Miró at SAM, 2

April 20, 2014 Leave a comment

birdinspace

[From website of Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía]

I wrote two months ago about the opening at the Seattle Art Museum of the exhibition Miró: The Experience of Seeing. This past Wednesday, we were fortunate to see the exhibition again as part of a small tour group led by Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s curator of modern and contemporary art.

Let me repeat from my earlier post the exhibition description, provided jointly by Catharina and Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s curator of European painting:

This exhibition, drawn entirely from the collection of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, offers a fresh assessment of the late period in Miró’s work—a body of work that audiences in the United States have not had the opportunity to fully appreciate. The exhibition brings together over 50 paintings, drawings and sculptures made in the period between 1963 and 1983 that testify to the artist’s ingenuity and inventiveness to the very end of his life. Bold and colorful paintings employing his personal visual language alternate with near-abstract compositions. Although Miró had experimented with sculpture in earlier periods, it is only in the late years that painting and sculpture stand in direct dialogue with each other—a principal feature of this exhibition.

The paintings and sculptures in the exhibition plumb the process of making art, part of Miró’s concern since his earliest works. In his quest to transcend easel painting, Miró expanded pictorial space across vast canvas fields, using an increasingly simplified language to turn accidental or fortuitous motifs into calligraphic signs. In his sculpture, the inspiration of found objects is more overt, linking the work to his Surrealist explorations of the 1920s as well as the sculptural inventions of his contemporary, Pablo Picasso. Miró also employs many of the same forms and signs in his sculpture, as in his paintings, creating a synergy between the two bodies of work. His work during these mature years represents a personal language where painting and sculpture are equally valued.

Catharina is a superb guide, as we learned two Decembers ago when she led us through the exhibition Elles: Women Artists From the Centre Pompidou Paris. She gave us a much better appreciation of both Miró’s art and exhibition’s themes than we obtained on our visit opening night. I won’t try to pass any of that on in this post. Instead, I’ll highlight one aspect.

About halfway through the tour, Catharina brought us into a room that features three large paintings with white backgrounds. She turned to a boy, the youngest member of the audience, and asked what he thought one of the paintings was representing, inviting all of us (who didn’t know the painting’s title) to contemplate this as well. The painting is the one pictured at top.

I knew neither the title nor what the painting depicted, but I was reminded immediately of a famous scene, that of miners climbing the Chilkoot Trail to Chilkoot Pass in order to reach the gold fields during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898.

An excellent place to learn more about the gold rush is the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which has a branch right here in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle. You can follow the miners’ route yourself:

The Chilkoot Trail is one of two main routes to the Klondike that originate in this area. Long before the gold rush, the trail was established by Tlingit people as a trade route into the interior of Canada. Fish, seal oil and seaweed were traded with the First Nations peoples for moose and caribou hides, plant materials and other goods unavailable on the coast.

The most challenging way to follow in the footsteps of the stampeders and natives is by hiking the 33-mile-long Chilkoot Trail, accessible only on foot. It is a difficult hike and usually takes three to five days. The trail begins at the Taiya River bridge near the Dyea townsite and travels over the Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett.

But I stray. Here’s what the climb looked like:

chilkootpass

What do you think? Is there a resemblance? Could Miró have been painting the climb to Chilkoot Pass?

Apparently not. Miró gave the painting the title Oiseau dans l’espace, or Bird in Space. Nonetheless, I had fun imagining that the two scenes might be connected.

Categories: Art, Museums

Imagine That

April 20, 2014 Leave a comment

imaginethat

A new exhibition—Imagine That: Surprising Stories and Amazing Objects at the Burke Museum—opened last weekend at the Burke Museum of History and Culture. The Burke is our state museum, and one close to my heart. Here is the website description of the exhibition:

Over the past 145 years the Burke Museum has amassed millions of things—more than 15 million of them!

Like most museums, the Burke displays only a tiny portion of its collections in galleries. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, rows and rows of shelves hold an astounding variety of objects related to natural history and human culture—baskets and beetles, hummingbirds and hammerhead sharks, masks and mammoths.

It makes you wonder: Why do museums have all these things? Where did they come from? What are they used for?

This remarkable exhibit reveals the surprising stories, complex questions, and awe-inspiring answers hidden inside objects. See a new side of the Burke, and uncover some of the most fascinating, intriguing, and rare objects in its collection. Join scientists making daily discoveries in the exhibit, and learn how collections show us new things about the world around us every day. You might even learn something new about yourself. Imagine that!

Samantha Porter, the Burke’s Community Outreach Coordinator, has an excellent post on the Top 5 Things the Burke Reveals in the New Exhibit ‘Imagine That’, in which she offers more insights into the exhibition.

I’ve viewed the exhibition twice, and look forward to a third visit this Wednesday. I recommend it to those of you in the area.

