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Alden Mason Retrospective

June 22, 2013 Leave a comment
Home Free Jamboree, Alden Mason, 1991

Home Free Jamboree, Alden Mason, 1991

Two days ago, we went down to the Wright Exhibition Space* to see their latest show, Alden Mason: In Memoriam 1919-2013. It consists of 35 of Mason’s paintings ranging from 1970 to 2008. On walking in, you pick up a foldout six-page card stock pamphlet containing photos of paintings, photos of Mason himself, and fifteen notes written by painters, art dealers, art critics, and the exhibition curators. The same texts are on the walls, in lieu of details about the individual paintings themselves.

*I have explained in previous posts on the Wright Exhibition Space—for instance, this one—that it “is a small gallery that mounts shows from time to time drawn largely, or entirely, from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the largest collection of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. I highly recommend going, whatever the show, because the art is superb, the mix of art is interesting, you often have the space to yourself or nearly to yourself, there’s an informative little printed guide, and there’s often a docent to introduce you to the show and chat with. The gallery is open Thursdays and Saturday, with free admission.”

Perhaps I should have made it a point to read the curator’s note, written by Phen Huang of the Foster/White Gallery and Greg Kucera, the eponym of his own gallery. I’m reading it only now. But Sylvia, the docent, urged us to save the texts for when we got home, enjoying the paintings while there, and we followed her advice. Plus, she gave us her own helpful overview about Mason and the different phases of his career. As for the curator’s note, we learn that

late in his life, Alden Mason hoped for a retrospective museum show to define the phases of his career. His seventy years of painting revealed a range of media from watercolor to oil paint, then to acrylic paints, and finally back to ink and watercolor. He wanted major works from each series to represent his artistic oeuvre. Moving through these unique styles proved Mason’s ability to innovate and resonate with all audiences over an extended period of time.

In curating this exhibition, we aimed at fulfilling his request.

Sunshine Strip, 1979

Sunshine Strip, 1979

Mason grew up about sixty miles north of Seattle. As critic Sheila Farr explains,

the fields of the Skagit Valley were Alden Mason’s playground and the wild cratures and farm animals his friends. Born July 14, 1919 in Everett, Washington [about 20 miles north of Seattle], Mason grew up on a Fir Island farm near the banks of the Skagit River. Alden was just five years old when his father, a house painter, died of lead poisoning after years of working with lead paints.

A slight, precocious child, prone to illness, Alden attended the Skagit City School, a two-room country schoolhouse, where he skipped second grade and forever felt he was struggling to catch up with others. But in the natural world, he was at ease: he built birdhouses, went fly-fishing, collected butterflies, experimented with taxidermy and never forgot the thrill of having a tiny swallow land on his finger for a few moments and gaze into his eyes. His first drawing instruction came from a mail order cartoon class and he recalled his love of those images, “with figures jumping, hopping and smooching. They were having more fun than I was. They lived in a brighter world.”

Golden Burpee, 1973

Golden Burpee, 1973

Mason spent decades on the faculty at the University of Washington, retiring just as I arrived. Chuck Close, surely his most famous student, writes:

Alden Mason was my teacher, my mentor and my friend. He has probably had more impact on my work and my career than any other person. I wouldn’t be who I am today—or as successful—if it weren’t for Alden.

I consider him the greatest painter to come out of the Pacific Northwest—for me even greater than Mark Tobey or Morris Graves. I studied with him from 1960-1962. He was encouraging, inspiring and often tough on me—probably when I needed it. … Luckily, we talked a week before he died and I was able to tell him about the impact he had on me, my life and my work, and that I loved him like a father.

Black Tulip, 1997

Black Tulip, 1997

Several people address Mason’s interest in birds, and his wide-ranging travels—the Mexican coast, the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea, and so on—to see them. Gerald Nordland talks about Mason’s technique:

Images of the exotic birds and characters he encountered entered into his art making. The paint body of these works is fiercely manipulated with a very personal sense of touch; colors are worked directly into one another. … The ground establishes an active but thoroughly consistent environment for the figures, fish animals, birds, and hybrid forms which Mason conjures up with the eloquence of a shaman.

Ambassador to Birdland, 1987

Ambassador to Birdland, 1987

The exhibition closes a week from today. I highly recommend going, if you’re in the Seattle area.

Categories: Art

Felix Hernandez Bobblehead

May 26, 2013 Leave a comment

felixbobblehead

According to this history of bobblehead dolls,

the bobble head doll seemed to be deemed a 20th century relic by the turn of the century, but Major League Baseball again brought back the bobble head doll from pop culture oblivion. The San Francisco Giants presented the Willie Mays bobble head doll on May 9, 1999 to 20,000 visitors to their ballpark celebrating the 40th anniversary of Candlestick Park, which was the last year of the Giants playing at that stadium by the bay. That ushered in a whole new era of bobble head madness. Baseball teams throughout the United States began to offer the bobble head doll as a promotional item for their fans and bobble head dolls were one of the most popular and eagerly sold items in the early days of eBay along with Pez.

Here in Seattle, the first bobblehead giveaway was at a 2001 baseball game and featured then-rookie breakout star Ichiro. In the years since, I’ve never attended a Mariners gave during a bobblehead giveaway night.

