Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

The Morgan Library

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

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.


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

Miró at SAM

February 16, 2014 Leave a comment
Woman, Bird and Star (Homage to Picasso), February 15, 1966/April 3-8, 1973, Joan Miró

Woman, Bird and Star (Homage to Picasso), February 15, 1966/April 3-8, 1973, Joan Miró

The latest exhibition at the Seattle Art MuseumMiró: The Experience of Seeing—has just opened. It is organized jointly by the Seattle Art Museum and Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

Here is the description of it by Chiyo Ishikawa and Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s curators of European painting and of modern and contemporary art:

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.

We went to the opening celebration on Tuesday evening. Normally we arrive at these events just in time for the program of talks, then eat and see the art in one order or the other. This time we made it a point to arrive early so that we could see not just the Miró but also another show that would close today: Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse.

Here’s the description of the Davidson show by Barbara Brotherton, the curator of Native American Art:

In partnership with the National Museum of the American Indian, NY, SAM is proud to organize the first major U.S. exhibition of the Haida artist, Robert Davidson.

Robert Davidson has been a pivotal figure in the Northwest Coast Native art renaissance since 1969, when he erected the first totem pole in his ancestral Massett village since the 1880s. For over 40 years he has mastered Haida art traditions by studying the great works of his great-grandfather Charles Edenshaw and others. More recently, Davidson has interjected his own interpretation of the old forms with forays into abstraction, explored in boldly minimalistic easel paintings, graphic works and sculpture, where images are pared to essential lines, elemental shapes and strong colors.

The exhibition will feature 45 paintings, sculptures and prints created since 2005, as well as key images from earlier in his career that show Davidson’s evolution toward an elemental language of form.

We’re sure glad we didn’t miss the show, but we wish we would have been able to make a return visit. You can get a sense of it by looking at the photos accompanying John Seed’s artist interview in the Huffington Post. Here’s one:

Bird In The Air, Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 60"

Bird In The Air, Acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 60″

And another:

There is Light In Darkness, Acrylic on canvas, 30" x 60"

There is Light In Darkness, Acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 60″

On leaving the exhibition, we headed up a floor to get a preview of the Miró. We figured seeing some of the works ahead of time might make for more informed listening during the program. We were enjoying our viewing when we ran into someone I know who hinted that we might find the program less informative than usual. he would turn out to be correct.

With program time drawing near, we headed back down with him and caught the tail end of the pre-program reception, at which locally based Spanish guitarist Andre Feriante performed while people mingled and drank. We stopped only briefly before heading into the auditorium.

SAM director Kim Rorschach opened with the usual greetings and thank yous, then brought up João Fernandes, the Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, who gave us some background on the show. Carmen Fernández Aparicio, the Chief Curator of Sculpture at the museum and featured speaker, followed.

Ms Aparicio told us in perfectly clear English that she was sorry she couldn’t make her remarks in English, then switched to Spanish, with two women at microphones on the side taking turns translating. This got off to a slow start, first because we couldn’t hear Ms Aparicio (not that it mattered if we wanted the English only), then because the translators couldn’t hear her, and at some points later because the translators appeared to struggle in search of the most effective way to convey her thoughts. The result was that her ideas didn’t come through all that well, and no one seemed unhappy when the remarks came to an end. Kim came back up to release us.

Back in the main entry, a Spanish-themed buffet was provided by SAM’s usual caterer, the in-building restaurant Taste. It was a good one. A platter of cured meats and cheeses, a dish of grilled, bite-sized potato chunks, a tray of raw vegetables, flatbread, some green dipping sauce, a vegetarian paella, and chicken breast slices with an orange sauce. In addition to the usual passed drinks—red and white wine, water—there were glasses of Sangria. And for entertainment we had music by New Age Flamenco. There was also a flamenco dance performance, but we were eating with our vision blocked through most of it, moving up to see it only as it ended. The program card indicates that this was offered by Deseo Carmin and Marisela Fleites.

After listening to a couple of post-meal songs, we decided to head home. The Miró exhibition deserves a much closer look, which we will give when we return for a curator tour. I’ll say more about the exhibition then.

Categories: Art, Museums

Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon, 2

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment
Litter, 750-1375, Peruvian, Lambayeque, North Coast, wood, gold, silver, cinnabar, sulphurous copper, ammonia, shells, turquoise, feathers

Litter, 750-1375, Peruvian, Lambayeque, North Coast, wood, gold, silver, cinnabar, sulphurous copper, ammonia, shells, turquoise, feathers

[Photo: Joaquín Rubio]

It’s been two months since I wrote about the then-new exhibition Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon at the Seattle Art Museum. With its close three weeks away, we returned on Thursday morning for a tour with SAM’s curator of Native American art, Barbara Brotherton. Before I say a few words about that, let me quote again from the exhibition website:

Discover the mysteries of Machu Picchu, treasures from royal tombs and archeological wonders from one of the cradles of civilization in Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon. More than 3,000 years of artistic history reveal a land of rich complexity and startling beauty.

This unusually wide-ranging exhibition covers archeology, ancient rituals, royal ceremonies, conquest and colonization, the formation of the republic and the emergence of a new national identity. Experience the unfolding of culture through the creative achievements of Peru, from gold funerary masks to modern folk art.

The Seattle Art Museum is proud to be the only U.S. venue presenting this spectacular exhibition of more than 300 works, including national treasures never before seen outside of Peru.