Categories: Museums

Shoot the Moon

April 20, 2014 Leave a comment

apollolaser

Above is NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day from two days ago. (Click on it to download a higher-resolution image.) As explained at NASA’s site, it’s a real photo, with genuine colors, the redness of the moon stemming from its being in mid-eclipse.

By way of explanation, there’s an on-going project at Apache Point Observatory, in southern New Mexico, that uses the observatory’s 3.5-meter telescope in reverse. Usually, a telescope collects light. Tom Murphy of UC San Diego has an on-going experiment that uses the telescope instead to project light, sending a laser beam to the moon.

Astronomers love to give their experiments clever acronyms. Murphy’s is APOLLO, or the the Apache Point Observatory Lunar Laser-ranging Operation. Apollo is an appropriate name because the experiment depends on mirrors left behind by astronauts during the 1971 Apollo 15 lunar landing. By using the APO telescope to focus a laser beam on such a mirror, the APOLLO team can measure the time it takes for the light to return, thereby obtaining a precise measurement of the distance between the earth and the moon. This, in turn, provides a test of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

That’s the gist of it anyway. You can read more at the APOLLO page or Tom Murphy’s home page. Or, in the description of the photo that appeared with it two days ago (with links omitted; see original for lots of them):

This is not a scene from a sci-fi special effects movie. The green beam of light and red lunar disk are real enough, captured in the early morning hours of April 15. Of course, the reddened lunar disk is easy to explain as the image was taken during this week’s total lunar eclipse. Immersed in shadow, the eclipsed Moon reflects the dimmed reddened light of all the sunsets and sunrises filtering around the edges of planet Earth, seen in silhouette from a lunar perspective. But the green beam of light really is a laser. Shot from the 3.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory in southern New Mexico, the beam’s path is revealed as Earth’s atmosphere scatters some of the intense laser light. The laser’s target is the Apollo 15 retroreflector, left on the Moon by the astronauts in 1971. By determining the light travel time delay of the returning laser pulse, the experimental team from UC San Diego is able to measure the Earth-Moon distance to millimeter precision and provide a test of General Relativity, Einstein’s theory of gravity. Conducting the lunar laser ranging experiment during a total eclipse uses the Earth like a cosmic light switch. With direct sunlight blocked, the reflector’s performance is improved over performance when illuminated by sunlight during a normal Full Moon, an effect known as the real Full Moon Curse.

It turns out that I’ve been involved with Apache Point Observatory in an administrative role since 2003. My first visit to APO was in October 2005, the month APOLLO started, but I didn’t get to see a laser shot. On my next visit, in April 2008, I was at the observatory during daytime only. In three weeks, I’ll be back for a celebration of the telescope’s twentieth anniversary, which will include some nighttime viewing. Perhaps I’ll see the laser in operation. I hope so.

Categories: Photography, Science

When You Know You’re Old

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

PanAmTerminal

I wrote four posts last Sunday about our visit to New York the week before on the occasion of my mother’s 94th birthday. Left unwritten was this one, in which our trip ends with an unexpected gift.

You may be familiar with the once-glorious Pan Am terminal at JFK, pictured above. On Pan Am’s death, Delta took it over. Under the numbering system developed for JFK’s different buildings, it became the prosaic Terminal 3. It also became a dump, though no less so than its neighbor, Terminal 2, which Delta also uses. Flying Delta to JFK, you knew you had arrived in hell, especially in contrast to the new terminals (5 and 8) that JetBlue and American built.

And then there was the old international arrivals terminal, which in an era when only Pan Am and TWA, among US carriers, flew overseas, and from their own terminals, was where all the foreign airlines came. It received its own facelift a few years ago.

With T3 beyond repair, Delta decided to invest in a huge extension to T4, which opened last May. They still use T2, while T3 is now a ruin. The T4 extension is a huge arm running perpendicular to the main entry building for as far as you can see, and then some. We flew into the end gate last summer and walked/rode the moving walkway forever to get to baggage claim.

The terminal’s new Delta Sky Club is far past the wing’s midpoint, which suggests that the extension isn’t finished, and that is indeed the case. Last November, I dropped Gail and Joel at T4 for their return to Seattle and then took the post-security shuttle bus from T4 around to T2 to catch a flight to Chicago, giving me a good view from the tarmac of the continued construction. When the extension is completed, the club will no doubt find itself at the midpoint.

Anyway, here we were, two Sundays ago, at T4, just through security, with a long walk first to the Delta wing and then to the farthest end of it for our Seattle flight. Or maybe not quite the farthest end, since we were going to stop first at the club.

As we made the turn from the main terminal area to the Delta wing, one of those beeping shuttle vehicles was headed right at us, the kind with a few rows of bench seats that ferries passengers with mobility problems out to the gates. It was returning passenger-less, and I was trying to get out of its way when suddenly the driver pulled alongside to ask what gate we were headed to. I gave him a number just short of our actual gate, one by the club. He said hop on.