Until last night. We weren’t aiming to get a Felix bobblehead. We just wanted to see Felix pitch. When our friend Judy suggested that we join her for a game this weekend, we agreed to choose the game that Felix would start. As a bonus, it was Felix Hernandez Perfect Game Bobblehead night.

I’ve never seen such a crowd two hours before game time. Well, come to think of it, I don’t know when I’ve ever arrived two hours before game time. We did last night, though not because of the bobblehead promotion. (More on our early arrival and special evening in a separate post.) There were huge lines to get in early, since only the first 20,000 people would get their own Felix.

I have no idea why last night was designated as the giveaway night. It boosted attendance, but didn’t relate in any way to when Felix pitched his perfect game, which was last August 15. The box itself is a souvenir. Below is the front side.

felixbox2

And here’s the back side, listing every batter Felix faced in the perfect game and the result.

felixbobblebox

I should explain what a perfect game is. It’s one in which no batter reaches base, whether by a hit, a walk, an error, or being hit by a pitch. Nine innings pitched, three batters an inning, twenty-seven up and twenty-seven down. Well, more innings if needed until the pitcher’s own team finally wins the game. (There’s the famous 1959 game in which Harvey Haddix pitched twelve perfect innings, but his Pirates team didn’t score. He lost it in the thirteenth. That, alas, doesn’t count as a perfect game.)

Perfect games are rare. Years go by without any. Felix’s was the last one, though it was one of three pitched last year. You can see the complete list here.

Anyway, this post isn’t about perfect games. It’s about Felix bobblehead dolls, two of which we are now pleased to own. Other proud owners include Gail’s sister Tamara, husband Jim, and son DJ. It was a big night for the family.

And perhaps last night also marks the start of a collection. I just checked. There’s one more bobblehead night this year, on August 10. It will be Ken Griffey Jr. “Mariners Hall of Fame” Bobblehead Night, in honor of his induction into the team’s hall of fame. Gail, should we get tickets?

Categories: Art, Baseball

Kenwood House 4

May 19, 2013 Leave a comment
The Cherry Gatherers, François Boucher, 1768

The Cherry Gatherers, François Boucher, 1768

The Seattle Art Museum‘s exhibition Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London, about which I have written here and here and here, ended today. Last Tuesday evening, we made one last visit.

Let me quote one more time the description of the exhibition offered by SAM curator Chiyo Ishikawa at the exhibition website:

Within the neoclassical Kenwood House at Hampstead Heath on the outskirts of London, resides a magnificent painting collection known as the Iveagh Bequest. Kenwood is home to an exceptional collection of Old Master paintings, including major works by Gainsborough, Hals, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Romney, Turner, Van Dyck, and many others. The Iveagh Bequest was donated to Great Britain by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847–1927) and heir to the world’s most successful brewery. Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: Treasures of Kenwood House, London, a selection of approximately 50 masterpieces from the collection, will tour American museums for the first time. Among other treasures, the exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see Rembrandt’s late Portrait of the Artist (ca. 1665), which has never left Europe before.

The Earl of Iveagh’s personal collection was shaped by the tastes of the Belle Époque—Europe’s equivalent to America’s Gilded Age. His purchases reveal a preference for the portraiture, landscape, and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings that could typically be found in English aristocratic collections. Since the earl was a newcomer to London emigrating from his native Ireland, he may have selected works that would help him fit in with his peers and elevate his social standing.

Kenwood House is a property of English Heritage, described at its website as “the Government’s statutory adviser on the historic environment.” On our first visit, we toured the exhibition with Susan Jenkins, senior curator for English Heritage. Our second tour was led by Chiyo Ishikawa. This time, we had the pleasure of touring the exhibition after hours with SAM’s new museum director, Kim Rorschach.

We hadn’t realized on receiving the tour invitation that eighteenth-century British paintings were the subject of Kim’s doctoral work at Yale some years ago. As she explained when we reached the heart of the exhibition, the portraits of Reynolds and Gainsborough, she spent a year in London during her graduate studies, living near Hampstead Heath and visiting Kenwood House almost weekly. Thus it was a special treat for her, on assuming the directorship last fall, to come just in time for the arrival of some of her old friends.

Kim focused on several of the same paintings that Susan and Chiyo had stopped in front of on the earlier tours, such as Gainsborough’s portrait below (circa 1760) of Mary Countess Howe.

J880100

Like Chiyo, Kim is more partial to Gainsborough than Reynolds, and she especially admires this portrait. She took us through it in some detail.

In the next room, while Kim talked about two Gainsborough landscapes, my eye wandered to the two side-by-side paintings by François Boucher, which I somehow had missed on previous visits. As Kim walked the group to the second Gainsborough, I moved into the space that opened up in front of The Cherry Gatherers and realized that it was really quite wonderful. And different from much else in the exhibition.

What is it about Boucher, and his pupil Jean-Honoré Fragonard, that I resisted years ago? I would go to the Frick Collection and race through the Boucher and Fragonard rooms in my haste to see the Vermeers, Holbein, Manet. Well, can you blame me? But after enough visits, I found myself slowing down, then stopping, and now I love the two rooms. (Click on the room links for virtual tours.)

The Four Seasons: Autumn, 1755, François Boucher, The Frick Collection

The Four Seasons: Autumn, 1755, François Boucher, The Frick Collection

On coming to the end of the Kenwood House tour, Kim took us through the complementary exhibition European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle. The webpage explains that the Kenwood House exhibition provided

the perfect moment to reveal some of the extraordinary collecting of European painting that has been quietly taking place in Seattle over the last 20 years. European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle features 34 paintings, all from local collections, which will share the special exhibition galleries with the 48 paintings from Kenwood House.