And let me quote also from my first post on the exhibition, recounting our experience on opening night:

We made an unfortunate error, relying on habit to pass from the opening room to a second one in a clockwise direction, not realizing that this time the natural route was counter-clockwise. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings were evidence something was amiss, but maybe objects were grouped by medium, not chronologically. Plus, the exhibition showpiece—the forehead ornament—was in a neighboring space. So maybe there wasn’t a strict chronological order.

Off we went, room to room, evidence mounting that we were walking backwards. I should note that we weren’t alone in this choice, the people moving in both directions adding to the confusion. Well, no matter. We saw many extraordinary objects. And we can go counter-clockwise on our next visit.

This time we did go counter-clockwise. Not that there was any chance of erring, since we were following Barbara’s lead.

Thanks both to viewing in chronological order and to Barbara’s comments, we were able to appreciate everything much better, and to realize just how fabulous a show this is. One passes through rooms of objects from the Mochica culture of 100-800, then the Lambayeque culture of about 750 to 1375 and Huari culture of 700-1200, leading to the Inca objects of the fifteenth century and then, suddenly, the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s. As one leaves the Inca room to enter the first room of art and artifacts influenced by Spain and Catholicism, one experiences in some small way the dramatic shock of that time.

Barbara opened our eyes to the ways that the locals, through their art, adopted Catholicism yet grafted onto it their own native culture. One memorable example is a painting depicting Mary in a triangular gown from neck to feet that gives her the shape of a mountain, realizing her as both Jesus’s mother and traditional earth goddess.

There’s still time to see the show. And still time for a tour. I recommend both.

Categories: Art, Museums

de Young Museum

December 1, 2013 Leave a comment


Four weekends ago, we headed down to San Francisco for the wedding of our friends’ daughter Hannah. Years back, I had occasion to be in the Bay Area frequently, whether in San Francisco itself, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, the Peninsula. There was always some reason, from conferences to friend and family visits to stays at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. Yet somehow a dozen years had elapsed since our last time there.

That was a memorable trip. The centerpiece was a game at the then-new Giants baseball stadium. It was the weekend that straddled June and July in 2001. Barry Bonds was on his way to a record 73 home runs. Friday night we watched the end of the game on TV as he ran into the wall and injured himself. He would not be playing Saturday. Darn. This rookie phenom from the Cardinals was playing though. Pujols. Albert Pujols. And Bonds came in after all to pinch hit in the 9th inning. All in all, a great game. Except for the sun. We forgot sunscreen and I got pretty well burned.

But we weren’t there just for baseball. We headed to Golden Gate Park on Sunday. Alas, I had missed the news that the de Young Museum had closed at the beginning of the year and would remain closed for years to come.

In 1989 the de Young suffered significant structural damage as a result of the Loma Prieta earthquake. The Fine Arts Museums’ board of trustees completed a project that braced the museum as a temporary measure until a long-term solution could be implemented. For the next several years, the board actively sought solutions to the de Young’s structural jeopardy and solicited feedback from throughout the community, conducting numerous visitor surveys and public workshops.

With extensive public input, the board initiated a process to plan and build a privately financed institution as a philanthropic gift to the city, in the tradition of M. H. de Young. An open architectural selection process took place from 1998 to 1999. The board endorsed a museum concept plan in October 1999, and a successful multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign was initiated under the leadership of board president Diane B. Wilsey.

The resulting design by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron weaves the museum into the natural environment of the park. It also provides open and light-filled spaces that facilitate and enhance the art-viewing experience. Historic elements from the former de Young, such as the sphinxes, the original palm trees, and the Pool of Enchantment, have been retained or reconstructed at the new museum. The former de Young Museum structure closed to the public on December 31, 2000. The new de Young opened on October 15, 2005.

Twelve years later, seeing the de Young was my top priority. Whatever else we did in our free time before the wedding events, we would see the de Young. And so we did.

Gail and I decided to focus on their permanent collection of American paintings, along with some of the American decorative art interspersed through the galleries.

The de Young’s American Art Department is home to one of the finest survey collections of American paintings in the United States. Strengthened by the acquisition of the Rockefeller Collection of American Art, the de Young’s holdings include more than 1000 paintings ranging from 1670 to the present day.

While essentially chronological, the installation of American art at the de Young juxtaposes works from different cultures and time periods to emphasize the historical connections between works in the collection, and includes galleries devoted to art in the following areas: Native American and Spanish Colonial; Anglo-Colonial; Federal and Neoclassical; Victorian genre and realism; trompe l’oeil still life; the Hudson River School, Barbizon and Tonalism; Impressionism and the Ashcan School; Arts and Crafts; Modernism; Social Realism and American Scene; Surrealism and Abstraction; Beat, Pop and Figurative; and contemporary. Also featured are important California collections with national significance, including examples of Spanish colonial, Arts and Crafts, Bay Area Figurative, and Assemblage art.

Joel and Jessica took off in their own direction, joining us for lunch in the de Young Café before splitting up again.

Here are a few highlights, courtesy of my iPhone.

First, a painting by Joshua Johnson, the earliest known African-American artist, a freed slave in Baltimore. The image is that of the daughter of a wealthy Baltimore merchant. (This and other descriptions are from the signage in the museum.)

