just to pay tribute to those classical roots, or the conception and generation of Western thought. The attribution of antiquity to a modern university gives this place a weight that could otherwise not be achieved. The romanticism of this place is certainly more an augment than a foundation, but nonetheless cannot be ignored. I am inclined to ask "Why this? Why this throwback to a distinctly different time and place and people?" But my answer is already with me through Marianne Moore.

"It has never been confined to one locality."

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