I wouldn’t have expected such good paintings to have made there way here to Seattle. Some will ultimately end up at SAM>

Next Kim led us across the street to a small function on the second floor of the Four Seasons Hotel, from which we had a perfect view of SAM’s newest installation, Doug Aitken’s MIRROR. There was an unveiling two months ago, which we were unable to attend. The unveiling webpage explains that MIRROR is

a permanent art installation for the façade of SAM by artist Doug Aitken, that will become a new landmark in downtown Seattle. MIRROR is an urban earthwork that changes in real time in response to the movements and life around it.

At the unveiling, guests will experience an unprecedented performance with synchronized choreography of MIRROR in relation to compositions by minimalist composers Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Mr. Riley will be in Seattle for the performance of his monumental work In C, featuring musicians from the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Stuart Dempster, faculty at the University of Washington School of Music, who performed with Riley for the original debut of In C in 1964.

But here, see for yourself:

Gail and I looked out the window at MIRROR from time to time, chatting with other guests and eating hors d’oeuvres in between. I talked about the Boucher paintings with Kim, who agreed that they stand out from the others that Guinness collected. And another guest told us about concerns the owners of condos in the building to the north of the hotel have about MIRROR. Much as we enjoyed the view out the windows, we don’t live there. Those who do are less excited. Arrangements will have to be made.

That was that. Farewell to Kenwood House.

The next major SAM exhibition, opening late next month, is Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion. Quite a change of pace. I suspect I won’t be writing four posts about it.

Categories: Art, Museums

Kenwood House 3

April 18, 2013 Leave a comment
Rembrandt self portrait, circa 1665

Rembrandt self portrait, circa 1665

I’ve already written twice about Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London, the current exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum: two months ago, when we had to miss the opening because of a conflict, and a couple of weeks later, after we toured the exhibition under the expert guidance of Susan Jenkins, senior curator of English Heritage.

I’m returning to the subject in order to write about another tour we had the opportunity to take, two mornings ago, this time led by Seattle Art Museum’s own Chiyo Ishikawa, the curator for European painting and sculpture. Recall Chiyo’s description of the exhibition from SAM’s website:

Within the neoclassical Kenwood House at Hampstead Heath on the outskirts of London, resides a magnificent painting collection known as the Iveagh Bequest. Kenwood is home to an exceptional collection of Old Master paintings, including major works by Gainsborough, Hals, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Romney, Turner, Van Dyck, and many others. The Iveagh Bequest was donated to Great Britain by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847–1927) and heir to the world’s most successful brewery. Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: Treasures of Kenwood House, London, a selection of approximately 50 masterpieces from the collection, will tour American museums for the first time. Among other treasures, the exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see Rembrandt’s late Portrait of the Artist (ca. 1665), which has never left Europe before.

The Earl of Iveagh’s personal collection was shaped by the tastes of the Belle Époque—Europe’s equivalent to America’s Gilded Age. His purchases reveal a preference for the portraiture, landscape, and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings that could typically be found in English aristocratic collections. Since the earl was a newcomer to London emigrating from his native Ireland, he may have selected works that would help him fit in with his peers and elevate his social standing.

Chiyo took a group of about thirty of us from SAM’s lobby up to the exhibition’s opening room, where she reviewed Guinness’s astonishing buying spree and a change in British law that made it possible. (Families with agricultural holdings who previously were not allowed to sell their art were now permitted to do so provided they reinvested the income in farming.) She then took us from room to room, focusing on two or three portraits per room and providing context that complemented what we had learned from Susan Jenkins. For example, Chiyo singled out the Frans Hals portrait of Pieter van den Broecke from 1633 (featured atop my second Kenwood post and reproduced below) as the most unusual in Guinness’s collection, because Hals’ work had only recently been rediscovered and was not widely viewed as a worthy painter.

J870218

Chiyo also spent some time contrasting the work of Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, eventually confessing—in case it wasn’t clear—that she was a big Gainsborough fan, more so than Reynolds. She invited us in particular to look at the two portraits below, which are hung on perpendicular walls within a single room.

First, Reynolds’ 1782 portrait of Mrs. Musters as ‘Hebe’.

J910498

From the webpage:

Hebe is the Greek goddess of youth, the daughter of Zeus and the future wife of Hercules. Here she is on Mount Olympus, portrayed by 24-year-old Sophia Catherine Musters. Mrs. Musters sat 18 times for this portrait by Joshua Reynolds.

Mrs. Musters, however, was unhappily married. She had many male admirers and was unfaithful.

In fact, an earlier portrait by Reynolds was reportedly not given to Mr. Musters but instead to Mrs. Musters’ lover, the Prince of Wales.

So Reynolds compensated for that loss by painting a new portrait for the husband. This time he chose to portray Mrs. Musters as that ultimate beauty: a Greek goddess.

And here is Gainsborough’s 1760 portrait of Mary, Countess Howe.

J880100

From the webpage:

Thomas Gainsborough actually preferred painting landscapes to portraits. But early in his career, his landscapes weren’t selling all that well.

