In Munich, artists go to the Cafe Grossenvahn. So do the musicians, poets, actors, homosexuals, and foreigners. The regulars all know each other, and people wander from table to table greeting friends. Everyone discusses art-art and politics, art and money, art and friendship. Towering above the smoke and the wooden tables, a papier-mache man with chicken-wire hands stares at people as they walk in. The man wears black clothes and one gold carring. One of the waiters built him.
The Grossenvahn-which means megalomania in English-is also full of harmless hangers-on, who argue for hours about the genius of some current exhibit, or the outrage of a brash new painter. But to learn anything about art at the Grossenvahn, you should be quiet and listen to the people of actual achievement who frequent the cafe. They will be your best teachers in Munich because there are no summer courses or supervised museum programs offered anywhere.
Prepared by your ad hoc lectures at the Grossenvahn, you can begin to explore treasures such as the Kunstmuseum, with its Blaue Reiter collection. After several days immersed in the corners, splotches, and brushstrokes of Klee, Kandinsky,Jawlensky, Kirchner, Macke, and Dali, venture upstairs to explore the world of Munich's artists.
Almost completely ravished during World War II, Munich has yet to finish the task of rebuilding. Bombed-out churches and rubble-filled lots dot the landscape. Lacking the money to restore all of the city's splendid buildings and monuments, painters have recreated some of the original structures on plain walls, complete with stairs and windows. The bright colors of the fake buildings create the atmosphere of an outdoor circus or the set for a play.
Despite its economic problems, the city has spent a great deal of money assembling an impressive collection of modern art. Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Rauschenberg filled a single long gallery spanning the width of an entire building last summer. One modern art exhibit at the Lehnbachaus sparked controversy for most of July and August.
Guarding the Lehnbachaus exhibit, a large, fat man sat in a hallway just inside the entrance. Down the corridor stood a table of tools and junk. The guard laughed as I walked by him, ignoring the table, and then he waddled over, grabbed my hand and cheerfully led me back to the heap in the corner. I had missed the first piece of the exhibit.
Another work at the Lehnbachaus was a metal table on wheels, placed over a tub of waxy material. A cabinet-like frame hung on the wall above. The guide booklet said the waxy stuff represented human fat; the rolling table, an embalming tray and the tools in the cabinet, embalming tools. The observer was supposed to reach and overcome the death taboo, called "The Morgue," the work aimed to fill the senses with revulsion and horror so that the viewer gradually lost his sensitivity to death.
"Was ist das? Was ist das?" The guard hunched over the sculptures, his hands on his knees, neck twisted to look at me. His eyes were full of amazement and disbelief. Even the gallery guards in Munich are consumed by the city's art. Munich produces little that is really new, but its citizens revel in what they have and overwhelm visitors with their enthusiasm.
In Florence, the Medicis left enough chapels, monuments and cathedrals to occupy and student of architecture for many weeks. Every day you can drive past Michelangelo's David on your way into the central square. The Basilica of Saint Lorenzo, so unreal in its beauty, stands nearby like a giant gingerbread house.
The Florentine schools of art today open their doors only to year-round students; there are not summer courses or lectures. Only the most talented Italian students can win a place in these academies, although any foreign student able to pay full tuition may attend.
In any case, the vast stores of Renaissance paintings in this city, defy casual study. The Uffizi Gallery contains one of Italy's largest collections of 14th and 15th century works--Botticini, Perugino Girlandaio, Albartonelli, Lippi, Uccello, and Roselli. No one hurries in the Uffizi, and some stand before a single painting, such as Botticelli's Pallade a il Centauro, for hours. Pallade, golden-haired and crowned with ivy, holds a centaur by the hair. She looks at his face with vivid sorrow; he hangs his head dolefully, mourning his entrapment with the lovely, longing adolescent.
Tourists flock to the Italian galleries, but they don't seem to get crowded. The religious subjects inspire silence. There is little alternative to the countless Madonnas, Annunciations, and Saint Sebastians; those with a low tolerance for Renaissance art may lose patience quickly in Florence.
Some exhibitions of foreign artists, mostly French and American, come to Florence. Last summer there were shows with the works of Chagall, Matisse, and Cezanne. But these painters don't seem to inspire originality in today's Florentine artists. Down on the Ponte Vecchio, an old open-air bridge, students, writers, and artists meet and converse. City toughs also show up, and nearly everyone sells drugs. Marijuana smoke hangs in the air above those who paint, draw, take photographs, read, or do nothing but watch the river. No one seems busy: after a while it will irritate an American. There is so much to learn from the past in Florence, but those of the present do little to help you uncover it during a short stay.
Brussels is a boring place to study art. It is boring in general. Each night tourists assemble in the Grand Place to watch a light show projected onto the magnificent 15th-century buildings that once housed the craft and trade guilds, as a sound track hums from loud speakers.
The Hotel de Ville houses some Flemish masterpieces by Van Orly and Janssens, but not enough to fill more than a day, and the overseers emphasize guided tours, discouraging lingerers. There is also a museum of modern art. Many inhabitants of the city consider its pride to be a statue of a young boy urinating on some ducks. It spouts real water. People buy thousands of plastic replicas and bring them home.
Paris remains the art capital of the modern world. Any week of the year you can choose from more than 100 museums, galleries, and exhibitions. The city abounds with talented artists, devoting their time to painting and sculpture. Galleries take chances with unknowns, although there are so many artists that it is still difficult to get a showing. Those still developing pack the art schools, including the famous Ecole des Beaux Arts and the Ecole de Louvre. The Ecole du Louvre, housed in the spacious museum along the Seine, even offers short summer sessions to the public for about $25 (all classes are conducted entirely in French).
After four-hour lectures every morning, students can spend the afternoon studying the monuments.