Letitia Grace McCurdy, ca. 1800-1802, Joshua Johnson

Letitia Grace McCurdy, ca. 1800-1802, Joshua Johnson

This next one is blurry. Sorry. It’s by Horace Pippin, another African-American artist, whose grandmother saw John Brown being led to his hanging in 1859. Pippin emphasizes Brown as a Christ-like martyr, with the jury and prosecutor/persecutor recalling the twelve apostles and Judas.

The Trial of John Brown, 1942, Horace Pippin

The Trial of John Brown, 1942, Horace Pippin

Next, one of several John Frederick Peto paintings that need to be seen in person for a proper sense of texture.

The Cup We All Race 4, ca. 1900, John Frederick Peto

The Cup We All Race 4, ca. 1900, John Frederick Peto

Near the Peto is this nearly contemporaneous painting by John Haberle.

The Slate: Memoranda, ca. 1895, John Haberle

The Slate: Memoranda, ca. 1895, John Haberle

Here’s a wonderful Sargent.

La verre de porto (A Dinner Table at Night), 1884, John Singer Sargent

La verre de porto (A Dinner Table at Night), 1884, John Singer Sargent

How about this wonderful Stickley sideboard? I could find a spot for it in our house.

Leopold and John George Stickley, sideboard, 1910

Leopold and John George Stickley, sideboard, 1910

I can’t properly capture this Grant Wood, inspired by Wood’s childhood memories of the annual threshing ritual on his family’s Iowa farm. The accompanying sign suggests that the bisected farmhouse recalls early Renaissance paintings, especially those depicting the Last Supper. Wood thereby endows the farmers with the dignity of biblical disciples partaking of a sacred meal.

Dinner for Threshers, Grant Wood, 1934

Dinner for Threshers, Grant Wood, 1934

Here’s a detail.


I’ll end with a painting by William Zorach, who became a friend of my parents late in his life. I remember his visits to our house.

Provincetown Madonna, ca. 1916, William Zorach

Provincetown Madonna, ca. 1916, William Zorach

After viewing the art, we met up and walked to the elevator to go up the tower that contains museum offices and, at its top, a public observation floor. The shot I took of the tower as we left is at the start of this post. Here is the view north toward Marin County.


We left so much unexplored. There’s always next time, which I hope isn’t another dozen years away.

Categories: Art, Museums, Travel

Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon

October 20, 2013 Leave a comment


[Photo: Daniel Giannoni]

A new exhibition, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon, opened this week at the Seattle Art Museum. A description from the website:

Discover the mysteries of Machu Picchu, treasures from royal tombs and archeological wonders from one of the cradles of civilization in Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon. More than 3,000 years of artistic history reveal a land of rich complexity and startling beauty.

This unusually wide-ranging exhibition covers archeology, ancient rituals, royal ceremonies, conquest and colonization, the formation of the republic and the emergence of a new national identity. Experience the unfolding of culture through the creative achievements of Peru, from gold funerary masks to modern folk art.

The Seattle Art Museum is proud to be the only U.S. venue presenting this spectacular exhibition of more than 300 works, including national treasures never before seen outside of Peru.

And also this:

Discover Peru, land of hidden treasures, home to the first city in the Americas, a country of beauty and mystery. Travel back 3,000 years through the pottery, textiles, and stunning gold work of cultures that developed in isolation before the Inca ever built Machu Picchu. Trace the incorporation of indigenous motifs into European-style paintings and religious objects during colonization, and watch a new national identity emerge after independence.

Each work has a place in history, and together, they provide an expansive view of the deep and complex artistic heritage of Peru.

As is our custom, we went to the opening celebration, which took place Tuesday night. All four of the usual components were available: a program in the auditorium, food and drink, entertainment, and the exhibition itself. We arrived shortly before the 6:30 start time for the program. After grabbing drinks (water for me, white wine for Gail, no red wine allowed in the auditorium), we took our seats.

The program began at 6:45 with remarks by the board president, Winnie Stratton. She was followed by museum director Kim Rorschach, who played the essential role of listing all the sponsors. Then came Harold Forsyth, the Peruvian ambassador to the US, who offered a high-level speech about the significance of the show, the role of Peru, and US-Peru relations, the details of which completely escape me now. Luis Jaime Castillo Butters followed. He is currently a government official, the Vice Minister of Cultural Patrimony and Cultural Industries, but also an archaeologist and scholar. Thus, he could talk knowledgeably about the significance of the exhibition itself, which he did, rather than operating at the platitudinous level.

The exhibition was organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, whose director, Nathalie Bondil, spoke next. She was the star of the show, a charming, light-hearted Frenchwoman who quickly confessed her lack of expertise and ordered her Curator of Pre-Columbian Art (and exhibition organizer) Victor Pimentel to join her onstage. They proceeded to work through a series of slides of exhibition objects, with Nathalie giving some of the background then, on occasion, dragging Victor by the sleeve to the microphone to pinch hit.

At 7:50, we were released to see the objects for ourselves. Not having eaten dinner, we decided to join the long line in the lobby for food. The line moved fast, and soon we were at the buffet table, prepared by in-house restaurant Taste. A spicy potato dish, a spinach pastry of some sort, a bean dish, and steak skewers, all excellent. While we ate, we listened to a local Andean folk music group, Hanumanta, with the Sonia Porras Dance Company performing.