He studied the full-length portraits of aristocracy by Anthony Van Dyck and eventually Gainsborough attracted commissions from fashionable clientele such as Mary, Countess Howe.

Countess Howe was actually an aristocrat by marriage and not by birth. So technically the painting should be called “Lady Howe.” But Mary Hartopp became a countess after her military husband became an earl. The couple was vacationing in Bath when they asked Gainsborough to paint each of them.

Gainsborough went all out painting her in pink silk and ruffles standing outdoors on some estate. She was, of course, posed inside Gainsborough’s studio but that landscape suggests the countess as both aristocrat and a landowner.

The couple had come to Bath because Earl Howe was suffering from gout and needed to recuperate. Gainsborough chose to underscore strength and boldness in Countess Howe. She has her hand on her hip, her toe pointed and her eyes gazing straight ahead.

Putting details of technique aside, Chiyo distilled the issues into the simple question, how would we like to be depicted? She then talked about Gainsborough’s marvelous treatment of Mary’s clothing and the pleasure he took in magically creating effects that one must stand back some distance to appreciate.

Oh, but I’ve skipped ahead. For what would English portrait painting be without Anthony van Dyck and his arrival in London in the 1630s to paint in the court of Charles I? Chiyo talked about this while we focused on van Dyck’s 1634 portrait of Princess Henrietta of Lorraine.

J920322

From the webpage:

If art is an escape, then the full-length portraits hanging throughout Kenwood House sent the 1st Earl of Iveagh back to a more civilized time. The paintings of young wives, mistresses and of course, royalty, underscored elegance, grace and poise. The world was nothing but genteel, as seen in this portrait of Princess Henrietta of Lorraine.

But this princess was dripping in scandal: charges of treason, banishment from France, masquerading as a man in order to escape punishment, and even suspicions of orchestrating attempted murder.

There’s only the slightest hint in this portrait that she has suffered: the thorns on the roses held by a page. Otherwise, all is well. She’s wearing pearls and Flemish bobbin lace; standing in front of gold brocade with a boy at the ready.

Van Dyck has painted a 23-year-old princess who is defiant and not a bit defeated.

Chiyo explained that the seemingly disproportionate size of the head compared to the body in this and other portraits makes sense once we understand that at the time, portraits would be hung high on the wall. (One must have a home with high walls! Some of these paintings wouldn’t fit on our walls no matter how low we hung them, though I’d be happy to take a couple home and give it a try.)

The final room of the exhibition features portraits of children. Here’s Thomas Lawrence’s 1825-27 portrait of Miss Murray.

J910513

And from the webpage:

Louisa Georgina Augusta Anne Murray is between three and five years old. She’s got a lapful of petals. Her stockings are rumpled. Her hair is in ringlets. She’s bright eyed and pink cheeked and a picture of purity.

She was born out of wedlock and her mother’s lover commissioned this portrait. He chose the greatest portrait painter at the time: Sir Thomas Lawrence. The painting might have been a way to underscore the child’s innocence (and obscure her actual social status). The child’s parents were eventually wed.

The artist had been a child prodigy himself, so he knew all about being the center of attention. In a letter to her parents, the painter said he wanted to capture her “fleeting beauty and expression so singular in the child before the change takes places that some few months may bring.”

This portrait of sweetness ended up being one of the most reproduced images of a British child; replicated in Victorian engravings and on biscuit tins.

The exhibition closes May 19. We hope to get back to explore it more closely on our own. If you’re here in Seattle, be sure to go.

Categories: Art, Museums

Georgia Museum of Art

April 16, 2013 Leave a comment
Sowing, William H. Johnson, ca. 1940, gouache and pencil,  collection of Morgan State University

Sowing, William H. Johnson, ca. 1940, gouache and pencil,
collection of Morgan State University

We concluded last week’s visit to Athens, Georgia, with a stop at the Georgia Museum of Art. It is “both a university museum under the aegis of the University of Georgia and, since 1982, the official state museum of art. Located on the East Campus of UGA, in the Performing and Visual Arts Complex, it opened in 1948. Recently, it completed an extensive expansion and remodeling of its building, paid for entirely with externally raised funds, that has allowed it to display its permanent collection continually.”

I had looked at the museum’s website before we left Seattle and identified an exhibition that I thought we would enjoy, William H. Johnson: An American Modern. We made it our first stop. Below is the painting that greets you on entering the exhibition space.

Aunt Alice, ca. 1944, oil on compressed board, collection of Morgan State University

Aunt Alice, ca. 1944, oil on compressed board, collection of Morgan State University

According to the website,

William Henry Johnson (1901–1970) is a pivotal figure in modern American art. A virtuoso skilled in various media and techniques, he produced thousands of works over a career that spanned decades, continents and genres. Now, on view in its entirety for the first time, a seminal collection covering key stages in Johnson’s career will be presented in “William H. Johnson: An American Modern.” Developed by Baltimore’s James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University, this Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service exhibition represents a unique opportunity to share the artist’s oeuvre with a broader audience. This exhibition of 20 expressionist and vernacular landscapes, still-life paintings and portraits investigates the intricate layers of Johnson’s diverse cultural perspective as an artist and self-described “primitive and cultured painter.” An exhibition catalogue, funded in part by the Henry Luce Foundation, features essays by such noted scholars as David C. Driskell, on such topics as primitivism, modernism and African American art; African American artists and the art historical canon; identity and aesthetics in art; and art and art scholarship at historically black colleges and universities.