Hop on? Did I look like I needed a ride? How old do I look anyway?

Well, who cares? This was too good an opportunity to pass up. And there was plenty of room on board. Gail got in one row, me in the one behind. Joel looked at us like we were insane and kept walking. Then we were off.

I had to record this, at the least so I could show Joel what he was missing. I got my phone out, took a photo, then switched to movie mode. You can see the result below. We asked the driver to pull up to the club entrance and we jumped off.

If this is what being old is like, I’ll take it.

Oh, bonus viewing: see if you can spot our son as we pass him. I didn’t even notice him when we went by, but he’s there, in the video.

Categories: Life, Transportation, Travel

The Morgan Library

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

morganroom
A week ago we were in New York to celebrate my mother’s 94th birthday. What to do after the festive lunch at La Grenouille and leaving my parents? Well, we were on 52nd, with the Morgan Library just 16 blocks down Madison. Why not stop by? We did.

Good decision.

I see that I wrote a post about the Morgan in October 2010, on the occasion of the post-restoration reopening of the historic 1906 building that Charles McKim designed to serve as J.P. Morgan’s office and library. Reviewing it, I see that Gail and I last visited almost exactly three years before, when we were back in New York for my father’s 90th birthday. The Renzo Piano addition to the library was still new. Joel had flown back to Boston the day we visited. Last week we all went.

What did we see? Well, first, of course, the restored 1906 building.

In 2010 the Morgan restored the interior of the 1906 library to its original grandeur. A new lighting system was installed to illuminate the extraordinary murals and decor of the four historic rooms. Intricate marble surfaces and applied ornamentation were cleaned, period furniture was reupholstered, and original fixtures—including three chandeliers removed decades ago—were restored and reinstalled. A late-nineteenth-century Persian rug (similar to the one originally there) was laid in the grand East Room. The ornate ceiling of the librarian’s office, or North Room, was cleaned, and visitors are able to enter the refurbished space—now a gallery—for the first time. New, beautifully crafted display cases throughout the 1906 library feature selections from the Morgan’s collection of great works of art and literature from the ancient world to modern times.

You can read more about the restoration here and here. I especially love the “intricately carved cylinder seals produced by Mesopotamian sculptors” in the North Room.

Next we headed to one of the temporary exhibitions, The Little Prince: A New York Story. The description:

Since its publication seventy years ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince has captivated millions of readers throughout the world. It may come as a surprise that this French tale of an interstellar traveler who comes to Earth in search of friendship and understanding was written and first published in New York City, during the two years the author spent here at the height of the Second World War.

As he prepared to leave the city to rejoin the war effort as a reconnaissance pilot, Saint-Exupéry appeared at his friend Silvia Hamilton’s door wearing his military uniform. “I’d like to give you something splendid,” he said, “but this is all I have.” He tossed a rumpled paper bag onto her entryway table. Inside were the manuscript and drawings for The Little Prince, which the Morgan acquired from her in 1968.

Focusing on the story’s American origins, this exhibition features twenty-five of the manuscript pages—replete with crossed-out words, cigarette burns, and coffee stains—and all forty-three of the earliest versions of drawings for the book. Also on view are rare printed editions from the Morgan’s collection as well as personal letters, photographs, and artifacts on loan from the Saint-Exupéry estate, private collections, and museums and libraries in France and the United States.

The Little Prince: A New York Story is the first exhibition to explore in depth the creative decisions Saint-Exupéry made as he crafted his beloved story that reminds us that what matters most can only be seen with the heart.

We would have gotten more out of the exhibition if we had ever read The Little Prince.

Across the hall was A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play. Wow! We were so fortunate to stumble in. It was a stunner.

A Collective Invention: Photographs at Play signals the debut of photography as a curatorial focus at the Morgan. With over eighty works from more than two dozen collections arranged into a surprising chain of visual associations, the exhibition explores the many ways of interpreting a photograph and pays tribute to the unique role played by the creative collector. Each photograph in the exhibition’s “collective invention” shares a visual or conceptual quality with the piece to its left, another with the one to its right. Embodying photography’s rich history and wide range of applications in science, art, propaganda, journalism, and self-promotion, A Collective Invention celebrates a medium that mirrors the energy and complexity of modern life.

The photographs were wonderful on their own, ranging in time from the mid-nineteenth century to today, in location around the world, and in subject as wide as you can imagine. Here a photo taken by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) in 1858 of the Lidell girls, Alice on the right. There a photo of Lenny Bruce in court in 1962 with a tape recorder. And one of my favorites, an array of photographer baseball cards.

The visitor can enjoy the photos for their intrinsic merits or add to the pleasure by observing the thematic pairings, each photo indeed connected obviously or subtly to the one on its left and, in an entirely different way, to the one on its right.