With such good food and festive atmosphere, it was easy to forget why we were at the museum. But there was the exhibition to see, and so we did. We made an unfortunate error, relying on habit to pass from the opening room to a second one in a clockwise direction, not realizing that this time the natural route was counter-clockwise. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings were evidence something was amiss, but maybe objects were grouped by medium, not chronologically. Plus, the exhibition showpiece—the forehead ornament featured at the top of the post—was in a neighboring space. (Forehead ornament with feline head and octopus tentacles ending in catfish heads, 100-800, Peruvian, Mochica, North Coast, possibly La Mina, gold, chrysocolla, shells, 11 1/4 x 16 5/16 x 1 3/4 in., Museo de la Nación, Lima.) So maybe there wasn’t a strict chronological order.

Off we went, room to room, evidence mounting that we were walking backwards. I should note that we weren’t alone in this choice, the people moving in both directions adding to the confusion. Well, no matter. We saw many extraordinary objects. And we can go counter-clockwise on our next visit.

What did we see? I’ll offer some examples from the website. You can go there to see and read more. (Click “Art”.)

First we have a feathered hanging from 700-1200: Peruvian, Huari, South Coast, possibly Rio Grande Valley, cotton, feathers, 25 7/8 × 85 1/16 in., The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It is “one of 90 identical works found in the 1940s in a burial cache on Peru’s south coast. The Inca also made offerings at this site, suggesting it was a sacred place in the landscape over a long period of time.”


[Photo: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Denis Farley]

Perhaps my biggest surprise was finding a wall of photos by Irving Penn.

In December 1948, after completing a photo shoot for Vogue in Lima, the fashion photographer, Irving Penn (1917–2009), did not immediately return to New York with his colleagues, but went to Cuzco, where he stayed for several days. He rented a local photographer’s studio.

“By incredible providence, there in the center of town was a daylight studio! A Victorian leftover, one broad wall of light to the north, a stone floor, a painted cloth backdrop—a dream come true. I hired the use of the studio for the next three days, sending the proprietor away to spend Christmas with his family, and set myself up as town photographer. When subjects arrived to be photographed they found me instead of him. Instead of them paying me, I paid them for posing, a very confusing affair.”

Here is one of the photos, “Cuzco: Three Sitting Men in Masks.”


[The Irving Penn Foundation, New York]

Going back in time, here’s the back of a litter, dated from 750-1375: Peruvian, Lambayeque, North Coast, wood, gold, silver, cinnabar, sulphurous copper, ammonia, shells, turquoise, feathers, 22 13/16 × 44 7/8 × 1 15/16 in., Museos “Oro del Perú” – “Armas del Mundo”.

While they lived, the rulers of ancient Peru traveled on litters, or platforms carried by servants. In death, their mummified bodies were also placed on litters, and carried to their tombs in great ceremonial parades. This remarkable backrest from a Lambayeque litter is inlaid with gold, silver, turquoise, cinnabar, shells, and feathers. The carving is an image of a funerary procession and features an audience of ancestors who await the leader in the afterlife.


[Photo: Joaquín Rubio]

Next, an altarpiece from around 1970 by Joaquín López Antay, Peruvian, 1897-1981: Painted wood, polychrome paste, 36 7/16 × 46 7/16 × 5 1/2 in., Colección Museo de Arte de Lima.

Retablos are small three-dimensional altars featuring tiny figures arranged in scenes, usually telling an important religious story. The first retablos were placed behind the altars of Catholic churches in Spain, and carried by soldiers worshipping far from home during the Crusades against non-Christians in the Near East, Northern Africa and Eastern Europe during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.

In Peru, they were used to proselytize the native peoples during the colonial period. Peruvian folk artists then adopted the form to tell their own stories. While this retablo shows scenes from Catholic teachings on the top tiers, the lower tiers depict daily life in south-central Peru: the harvest of the prickly pear cactus, a celebration with music and dancing.


There’s an article in ARTnews from last March about the Montreal exhibition that has some excellent photos. I will close with one depicting an Inca noblewoman: Gran Nusta Mama Occollo, Cuzco, Peru, early 1800s, oil on canvas mounted on board, Denver Art Museum.


The exhibition closes January 5. If you can, see it.

Categories: Art, Museums

Fuller View and Hometown Boy

September 15, 2013 Leave a comment


We attended an opening event at the Seattle Asian Art Museum Wednesday night for two current exhibitions: A Fuller View of China, Japan and Korea, and Hometown Boy. Having flown home Monday night from New York, we were still a bit on east coast time, so it took some willpower to defer dinner and get over to Volunteer Park, but we were glad we did.

The Fuller exhibition honors Richard Fuller, who founded the Seattle Art Museum.

Dr. Richard E. Fuller and his mother, Margaret MacTavish Fuller, traveled extensively collecting Japanese and Chinese art in the early 1900s. In 1931 they gave the City of Seattle $250,000 to construct and maintain the Seattle Art Museum. Dr. Fuller, who directed SAM for its first 40 years, donated much of his own collection and acquired important works by contemporary Northwest artists such as Mark Tobey, Morris Graves and Kenneth Callahan.

In 1931, Dr. Richard Fuller commissioned architect Carl F. Gould to design the art deco building that is now the Seattle Asian Art Museum. It opened in Seattle’s Volunteer Park in 1933.