Photos were not allowed for temporary exhibitions, so I can’t show you any more than the two above from the website, which is unfortunate, because there were many wonderful works. For instance, his Byzantine-influenced paintings of Christ and followers, with African-Americans filling all the roles.

I see now that the exhibition was at the Cleveland Museum of Art before coming to Athens. In a review of the exhibition at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Steven Litt writes:

His bright, flat, cartoonlike paintings of jitterbugging dancers and Southern sharecroppers look like the work of a naive outsider on the surface, but they are every bit as knowing and accomplished as the work of such contemporaries as Jacob Lawrence or Romare Bearden. Johnson sought a raw authenticity while also clearly drawing on years of hard-won artistic knowledge.

[snip]

The exhibition illuminates all major phases of Johnson’s career and arouses a powerful curiosity about how he navigated successfully from the Deep South to the upper East Side of Manhattan and then rural Denmark.

Johnson’s harbor scenes of fishing boats in Kerteminde and of the jagged fjord of Lofoten Island in Norway, which he and Krake visited, feel emotionally raw and exposed. Hypersensitive to mood, light and color, they convey enormous gusto through heavy applications of thick paint.

The later works after Johnson returned with Krake to New York have the concentrated energy and simplicity of an artist at the top of his game.

After Krake’s death from cancer in 1944, Johnson turned to religious themes in paintings constructed mainly out of flat areas of color and pattern. As the show’s catalog points out, Johnson was inspired both by medieval and Renaissance European paintings, as well as African textiles and patchwork quilts from the American South.

Sadly, Johnson grew increasingly disabled after he was diagnosed in 1947 with paresis, a form of dementia caused by syphilis. During a prolonged visit in Denmark in 1946-47, he was picked up for vagrancy and hospitalized in Oslo, Norway.

We next headed to the museum’s permanent collection, which has surprising range. I passed quickly over the Renaissance paintings, this not seeming to be one of the museum’s strengths. Looking now at the photos I took, I can see that I focused mostly on mid-twentieth century. Here are examples:

George Schreiber, The White House, 1945:

schreiber

Louis Freund, Transcontinental Bus, 1936:

freund

Robert Gwathmey, Hoeing Tobacco, 1946

gwathmey

I included two other paintings in a post last Saturday previewing coming attractions. Recall Jimmy Lee Sudduth’s self-portrait from the late 1980s:

Jimmy Lee Sudduth, self-portrait, homemade pigments and house paint on tin, Georgia Museum of Art

Jimmy Lee Sudduth, self-portrait, homemade pigments and house paint on tin, Georgia Museum of Art

And R.A. Miller’s All the Devils (no date):

All the Devils, RA Miller, enamel paint on barn door, Georgia Museum of Art

All the Devils, RA Miller, enamel paint on barn door, Georgia Museum of Art

Here’s a detail:

devildetail

Excellent museum. We’re glad we reserved time to visit.

Categories: Art, Museums, Travel

Catchup Time Coming Soon

April 13, 2013 Leave a comment
All the Devils, RA Miller, enamel paint on barn door, Georgia Museum of Art

All the Devils, R.A. Miller, enamel paint on barn door, Georgia Museum of Art

With work and travel, I haven’t been posting, being content instead to add to my coming attractions list (here and here). One more time, with catchup scheduled to begin tomorrow, if I can tear myself away from final-round Masters coverage.

The list so far:

1. Lunch two Fridays ago at La Grenouille, one of the great restaurants of New York.

lagrenouille

2. Andrew Delbanco’s College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be , which I started reading on the plane flight to New York two Thursdays ago and finished last Monday.

delbancocollege

3. Hockey on ice. A silly little post about a pun.

4. Our flight to Atlanta last Sunday, views of New York and Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake and downtown Baltimore, and my inability to come up with a clue to the Delta flight magazine crossword puzzle clue “New York’s ____ Island” even as I looked down on the very island and pointed it out to Gail.

5. Last Monday at the University of Georgia.

ugaarch

6. Dinner Monday night at Athens’ great 5 & 10.

5&10

7. Last Tuesday at the Masters. A dream come true.

12th hole, Augusta National Golf Club

12th hole, Augusta National Golf Club

[Photo by Dan Nakano]

8. Wednesday visit to the University of Georgia sports museum (Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall).

Herschel Walker's 1982 Heisman Trophy

Herschel Walker’s 1982 Heisman Trophy

9. The subsequent visit to the Georgia Museum of Art (the state museum, on campus).

Jimmy Lee Sudduth, self-portrait, homemade pigments and house paint on tin, Georgia Museum of Art

Jimmy Lee Sudduth*, self-portrait, homemade pigments and house paint on tin, Georgia Museum of Art

*A year ago we went to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke and saw an exhibition that featured another Jimmy Lee Sudduth painting, which I featured at the time leading off a post.

10. Wednesday lunch at another great Athens restaurant (who knew they had so many?), The Grit.

gritcrown

11. Our drive to and then around Atlanta Wednesday afternoon, with a stop at the MLK National Historic Site and The King Center before heading down to the airport.

mlk

12. Our flight home Thursday in a 767 set up for international travel, with a change in the weather.

Hmm. Maybe I won’t get through all of this. But doing so is the plan.

