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An Affair of the Art
A test run for Sunday's opening of the prized Vatican exhibit gets hearts pumping as organizers see a long-awaited dream come true.

BY WILLIAM KERNS A-J ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR


Gary Edson, left, executive director of the Museum of Texas Tech, and Francesco Buranelli, director general of the Vatican Museums in Rome, give a preview of the "Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums Collection" exhibit.
jim watkins AVALANCHE-JOURNAL
Not quite believing his eyes, an ecstatic Bishop Placido Rodriguez pinched himself Friday shortly after entering the Museum of Texas Tech.

"I had to make sure this was real, not a dream. We have been waiting so long," he said.

"But they are really here."

His dream come true is an exhibit of 31 priceless, never before exhibited works of art from the museums at the Vatican in Rome — 12th- and 13th-century frescoes whose inherent stories helped teach the masses who could not read or write.

More than 145,000 reservations have been made for "Medieval Fres coes from the Vatican Museums Col lec tion," which opens to the public Sunday at the Museum of Texas Tech.

The exhibit will remain on display through Sept. 15.

"Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums Collection"

Objectives

• To bring some of the world's finest art to Lubbock.

• To foster an appreciation for art and culture among local citizens who might otherwise never have such an opportunity. Admission must be free of charge.

• To provide thousands of local elementary school, junior high school, high school and college students an opportunity to learn about and personally view world-class art.

• To help Texas Tech further establish its reputation as one of the finest universities in Texas.

• To create a World Wide Web site providing local students, and national and international visitors, with descriptions and information pertaining to the art, historical documents and artifacts presented.

• To provide an event that will significantly boost the local and regional economy.

Provided by Vatican Exhibits 2002 Foundation

Friday was an official media day for the exhibit, attracting reporters, art critics and photographers from Texas and other states.

One museum volunteer whispered to another, "There probably hasn't been this much outside media in Lubbock since (Texas Tech men's basketball coach) Bob Knight got hired."

U.S. Rep. Larry Combest was given an early peek and labeled the exhibit "awe-inspiring."

An additional reporting crew from Mexico City arrives today, said Gary Edson, the museum's executive director.

Edson spent most of Friday either near the exhibit or guiding tours for visiting media.

Also present were Francesco Buranelli, director general of the Vatican Museums in Rome; his wife, Susanna Buranelli, director of antiquities for the city of Rome; Rodriguez, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Lubbock; and the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, director of Vatican Foundation 2000.

It was Neyland who, during a visit to Rome 14 years ago, first requested that the Vat ican loan spiritual artworks from its museums to a site in Lubbock.

Upon meeting Buranelli, Ney land and Rodriguez ex pressed high hopes for a Lub bock exhibit in 2000 to celebrate Christianity's "Jubilee Year."

Buranelli replied that, if they could wait until 2002, he could promise a very special exhibit.

"Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums Collec tion" has never been exhibited. When the 31 frescoes are returned to Rome, they will not be revealed to the public again until 2025, Buranelli said.

These frescoes are the first Vatican artworks to be exhibited in only one city, and the first loaned to a medium-size city.

While over land in Italy and the United States, the Con tinen tal flight bearing the medieval frescoes was escorted by military jets. Additional security also is in force at the museum; guards will be stationed in each room.

No video or still cameras are allowed. Patrons must pass through metal detectors before entering the exhibition. Muse um officials request that visitors leave bags in their cars.

Large purses, backpacks, um brellas, strollers, tripods and camera cases are among items forbidden in the exhibit area.

Edson said in a news release that the museum "reserves the right to inspect and/or refuse to allow entry into the museum of any item(s) or persons as museum officials deem necessary to ensure the safety of this exhibit, its visitors and staff."

Exhibit facts

• Featured: "Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums Collection." Thirty-one medieval frescoes discovered at Roman churches San Nicola in Carcere (St. Nicholas in Prison Church) and Sant'Agnes fuori le Mura (St. Agnes Outside the Walls Church). St. Nicolas frescoes date from about 1120 to 1130, and St. Agnes pieces from about 1280 to 1310.

• When: Sunday through Sept. 15.