Xiaojin Wu, Associate Curator for Japanese and Korean Art, gives this description of the exhibition:

Dr. Richard Fuller’s 40 years as the museum’s founding director are the bedrock of its history, and his passion for art resonates with collectors of his time and beyond. In commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, this installation shows how Dr. Fuller, his family and friends, and several more recent Seattle collectors, built SAM’s celebrated Asian art collections. Featuring some of SAM’s best-loved works such as the Poem Scroll with Deer, the installation showcases the incredible quality and diversity that make SAM’s Asian art collection one of the finest in the country. The selected Chinese paintings and calligraphy also celebrate the launch of an innovative online scholarly catalogue, a multi-year project sponsored by the J. Paul Getty Foundation.

Hometown Boy features the work of Liu Xiaodong. Josh You, the former SAM curator of Chinese Art (who left for Hong Kong two months ago) explains:

Now one of China’s most renowned contemporary artists, Liu Xiaodong grew up in a small industrial town in China before moving to Beijing at age 17 to study art. Three decades passed before he decided to head home to paint this celebrated series Hometown Boy. An internationally acclaimed artist who has lived through Beijing’s phenomenal growth in the past few decades, the 50-year-old Liu is baffled by the familiar: childhood friends who continue to struggle for a living, his parents’ unchanged home, and undeveloped paddy fields. The hometown boy has become an outsider, who masterfully captures the details of daily life in a typical Chinese town neglected by the media but teeming with life.

We arrived at the opening just as people were being ushered out of the wine reception to the basement auditorium for the program. It began as usual with welcoming remarks from the board president and then from Kim Rorschach, the museum director. We learned that Kim knew Liu Xiaodong’s work well, having featured it in a show at her previous home, Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art. And Liu Xiaodong was with us in person, as was former curator Josh Yiu.

Josh took the stage next to talk about Liu, then brought Liu up for an interview and an audience question and answer session. This worked better in principle than practice. Josh began with a question that lasted at least a minute. We all shifted our attention to Liu for his reply, only to realize that Josh was now repeating the question in Chinese. Liu answered, Josh replied (in Chinese), and their conversation went on a while before Josh translated some of it for us. The Q&A portion worked a little better, and Liu even answered a question or two without translation, though only briefly before switching to Chinese.

Next Xiaojin Wu came up to give us some background on the Fullers and the Fuller exhibition. The program closed with an amusing video clip of the late Bagley Wright giving remembrances a few decades back of Fuller, his taste in collecting, and his criticism of Wright’s own collecting choices.

It was now past 7:30 and we were hungry. There’s always a choice after the program: eat or art. We voted eat. And there’s usually a modest buffet, enough to take away our hunger. As we came up the stairs, we saw people strolling around with small Chinese food takeout cartons in hand, but couldn’t find a buffet table laid out with cartons or other food. We soon realized that the food was being passed by servers. And when another server appeared some five minutes later with a tray of cartons, a polite mob surrounded her. Gail squeezed in for the last box. Fried rice, which we split. No point standing there waiting for more. We headed into the Fuller exhibition.

This would be a good place to show you pictures of some of the objects, but I’m not finding much at the website. Nothing from the exhibition itself. There’s this, from the permanent collection highlights:


A little small. I know. This is one of the museum’s most well known works, a pair of six panel Japanese screens in ink and gold on paper from the 17th century. And you can see it represented in the photo at the top.

We didn’t spend much time in the exhibition, given that it was very late for us and we were going to have to stop on the way home for more food. We spent more time seeing Hometown Boy, which occupies a single room. Here’s the one picture from the exhibition website, Liu Xiaodong’s self portrait from 2010.


I can’t show you more. If you’re around, you should see the paintings for yourself. Or, if you’re in New York, see his latest paintings at the Mary Boone Gallery, which is showing In Between Israel and Palestine.

We headed out with plans to return for a closer look when we were less tired. And with more immediate plans to eat fried rice. I called Teriyaki Bowl for a takeout order and we picked it up on the way home. Not as good as what SAAM was offering (catered by their in-house restaurant, Taste). But it hit the spot.

Categories: Art, Museums

At the Met

September 2, 2013 Leave a comment
The Fortune Teller, Georges de la Tour, 1630s

The Fortune Teller, Georges de la Tour, 1630s

We took a 7:00 am flight to New York Friday morning, leaving today on a noon flight. Not much to report, since mostly we were visiting and eating with family. But let me say a bit about our visit to the Met. First, a word about our arrival.

The flight into JFK was pleasant enough. Our first trip highlight was arriving in the new Delta home in Terminal 4. One of the wonders of Kennedy for years has been just what a dump Delta’s Terminals 2 and 3 have been. To think that Terminal 3 was intended to be a glory of air travel, when Pan Am opened it and ushered it a new era of international travel with its new 747s. It was a wonder all right. The baggage claim area was the biggest pit imaginable.

As for Delta’s new quarters in Terminal 4, our main impression as arrivees was that we sure had to walk a lot. I haven’t walked so far since the last time we changed planes in Heathrow. It took forever to get to the main terminal. Then we had to walk to the far end to get to baggage claim. Which wasn’t a pit at all, but it didn’t help that of the two carousels, one said Seattle while our bags came in on the other.

Saturday afternoon we left my parents and headed into the Met. Two current exhibitions that interested us were closing today, so we were fortunate to get to see them: Photography and the American Civil War, and The Civil War and American Art. I can’t share photos, since none were allowed, but you can see plenty of highlights at the websites for the exhibitions.