13. Oh, and one more post, on yet another long history book I need to add to my ever-growing list: William Dalrymple’s Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, due out Tuesday and reviewed today in the WSJ. It came out in January in the UK, to strong reviews. And Dalrymple has an op-ed piece on Afghanistan in tomorrow’s NYT.

returnking

Kenwood House 2

March 3, 2013 Leave a comment

J870218

I wrote two weeks ago about Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London, the new exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum whose opening we had to miss because of a conflict. Recall the overview offered at the SAM website, courtesy of SAM curator Chiyo Ishikawa:

Within the neoclassical Kenwood House at Hampstead Heath on the outskirts of London, resides a magnificent painting collection known as the Iveagh Bequest. Kenwood is home to an exceptional collection of Old Master paintings, including major works by Gainsborough, Hals, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Romney, Turner, Van Dyck, and many others. The Iveagh Bequest was donated to Great Britain by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847–1927) and heir to the world’s most successful brewery. Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: Treasures of Kenwood House, London, a selection of approximately 50 masterpieces from the collection, will tour American museums for the first time. Among other treasures, the exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see Rembrandt’s late Portrait of the Artist (ca. 1665), which has never left Europe before.

The Earl of Iveagh’s personal collection was shaped by the tastes of the Belle Époque—Europe’s equivalent to America’s Gilded Age. His purchases reveal a preference for the portraiture, landscape, and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings that could typically be found in English aristocratic collections. Since the earl was a newcomer to London emigrating from his native Ireland, he may have selected works that would help him fit in with his peers and elevate his social standing.

Kenwood House is a property of English Heritage, described at its website as “the Government’s statutory adviser on the historic environment. Officially known as the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, we are an executive Non-Departmental Public Body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.”

Our one consolation on missing the opening was that we knew we would see the exhibition soon. Back in December, we had received an invitation from English Heritage CEO Simon Thurley to attend a “drinks reception, followed by a private tour of the exhibition with our Senior Curator, Dr Susan Jenkins.” Though puzzled that I had made the invite list, I wasn’t puzzled about how to reply, immediately saying yes on behalf of Gail and myself. English Heritage fundraising director Ian Vallance responded with confirmation.

Last Monday was the day. Inasmuch as we were told to come to a drinks reception, we thought it best to have a light meal beforehand. We parked at SAM, then crossed the street to the Four Seasons Hotel for light snacks at ART, the restaurant I raved about two months ago after we ate there with my cousin John and Joan. Ordering off the lounge menu, we had Uli’s Merguez sausage soft tacos, trio of potatoes, and Dungeness crab cake bites. Uli’s is the local sausage maker just a block up at Pike Place Market. Each taco came with a single sausage, crisp shallots, and raita, and they were fabulous. The potato trio consisted of fries, potato wedges, and tater tots, with a spicy ketchup and another dip that I’ve forgotten. An excellent start to the evening.

We crossed back to SAM a few minutes early, but guests had already arrived, wine and sparkling water were being served, and hors d’oeuvres from Taste (the restaurant one floor below) were being passed. Cocktail tables were set up in SAM’s large entry space. There weren’t many guests. Eventually twenty showed up, by my count. Soon we were talking with Ian about the show’s previous stops in Houston and Milwaukee, its final stop in Little Rock, his trips to each of the exhibitions, the renovation being done on Kenwood House, and more. Other guests joined us, as well as the new SAM director Kimerly Rorschach. She had previously been director at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, which we visited last April. I mentioned our visit, and soon we were talking about life in Chapel Hill, where she and her family lived and where Joel is now.

We also chatted with some of the other guests, including a well-known Seattle couple who seemed as puzzled as to why they were at the reception as we were, which was reassuring. And with Simon, who like Ian was thoroughly charming.

The time came for the program. Simon gave us some background on English Heritage and on Kenwood House. He introduced Susan Jenkins, asking if she wanted to make some remarks before bringing us upstairs to the exhibition. She kept it short and simple: “Follow me.”

And so we did, up two flights and over to the exhibitions first room. The next forty-five minutes were sheer delight, as Susan told us about the house, the collection, and two or three paintings in each gallery room. Many of the paintings are portraits, and Susan also filled us in on the people portrayed.

You can see many of the portraits at the SAM website. Clicking on each one brings up additional information. For instance, you can click on Frans Hals’ portrait of Pieter van den Broecke (included at the top of this post) and learn:

The Dutch seaman Pieter van den Broecke began his career trading fabrics in West Africa. He eventually took over a company that dominated the Dutch trade in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. In this portrait by Frans Hals, he’s 48 years old and wearing a gold chain that marks his 17 years of service with the Dutch East India Company.

He and the artist were close friends. The merchant seaman actually attended the baptism of Hals’s daughter Susanna.

The result of such rare chemistry between sitter and painter, critics note, is the dazzling portrait you see here.

Hals was the type of painter who worked fast and he liked his subjects to take up most of the canvas. This portrait was painted in 1633, a time when both artist and subject were at the height of their careers. That could have been why Guinness was attracted to it in the first place: a portrait of a successful Protestant, fortysomething merchant—much like himself.

Or, click on this Joshua Reynolds portrait of Mrs. Tollemache as “Miranda”

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and learn:

Here’s another portrait of a subject transfigured as a historical or fictional character. This time it’s Anna Maria Lewis, wife of Wilbraham Tollemache, the future 6th Earl of Dysart.