The exhibition webpage has a slide show with selected photos. I urge you to look through it. Better yet, if you’re in New York by May 18, see the exhibition itself. See also Ken Johnson’s review in the NYT.

Here’s the idea: Look at a photograph, and zero in on one element. It can be obvious or incidental, formal or conceptual. Then find another photograph that contains something similar to what you spotted in the first image. Now identify something in the second photograph — again, important or trivial — and discover something like that in a third picture. Repeat ad infinitum.

[snip]

Following this herky-jerky, daisy-chain path through the whole show is not only amusing, but also has some philosophical payoffs. Most immediately, it unsettles customary habits of visual consumption. The labels prompt you to examine aspects and details of pictures that might otherwise pass unnoticed, fostering an alertness to both what you’re looking at and how you’re looking at it.

Categories: Museums, Photography

La Grenouille, 3

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

lagrenouille

A year ago almost to the day I wrote about our celebration of my mother’s 93rd birthday at New York’s great French restaurant La Grenouille. (A little over four years ago, I wrote about La Grenouille on the overlapping occasions of my parents’ celebrating their 68th anniversary there and the NYT offering a new review of it.)

Well, we ate there again, last weekend, on the occasion of my mother’s 94th birthday. Another wonderful meal.

The restaurant website appears to be in a state of transition. It’s not working now, or I’d link to the menu. Gail and I both started with Le Potage Saint Germain, or split green pea soup, which was sublime. The waiter brought croutons to dish into it. Maybe the best croutons I ever had. Joel had salmon tartare. For our main course, Gail and I both chose the onglet, or hanger steak, which was served with a light, pureed, mashed potato. Joel had calf’s liver. I was tempted to have the grilled Dover sole with mustard sauce, for which they are famous, but had it last year and decided to do something different. (Oh, I see now that last year I had the split pea soup. I had forgotten. But it’s so good. I’m glad I had it again.)

Shortly after ordering, before any food came, the waiter returned to ask if we wished to have any hot desserts: soufflés or apple tart. The soufflé choices were Grand Marnier, chocolate, and something else. Well, looking at last year’s post, I see that I wrote, “According to the menu, there are three options: Grand Marnier, Chocolat ou Citron ‘Meyer’. Other options offered were an apple tart and a tarte tatin.” I suppose the options last week were the same. Gail chose a chocolate soufflé, Joel the Grand Marnier, me the apple tart.

It doesn’t seem that I have much to add to what I wrote a year ago, when I concluded that “the meal was delicious, the service both warm and unobtrusive.” One difference: I wrote then that “I’ll be happy not to wait another 35 years before returning.” Happy indeed, after waiting just one year. And boy what good bread they have!

Categories: Family, Restaurants

The Race

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

cablevision

One of the pleasures of travel is the opportunity it affords to discover how similar life is in other places. And how different.

Take cable, for instance. Here in Seattle, we live under the Comcast monopoly. A few years ago, they rebranded all their services under the Xfinity label. Back at my parents’ house in New York, Cablevision runs things, and they brand their services under the Optimum name. I have no idea why cable companies decided to invent stupid names for their consumer services.

In any case, when we were in New York last week, we decided to help with some cable box problems. I called Cablevision, described the issue, and was told that we should exchange our DVR for a new one at the nearest Optimum store, in Roslyn. We disconnected everything, put the box in our rental car, and drove off.

Once in the store, I was amazed to see that it was a clone of our Seattle Comcast Xfinity store. Long line. Lots of customer service reps behind computer screens along a long counter. Piles of cable and DVR boxes behind them. Wait your turn, walk up, describe problem, turn in box, get new box with new power cable. It was like a parallel universe, with only the store name changed.

Except for one thing. The race. This I haven’t seen in Seattle.

When we drove into the Optimum lot, I passed up some parking spots close to the front door, parked out of the way, Gail and Joel got out, I fussed with the rental car a bit, finally getting out and locking up, during which time a woman had driven into the lot, parked, and gotten out with what looked like a bill and cash in one hand. There was a bit of drizzle. I looked over to see Gail and Joel waiting for me rather than heading in to get on line. Suddenly, the woman was off and running. I told Gail to go ahead, which she did. But she wasn’t going to run too. Clip clop, clip clop the women’s shoes rhythmically pounded as she passed Gail and entered with a yard to spare. Amazing.

Of course, we ended up standing in line just behind the race winner, who kept her head rigidly facing forward, suitably embarrassed I’d like to believe. Her reward? She was taken about two seconds ahead of us, with several spots opening up at once.

The new DVR we were given didn’t solve the problem. In that regard, the trip was a waste. But we did enjoy the new lesson in human behavior. Next time we go to the cable store, we’ll be wearing running shoes.

Categories: Life, Travel
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