• Where: Museum of Texas Tech, Diamond M Galleries, Fourth Street and Indiana Avenue.

• Museum hours: 1-7 p.m. Sunday; Closed Mondays; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday; and 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Thursday.

• Price: No admission charge; however, tickets must be reserved in advance at 742-6800 or toll free (866) 803-6873. Those reserving tickets must know date and time of day that they wish to attend. More than 145,000 reservations have been made; most weekends are full.

• Also on exhibit: Sacred art from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in Houston and Museo Franz Mayer Museum and Comision Nacional de Arte Sacro in Mexico City, displayed in museum's Gallery Three.

On Thursday, he kept busy double-checking everything in the exhibit, from proper light levels to the temperature (70 degrees) and humidity (50 percent). He asked staff members to read the text panels beside each fresco, triple-checking for possible typos.

Between 150 and 200 volunteers attended three all-day training sessions for work at the exhibit, Edson said.

"We've found that visitors usually respond better to a pleasant and friendly volunteer than to some quasi-museum official," he said.

"The volunteers also know what to do in emergencies, or if there is bad weather, (if someone) becomes ill or needs a wheelchair."

Katie Johnston with the Vatican office indicated a need for more volunteers. Those interested in helping at the downtown office should call 749-2549.

Edson also was concerned about the arrival of exhibit catalogs and audio guides.

The first order of 20,000 catalogs was being removed from boxes for display at the museum's two gift shops.

The catalogs for the exhibit of medieval frescoes are priced at $49.95 hardback and $37.95 soft cover.

A soft cover catalog for a collaborative exhibit of sacred art from museums in Mexico City and Houston, displayed in a separate gallery, is $27.95.

Edson said, "(Buranelli) was instrumental in uniting members of the Vatican staff and other scholars in Italy to work on the catalog. It ex plores the frescoes from different standpoints. Margaret Lutherer, in the (Tech) president's office, also did a first-class job of editing material.

"And, of course, the color pictures are just beautiful."

Digital audio guides, which can be rented for $3.25 before entering the exhibit, were expected to arrive today.

Edson said, "We're starting out with just 150. Our thought is to keep 100 out at any one time, and keep 50 in reserve for when the others need to be re charged. They're good for four to six hours on one charge."

Audio guides were provided by Antenna Audio of San Fran cisco. The guides help explain the background of each fresco. Recordings are available in either English or Spanish.

Edson foresees no parking problems, but is prepared for emergencies.

"We have a large number of parking spaces on the north side and west side of the museum. If we need overflow, people can park at the ICC (International Cultural Center) or the (National) Ranching Heritage Center and walk over.

"If we ever got in a real bind, we have other places on campus reserved, with standby vehicles if we need them."

Videos were not screened for Friday's visitors. The public, however, first will watch a short introductory video in the museum's auditorium, and a longer video will run on a continuous loop approximately halfway through the exhibit for those who wish to sit, rest and reflect.

The museum also will host a gala tonight for Texas Tech Museum Association members, dignitaries and contributors. More than 1,100 people are expected to attend.

Edson said he already has made arrangements with caterers, staff and volunteers to make sure the museum is prepared for the first Vatican exhibit visitors at noon Sunday.

Reservations have been made by 1,082 visitors from near and far to see the frescoes Sunday, the first day of the exhibit.

A congratulatory aura pervaded the exhibit Friday.

Buranelli spoke highly of Edson, who, in turn applauded the knowledge and generosity of Buranelli. Neyland and Rodriguez clasped hands more than once during brief moments when alone, wishing each other congratulations.

"I am just astonished at the beauty of these frescoes, and how close we are allowed to stand to them and feel their power," Rodriguez said. "There is so much history on these walls."

Rodriguez will deliver a Mass at 10 a.m. today at the Catholic Renewal Center, 4620 Fourth St.

While the Vatican frescoes are on display, the center also will be called the Pilgrim Resource Center.

Rodriguez said, "Pilgrims can receive information about the exhibit, and also spiritual guidance before they experience these wonderful frescoes."

wkerns@lubbockonline.com 766-8712




The exhibit has ended
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