She’s painted in a scene from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” She’s the character Miranda at the moment when she sees her future husband Ferdinand for the first time. In fact, since Miranda has grown up on an island, it’s the first time she’s actually seen a young man.

Mrs. Tollemache was 28 years old and a new bride. So it was flattering to be painted as the young lady Miranda, with alabaster skin and rosy cheeks in a gold-trimmed gown.

This portrait was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1774 and it may have inspired works by George Romney and Daniel Gardner. There’s a companion portrait to this one—Lady Louisa Manners—which is of Mrs. Tollemache’s sister-in-law and is also on display in Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough. Guinness purchased both paintings, as well as 69 others, in 1888, a major year for his art collecting.

That’s Caliban, by the way, at Miranda’s feet.

I can’t resist one more, George Romney’s portrait of Emma Hart As “The Spinstress”.

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And from the website:

George Romney is best known for his portraits of Emma Hart. He was smitten by her beauty and over a four-year period, he sketched her hundreds of times.

Even after she left England for Naples, Romney remained obsessed with her, painting her from memory. She was his muse but never his mistress.

She was born Amy Lyon, but she later called herself “Emma Hart.” The daughter of a blacksmith, she worked at what was likely a brothel. At 16, she was illiterate and pregnant.

But that’s when the Hon. Charles Greville, who moved her, her baby and her mother into his villa, took her up. She was his teenaged mistress. And he was the one who commissioned this portrait.

Dutch painters had been painting ladies at spinning wheels. There was often a caged bird included in the scenery, which was an allusion to the woman’s virtue. In this portrait, Emma’s bird may have flown. The only bird present is a hen at her feet.

Susan Jenkins had her own take on these portraits and more, with a beguiling way of talking about art, culture, and history that I can’t capture here but that was thoroughly enchanting.

At 8:00, she released us to see the exhibition on our own, as well as the accompanying exhibition European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle.

This exhibition, focusing on a great collector of the 19th century, also presents the perfect moment to reveal some of the extraordinary collecting of European painting that has been quietly taking place in Seattle over the last 20 years. European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle features 34 paintings, all from local collections, which will share the special exhibition galleries with the 48 paintings from Kenwood House. The paired exhibitions will give visitors the opportunity to observe different approaches to collecting, the history of taste, and how the market has changed since Lord Iveagh began to form his collection in 1887. Most importantly, our visitors will have the chance to see exceptional works of art from right here in Seattle, which, until this moment, has largely overlooked the art of Europe. Featured artists include Vittore Carpaccio, Francisco de Zurbarán, J.A.D. Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, and Frans Hals.

On one wall of the Kenwood House exhibit are photographs of rooms in the house, allowing you to get a sense of how the paintings, which get their own space in the museum setting, are jumbled together within the house. The Rembrandt self-portrait, for instance, which has a wall to itself at SAM, is quietly sitting above furniture and adjacent to other paintings in London, emerging as a hidden surprise.

Simon happened to be standing by the photos when we looked at them, giving us an opportunity to talk with him some more about the house. Later, as we surveyed the paintings from Seattle collections, we found ourselves with Ian and continued through together, then back to the lobby, where someone was handing out copies of the small, paperback exhibition catalogue. Ian urged us to stick around for more wine and food, which we did.

Most people were gone by now. Two guests were chatting with Susan, we talked more with Ian, then we thanked Susan and headed out.

We have now added Kenwood House to our list of must-sees next time we get to London, not that I have any idea when that will be. But whenever it is, this is what we’ll see:

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Categories: Art, Museums

Seattle Art Museum: Kenwood House

February 17, 2013 Leave a comment
Rembrandt self portrait, circa 1665

Rembrandt self portrait, circa 1665

A new exhibition—Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London—opened last week at the Seattle Art Museum. Ordinarily, I would have written a post by now about last Tuesday’s event: the program of dignitary remarks and curator overviews, the refreshments, the exhibit itself. We were signed up to go. But there was a conflicting lecture I couldn’t miss (on which, more in an upcoming post) and our plan of getting to both didn’t work out, to our great disappointment.

Here is the overview of the exhibition, courtesy of Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s deputy director and curator of European painting:

Within the neoclassical Kenwood House at Hampstead Heath on the outskirts of London, resides a magnificent painting collection known as the Iveagh Bequest. Kenwood is home to an exceptional collection of Old Master paintings, including major works by Gainsborough, Hals, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Romney, Turner, Van Dyck, and many others. The Iveagh Bequest was donated to Great Britain by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847–1927) and heir to the world’s most successful brewery. Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: Treasures of Kenwood House, London, a selection of approximately 50 masterpieces from the collection, will tour American museums for the first time. Among other treasures, the exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see Rembrandt’s late Portrait of the Artist (ca. 1665), which has never left Europe before.

The Earl of Iveagh’s personal collection was shaped by the tastes of the Belle Époque—Europe’s equivalent to America’s Gilded Age. His purchases reveal a preference for the portraiture, landscape, and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings that could typically be found in English aristocratic collections. Since the earl was a newcomer to London emigrating from his native Ireland, he may have selected works that would help him fit in with his peers and elevate his social standing.

The exhibition from Kenwood House will be complemented by a companion exhibition, European Masters: Treasures of Seattle. Featuring about 30 works from local collections, the show traces the burgeoning enthusiasm for Old Master paintings in Seattle over the last 20 years.

