Archive for April 20, 2014

Miró at SAM, 2

April 20, 2014 Leave a comment


[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:


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


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 1 comment


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