This post was written by Jade Mitchell and originally appeared on her blog – she was kind enough to attend the exhibition in my place when my body once again betrayed me.
I have to confess that I have intentionally mimicked the title of the awful television show ‘Da Vinci’s Demons’ here, although perhaps only to draw the distinction between that swill and the fascinating exhibit, ‘Da Vinci: The Genius’ currently taking place at The Amazing Place in Woodmead until 22 June.
I had, as a wayward art student in high school, been to a previous exhibition in Pretoria (or the city centre?) that I was probably too young and high on wood glue to fully appreciate, but that had resonated enough for me to get really excited to attend the exhibit again this time around.
While the models of Da Vinci’s inventions are brilliantly recreated, with a few interactive ones included to practically demonstrate his vast engineering aptitude, and there is even a big screen for members of the touch screen generation to play with, some of the video footage was painfully outdated. A short piece on a spectroscopic technique used to uncover the Mona Lisa’s original pigments being the most notable example.
Whether it was time, money or licensing that kept the curators from updating the video for the exhibition, my inner content editor really wanted to refresh some of the transitions and add a few titles at the end to bring the content up to date. This was the worst of it though, and the rest of the exhibits more than made up for the late 90’s Adobe presets.
Most normal people who didn’t spend their early adulthood pale, hungover and shivering in an edit suite probably won’t notice or even care about these details though, and the information the videos relay is still riveting.
The exhibition is very well laid out. It focuses, as Leonardo himself did, on a number of different interests spanning large swathes of architecture, aviation, locomotion, engineering, anatomy, music, visual effects and military operations. I was especially surprised at the large presence of military exhibits, having previously concocted a vision of Da Vinci as a quiet, vegetarian (and likely homosexual) pacifist who would never, ever think of building ahorse-drawn carriage covered in giant, spinning scythes… but he did.
And it’s bitching.
It’s unfortunately also this predefined vision of the artist that means I’m unable to watch more than 10 minutes of Da Vinci’s demons without wanting to punch myself in the face. As I’ve said, I’ve always carried an idea of a solitary, quiet, deep thinker. Da Vinci’s Demons paints him as Tony Stark at a Renaissance faire…
I did miss the large collection of portraits and sketches of every-day Florence that the previous exhibit had featured, but was still delighted by a few new discoveries about the man who inspired everyone’s favourite Ninja Turtle.
What really struck me this time around was not just how much of many avenues of science and art Leonardo Da Vinci was willing to fearlessly tread, but how little his various drawbacks deterred him.
I can’t personally relate to the word ‘genius’ much. I have never considered myself a genius, and while I have brushed shoulders with it occasionally, it is still as foreign to me as flavour is to British cuisine.
But I can relate to some of the stories and captions used to describe Da Vinci’s unsuccessful and unfinished endeavours. He knew what it was like to be frustrated by the limitations of his own understanding, what it was like to try and try and try and still not get it right. He had his resources ‘reallocated’, had to do work for the church (who were lank unreasonable about him cutting up dead bodies), and got his thunder stolen by that punk, Michaelangelo.
He knew what it was like to fail, but he didn’t let the soggy blanket of failure dampen his keen interest and divine passion for the world around him.
Genius might not be something we can aspire to, but that is.