Here’s the blurb for the photography show:

More than two hundred of the finest and most poignant photographs of the American Civil War have been brought together for this landmark exhibition. Through examples drawn from the Metropolitan’s celebrated holdings of this material, complemented by important loans from public and private collections, the exhibition examines the evolving role of the camera during the nation’s bloodiest war.

And for the paintings:

This major loan exhibition considers how American artists responded to the Civil War and its aftermath. Landscapes and genre scenes—more than traditional history paintings—captured the war’s impact on the American psyche. The works of art on display trace the trajectory of the conflict and express the intense emotions that it provoked: unease as war became inevitable, optimism that a single battle might end the struggle, growing realization that fighting would be prolonged, enthusiasm and worries alike surrounding emancipation, and concerns about how to reunify the nation after a period of grievous division. The exhibition proposes significant new readings of many familiar masterworks—some sixty paintings and eighteen photographs created between 1852 and 1877—including outstanding landscapes by Frederic E. Church and Sanford R. Gifford, paintings of life on the battlefront and the home front by Winslow Homer and Eastman Johnson, and photographs by Timothy H. O’Sullivan and George N. Barnard. The exhibition at the Metropolitan coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863).

Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826–1900). Our Banner in the Sky (detail), 1861.

Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826–1900). Our Banner in the Sky (detail), 1861.

{Metropolitan Museum]

Three months ago, the Met opened a new installation of their European paintings.

The Met’s world-renowned collection of European Old Master paintings from the thirteenth through the early nineteenth century have reopened after an extensive renovation and reinstallation. This is the first major renovation of the galleries since 1951 and the first overall reinstallation of the collection since 1972. Increased in size by almost one-third, the space now accommodates the display of more than seven hundred paintings in forty-five galleries, including one rotating special exhibition gallery.

Eager to learn more, I tore out Holland Carter’s NYT review last May, but I still haven’t read it. Here it is. He writes:

When a monument wakes up, you notice. It’s been more than 40 years since the Metropolitan Museum of Art rethought what many considered its raison d’être, its galleries of European paintings.

The last reinstallation was in 1972 and encompassed a chronological span from Giotto to Picasso. Later, 19th- and 20th-century art was cut loose and sent elsewhere. The rest of the European collection, by then huge, easily could have filled the freed-up space. But the Met decided to reserve the emptied galleries for blockbuster shows. So five centuries of old master painting stayed where it was and fell into a doze.

Now comes a change. The blockbuster spaces have been given back to the collection, and all 45 European painting galleries cosmetically overhauled: new floors, fresh paint, walls put up or brought down, etc. For the first time that I can remember, pictures really have room to breathe. And there are many more of them. A few months ago 450 paintings were on view; now there are more than 700.

We are not talking revolution. Visitors familiar with the holdings will see a lot of what they already know, but encounter old faces in new places, which can produce revelations. There are novelties: items either new, out of sight for decades or just never shown. Best of all, some top-shelf private loans have been integrated, for a limited time, into the galleries in celebration of the reopening.

Most important, the geography of the galleries has been recalibrated. The old arrangement was eccentric. To get from Jan van Eyck in 15th-century Bruges to Rembrandt in 17th-century Amsterdam you had to go through Italy. Italy itself was all over the map. Judging from their Met locations, you might have thought that Caravaggio and Tiepolo came from opposite ends of Europe. To trace a coherent historical path, audio guides were useless; you needed GPS.

No more. Now painting from northern Europe, excluding France, is laid out by date in the regained galleries. Italian painting is consolidated in a two-pronged format, with early work from Florence and Siena running in parallel streams that flow into Titian’s Venice.

France is now unitary, as is Spain (Goya used to be stuck out in nowheresville), and all national blocs are broken up by thematic displays. The keen-eyed may note a Met obsession with framing. The subject is hot these days, as is the market. Vintage examples cost a mint, and the Met is getting its share. Finally, certain much-loved pictures have returned to view with a spa-toned glow, thanks to the tender mercies of conservation.

But what makes the reinstallation most stimulating is a subtle feature, what you might call a curator’s secret weapon: the power of placement. Keith Christiansen, chairman of the European paintings department, has brilliantly orchestrated the collection as a play of dramatic vistas, visual lineups of images — seen around corners or over distances — that pull you forward in time and immerse you in textured layers of European culture.

I’ve seen these paintings time and again over the decades, and we didn’t have much time to explore because we had to get out to the Island for more family visits, but I couldn’t resist exploring anew. I certainly noticed the coherence of the French painting galleries. (One highlight appears at the top of this post, Georges de la Tour’s The Fortune Teller.) And it was a definite surprise to find that Bruegel, Rembrandt, and Vermeer weren’t where I have long known to find them. But find them I did:




Another special exhibition was embedded within the new installation, occupying a single room: Eighteenth-Century Pastels. It was a special treat:

With the 1929 bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, the Metropolitan Museum acquired its first pastels—about twenty nineteenth-century works by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, and Édouard Manet. For forty years, they were shown with our European and American paintings. It was not until 1956 that we were bequeathed a pastel by Jean Pillement (1728–1808). Between 1961 and 1975 we acquired a small group of works by John Russell (1745–1806), and there the matter stood until 2002, when the Metropolitan bought a pastel by the Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera (1673–1757). Since then we have purchased nearly a dozen others by Italian, French, British, German, and Danish artists. Most are portraits, and they are exhibited here with two vivid seascapes by Pillement from a private collection. Pastels are made from powdery substances that are fragile and subject to fading. In accordance with modern museum practice, they are exhibited in very low light or rotated to ensure their long-term preservation. This display is therefore a temporary extension of the new installation in the adjoining galleries for European Old Master paintings.

