Since its completion in 1908, the Tacoma Armory has been many things. Originally it was made to house the Washington National Guard. It had horse stables and space for drilling, as well as a swimming pool. Almost from the beginning it has been a cultural touchstone of the city, providing a venue for concerts, balls, sporting events and speechifying by passing dignitaries like King Olav of Norway and Presidents Taft, Wilson and Truman. Designated a historic building in 1976 and decommissioned by the military in 2011, the Armory now contains offices and continues to host a variety of events – even serving as a temporary home for the Pantages while that historic theater is undergoing renovation. Beginning Sept. 21, the Armory is going to serve as something of a stand-in for Rome’s Sistine Chapel when is will become Washington’s only venue showing “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition,” a touring exhibit that is making its way through the United States.
Broadway Center for the Performing Arts will host the exhibit, which is meant to evoke the sense of awe and wonder felt by visitors to the Sistine Chapel itself. Michelangelo’s ceiling panels of the historic church have been reproduced in their original sizes and are placed so that visitors to the exhibit can get up close and examine them in detail in a way that few others have been able to do. Most of us know the Sistine Chapel paintings from looking at small pictures in books or viewing them on television or computer screens. “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel” will allow visitors to experience Michelangelo’s images at their original size, up close and unhurried. You will be able to take the time to study the facial features depicted by the Renaissance master. You will be able to get a full sense of the expressive power with which Michelangelo imbued the bodies of his figures. Taking a cue from the ancient Greek sculptors, the artists of the Italian Renaissance made man the measure of all things and sought to utilize the human body as a means of expressing emotions and ideas. Michelangelo is perhaps the greatest master of utilizing the human form as a vehicle of the expression of the highest ideals.
Originally built in the 1400s, the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling was decorated in blue stars. Michelangelo was tasked by Pope Julius II (a great builder and a proponent of the arts) to redecorate the ceiling with a series of fresco paintings. Michelangelo worked on the ceiling from 1508 to 1512 (he come back 20 years later and painted his monumental “Last Judgement” on the wall behind the altar).
The Sistine Chapel is still in use by the Catholic Church – most notably as the site of the Papal conclaves, which are convened when a new Pope needs to be chosen – but it is also a popular tourist attraction. Some five million visitors a year are herded through the chapel where they are allotted a brief span of time to crane their necks and peer up at the ceiling paintings 62 feet above the floor.
While “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel” can’t hope to replicate the sensation of a visit to the Sistine Chapel itself – the jolt resulting from simultaneous awareness of historic and sacred location, the experience of soaring architecture and the presence, however distant, of the living frescos made by the hand of the artist – it can allow for another kind of encounter with the artist and his work. It can give one an appreciation of scale and the luxury of viewing the work in detail.
“Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” will be on view Sept. 21 – Oct. 14. A special Launch Party takes place Sept. 21, 7 p.m. Tickets for the Launch Party are $75 and include two drinks, appetizers and extended viewing hours. From Sept. 22 to Oct. 14, the show is on view Wednesday through Sunday with sessions schedule at hour and a half intervals. Tickets for these viewings start at $12. Visitors have the option of an audio guide that provides narrative accompaniment to the show in your choice of English or Spanish. There are also informational signs with each panel.
The event organizers, Special Entertainment Events, Inc., a Los Angeles based production company, acquired the exclusive worldwide rights to the fresco reproductions from Bridgeman Images. The exhibit is touring in three streams, one in the United States, one in Europe and one in China. The company has also done traveling exhibits featuring King Tut, the Titanic, Star Trek and Frida Kahlo.
For more information on the exhibit, visit www.seeglobalentertainment.com. For schedules and ticket information, visit BroadwayCenter.org or call (253) 591-5894.