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Thursday, June 21, 2012

KUNSTHALLE: Parallelwelt Zirkus

One of the museums I went to see with my family was the KUNSTHALLE, a contemporary art museum in the Museumsquartier, very near to where I live.

Alexander Calder

The KUNSTHALLE (simply named: it translates literally as "art hall" or "art gallery") is a perennial favorite of mine, since it's so fresh and kooky - you never know what you'll get - from feminist pop art to Salvador Dali!

Not that I don't appreciate the pomp of the Kunsthistorisches Museum or the Belvedere or the Albertina; I do indeed. The Albertina is actually my favorite museum in Vienna, followed perhaps by the KUNSTHALLE. I consider myself an eclectic patron of the arts...well "patron" might be going too enthusiast?

Anyway, the exhibit was about the circus, most specifically the circus as a parallel universe: the freaks and geeks and carnival sideshows, but also the animals, the acrobats and performers. The clowns, the artistry and magnificence that goes into creating "the Greatest Show on Earth."

One part of the exhibit particularly moved me: the video of an elderly gentleman exhibiting his "circus," i.e. mobiles presented as a three-ring-parade. Or, as my sister said, "Some creepy old guy playing with toys in his attic." I feel that misses the point, but she is a scientist, after all. Mom said, "Hey, I think that's Alexander Calder," and indeed it was the famous American mobile artist Alexander Calder performing his "Cirque Calder" in an attic in Paris. I found him charming. Here is a clip, courtesy of YouTube and the Whitney Museum.

A lot of people have weird obsessions with the circus. Not just Austrians. I think it has to do with the conglomeration of the fringe elements of society gathered under one big tent. Not just the exotic animals (banned, actually, in Austria) but the exotic people. Acrobats and jugglers who train their whole lives to excel at a sport most would not ever claim is really all that difficult or amazing. But, to those who make such a claim: have you ever tried it?

A former student of mine is incredibly fond of juggling. I think he might even want to do such a thing as a profession. I wonder what his parents would say? And that's just the point.

As a kid, I wanted to run away and join the circus. Maybe become a clown. It was probably at the impetus of a favorite children's book, Rotten Ralph. In it, a very mean red cat named Ralph runs away and joins the circus. He hates it there because he's made to perform as a clown and everyone is mean to him; in other words, he gets a taste of his own medicine.

Although I've since given up ambitions to be a circus performer, there is still a draw of the theatrics for me. To the circus? At the least, I can live vicariously through such things as art exhibitions.

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