Benedetto Luti, Study of a Boy in a Blue Jacket, 1717. Pastel and chalk on blue laid paper, laid down on paste paper

Benedetto Luti, Study of a Boy in a Blue Jacket, 1717. Pastel and chalk on blue laid paper, laid down on paste paper

Leaving the European paintings, we rested a bit at a members lounge, then got our car and headed out the Midtown Tunnel to the Island.

So much more to see. But we were content.

Categories: Art, Museums, Travel

Future Beauty

June 26, 2013 Leave a comment
Comme des Garçons, Spring/Summer 1997, Rei Kawakubo

Comme des Garçons, Spring/Summer 1997, Rei Kawakubo

A new exhibition—Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion—opens at the Seattle Art Museum tomorrow. Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s curator of modern and contemporary art, offers the following description:

The tremendous innovation of Japanese fashion designers who have revolutionized the way we think of fashion today will be shown for the first time in Seattle at SAM. The leading Japanese designers who initially gained recognition in the West were Kenzo Takada and Issey Miyake in the 1970s, but it is in the 1980s that Japanese designers emerged with an entirely new aesthetic. In the summer of 1983, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto launched a stark new aesthetic at the Paris runway shows. Based on monochrome black and white, they presented asymmetric and at times artfully perforated designs, which loosely skimmed the female silhouette. Recognized as a radical counterproposal to Western notions of the fitted gown, their designs gained instant notoriety.

This was the beginning of what is now three decades of innovative design that has in turn influenced and reshaped our Western aesthetics of dress. Curated by Akiko Fukai, director of the Kyoto Costume Institute, the exhibition showcases the early emphasis on light and shadow, and the increasingly diverse ultramodern designs that range from the deconstruction and reinvention of Western couture models to wildly revolutionary designs that draw from contemporary street fashion.

Nearly 100 gowns will be featured, ranging from the classic and elegant to outrageous, by celebrated designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, Junya Watanabe, Jun Takahashi and others, videos of runway shows, artist photographs, magazines and ephemera designed by renowned international artists like Gilbert and George and Cindy Sherman. This exhibition promises to be a fascinating experience and rare opportunity to view these unique creations firsthand.

We attended a preview and opening celebration last night, arriving with minimal expectations but finding ourselves delighted.

The evening began with a reception outside the auditorium. We drank, had hors d’oeuvres, mingled, then went into the auditorium at 7:00 and took our seats. Fifteen minutes later, the formal program began with remarks by the SAM board president. Then Kim Rorschach, the SAM director, said a small amount about the show, thanked various exhibition sponsors, and introduced Tomoko Dodo, Japan’s acting consul general here in Seattle. Consul General Dodo’s remarks amounted to a benediction of sorts, as she spoke about the joining of east and west.

Next up was Catharina Manchanda, who despite serving as local curator for the exhibition, deferred to Akiko Fukai, the primary curator (and director of the Kyoto Costume Institute, as noted above). Manchanda listed for us some of Fukai’s publications and work around the world, from which it became evident that Ms Fukai is greatly distinguished indeed.

Doing a search just now, I see that the NYT had a piece about Fukai two Februarys ago. The piece mentions this very show in its first manifestation, at the Barbican Centre in London in 2010. We learn about both Fukai and the Institute:

From the exterior, no one would expect that the nondescript industrial building, owned by the Japanese lingerie giant Wacoal, contains one of the world’s most prestigious clothing collections.

Or that the building, a stark contrast to the city’s Buddhist temples, gorgeous gardens and mild-mannered monks, serves as headquarters for Akiko Fukai, Japan’s leading fashion historian.

But then, the chief curator and director of the Kyoto Costume Institute has spent much of her career staging exhibitions overseas — from Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre in Paris to the Barbican in London, which played host to her landmark “Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion.”

That 2010 show, scheduled to open in Tokyo this summer, is a high point in Mrs. Fukai’s storied career, which spans a seven-page résumé.

“I have watched the steps of 30 years of Japanese fashion as a contemporary,” said Mrs. Fukai, 68. “I have been walking along with it. I think to realize the exhibition of this theme is my role, as the testimony of the time.”

From a colleague’s eyes, the description is only slightly different. “She has brought the Japanese public a knowledge of Western fashion and the Europeans, an inside view of Japanese fashion. These are her most important contributions as a fashion curator,” said Valerie Steele, director and chief curator at The Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.


The “Future Beauty” exhibit has been one of Mrs. Fukai’s main focuses since she retired as a professor four years ago from the Shizuoka University of Art and Culture, where she served as the dean of the graduate school of art management and a professor of art history and modality.

Between traveling the world for symposiums and lecture engagements like the one on Diana Vreeland scheduled in March in Venice, she has been searching for new contemporary Japanese designers to grow the “Future Beauty” display for its opening July 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. It is to move to Seattle in 2013.

Suitably prepped, I was eager to hear from Ms Fukai. Unfortunately, something got lost in her oral delivery, between her accent and the placement of the microphone. I wish a written version had been available.

The program over, it was time to go up to the main lobby for food and entertainment or two floors higher for the exhibition itself. We made a brief stop for food, provided by Taste, the restaurant that sits within the museum building. Noodles, flatbread, mini-burgers. Then on to the show.

I assume that with the official opening tomorrow, SAM will offer more information and images at their website. At the moment there’s just the basic information page. The exhibition is divided into four spaces. I wish I could list their names. The first has to do with black, and with the choice of Japanese designers to use black. Then there’s a space with clothing and photos, a wonderful mix. Each dress is flattened in a photographic image that looks so textured it takes a while to realize it is just a photo, not the fabric itself put in a frame. This illusion is all the more pronounced because the first framed piece is in fact a dress, emerging out of a flat piece of fabric.

A third room has some dresses that fold out from flattened objects by design, like origami, such as folded squares that, when lifted up, pull into three-dimensional clothing. Most striking were the books of clothing. One opens the two book covers like the outside of a fan, pulls them back to back, and a skirt or top emerges. A mannequin wears two such pieces, top and bottom, with the book covers hanging behind her.

The fourth room has a “cool” theme, with street fashion meeting high fashion. Hello Kitty and her ilk.

A second suite of rooms follows, each devoted to an individual designer: Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, and so on. At the reception earlier, we had seen an older woman in a dramatic outfit, richly colored and unusually shaped. In contrast to the kimonos worn by a few young women, this item didn’t appear to be specifically Japanese. We didn’t know what it was. We knew, though, once we we arrived at the Rei Kawakubo room, for there it was. And there she was, standing just in front of her mannequin twin while people took photos.

On finishing our walk-through, we returned to the lobby, sampled some more food, then headed down to the car and drove home. Good fun. And, we will return for a closer look.

I wish I could show more images from the exhibition. What I can offer instead is a youtube video made when the initial version of the exhibition appeared at the Barbican. I leave you with it.

Categories: Museums

Empowering Women

June 25, 2013 Leave a comment


A new exhibition opened at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture earlier this month—Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities. We attended the member’s opening last Friday evening. The exhibition originated at Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art. Here is the description from the Burke’s website:

One Moroccan artist teaches a village of women to read. An embroiderer from India takes out her first loan. A Hutu woman from war-torn Rwanda works with a Tutsi to make “peace” baskets. And a soup kitchen for AIDS orphans delivers meals because of a folk art cooperative’s success in Swaziland. From Africa to Asia to the Americas, female artisans are creating grassroots cooperatives to reach new markets, raise living standards, and transform lives.

Empowering Women provides an intimate view of the work of ten such enterprises in ten countries. This exhibition illustrates the power of grassroots collaborations to transform women’s lives, through inspiring personal stories, stellar photographs and stunning examples of the cooperatives’ handmade traditional arts.

We attended the members’ opening last Friday, heard remarks by sponsors, listened to Latin American music by the duo Correo Aereo, and viewed the exhibition. With so much going on, and so many people in attendance, we weren’t as focused on the exhibition as we would have wished. We will return at a quieter time for a more leisurely look.

Keep in mind (if you’re in the Seattle area) the supplemental event Empowering Women Artisan Market that will take place next month.

On July 20-21, come to the Burke’s Empowering Women Artisan Market, open both Saturday and Sunday from 10 am – 3 pm. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to meet artists from across the globe, purchase a wide variety of artisan-made goods, and get insider knowledge on the Empowering Women exhibit. Expect this market to spill outside the museum, in true street-market style!

Six of the women-run artist cooperatives featured in the Empowering Women exhibit demonstrate their skills in basketry, printing, weaving, and more. Their beautiful pieces will be available for purchase this weekend only. Artisan cooperatives from Rwanda, Morocco, Lao PDR, Nepal, India, and Bolivia are represented.

But you don’t have to wait a month to buy the work of the cooperatives. Some are already available in the museum store. We came home Friday with a woven disk, about 15 inches in diameter, that now sits on our dining table.

Also at the opening was the 314Pie food truck, which we hadn’t previously encountered. It was parked below the museum entrance, where Deke Kotrla served 120 of their delicious pies. Gail had the lamb pie. I took the ground beef pie, which he calls the 4′n 20, as in 4 and 20 blackbirds. Unfortunately, the truck doesn’t generally park anywhere near us. The Delridge neighborhood in West Seattle and South Lake Union appear to be regular weekly sites. Microsoft too. I hope to stumble on it again.


Categories: Museums

Antiques Roadshow at the Burke

June 2, 2013 Leave a comment
Dzoonokwa Mask, George Walkus. Wood, paint, and human hair.  From the Burke Museum.

Dzoonokwa Mask, George Walkus. Wood, paint, and human hair. From the Burke Museum.

The PBS hit series Antiques Roadshow came to Seattle recently, with an episode that aired just last week. During their visit, they stopped at my favorite museum, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. (It’s a state museum, and it’s on the University of Washington campus. Come visit!) In hour three of the episode, as explained at the show’s website, “host Mark L. Walberg discusses Northwest Coast Indian masks with appraiser Ted Trotta at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.”

No need to watch the full show. Just click here to see the two-and-a-half-minute Burke snippet. I’m sorry I can’t embed it, but just click and enjoy. The mask pictured above is one of the two featured. You can read a little more and get additional views of the mask here.

Categories: Museums, Television

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