The Rembrandt self portrait at the top of this post is the work SAM is using in their advertising for the show. You can see it and more at this webpage, which has a series of paintings on each of which one can click for more information. About the Rembrandt, for instance, we learn:

By this time, the 59-year-old Rembrandt had become a celebrated painter in Amsterdam, where he was regarded as “the wonder of our age.” So he chose to paint himself as he was: not dressed up like a gentleman in fancy garments but rather, a painter wearing work clothes as if he’s in his studio.

In most self-portraits, he dons a trademark black beret. But here, he’s chosen a white linen cap and a fur-trimmed gown. He’s a great painter and in this three-quarter length frontal portrait, that’s how we get to know him.

Kenwood House is a property of English Heritage, described at its website as “the Government’s statutory adviser on the historic environment. Officially known as the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, we are an executive Non-Departmental Public Body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.” We have the good fortune to be invited to an evening at the exhibition sponsored by English Heritage at which their senior curator, Susan Jenkins, will give a tour. We’re not passing this one up. I’ll have more to say soon.

Categories: Art, Museums

Elles: SAM

January 26, 2013 Leave a comment
Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama

I’ve written twice about the Elles: Pompidou exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, in October after we attended the opening and in December after we took a tour with SAM curator of modern and contemporary art, Catharina Manchanda. Featuring more than 130 works by women drawn from the permanent collection of the Pompidou Center in Paris, it closed a couple of weeks ago.

In parallel with Elles: Pompidou, the museum mounted an exhibition called Elles: SAM, which runs until February 17. We had the pleasure of visiting it two days ago under the guidance of Patricia Junker, SAM’s curator of American art. More on our visit in a moment, but first here are excerpts from the Elles: SAM description drawn from the exhibition webpage and written by Manchanda.

To expand on the Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris survey on the Fourth Floor of SAM Downtown, the curators at SAM have organized a series of exhibitions in the Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries on the Third Floor that build and react to each other. Through diverse media, these installations and exhibitions offer a glimpse of the startling innovations attained and a reminder that these achievements were often hard fought for in a cultural landscape that was not always welcoming to women. Fully aware that many artists question or reject the label “woman artist,” we focus on them as a group not to segregate but to recognize them as seminal artists whose contributions collectively yield a whole greater than its parts.

Nine interrelated shows and installations in the Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries constitute Elles: SAM and highlight some of the connections and breaks in artistic developments during the last 50 years.

The installations begin with a look at key works by Georgia O’Keeffe and her spiritual kinship with photographer Imogen Cunningham. A room of paintings by the female founders of the American Abstract Artists Group follows.

Yayoi Kusama: A Total Vision brings together drawings, paintings and sculptures from key moments of the artist’s career. This will be the first museum exhibition in Seattle of the radical and mesmerizing works by Kusama, celebrated today as an art world superstar.

Modern Masters: Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler features three American heavyweights who work in the context and aftermath of Abstract Expressionism. Exhilarating and tough, these soaring paintings from Seattle collections pay homage to three visionary painters who developed distinctive painterly styles. Celebratory and ironic, “modern masters” bestows this much-deserved designation upon them, in recognition of their hard-won accomplishments in what was a male-defined domain.

Abstract Currents and Countercurrents shows the constant push and pull between abstraction and figuration with surprising visual affinities among artists of different generations. Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Elizabeth Murray, Agnes Martin, Ellen Gallagher, Ghada Amer and others are shown here in an intense dialogue.

The curatorial tour we took Thursday is one in a series that typically draws twenty guests. This one drew only six, with a seventh arriving late, making for an unusually intimate experience. There were us, a couple back in Seattle from a year abroad, a woman who lives in our daughter’s building and has been on several of these tours with us, and an older man who—based on the curator’s enthusiasm on seeing him—is prominent in the local arts community. Plus two museum staff members to keep us organized, not difficult with such a small group.

Patti led us up the escalator to the threshold of the show, then gave us an overview: mounting of Elles: Pompidou, the decision to organize a parallel show of US women artists drawn from local collectors, the joint efforts of Catharina Manchanda and Patti in preparing it, Patti’s own expertise in US art history, the consequence that on this walk she would emphasize what she knew, a contrast drawn with Catherina, who would give a very different tour.

Then we entered a gallery with a large canvas in view on the far wall, a cow skull against an abstract background of, perhaps, a cross. Patti asked us who the most famous American female artist of the twentieth century is. Gosh, I don’t know. The first one to come to mind (without benefit of the text above) was Helen Frankenthaler. No, that’s probably not who Patti was aiming for. Oh, I know. Santa Fe. Photographer husband. Um. Um. I’ll get it. The one with a museum to herself. The museum that we didn’t get to visit, because when we were in Santa Fe in 2008, we managed to put it off to Tuesday morning, only to find that that’s the day each week that the museum is closed. Her. Her.

Well, before I pulled the name out of memory, Patti said Georgia O’Keeffe. And we have the good fortune, Patti explained, to have here in Seattle this extraordinary example of O’Keeffe’s work, owned by a local collector, a work unseen publicly in at least two generations, lent for this show. Anonymous collector, I should add, no name being listed on the identifying wall card. Off to the left, another O’Keeffe, this owned by Barney Ebsworth, prominent collector of American modern art, O’Keeffe friend, and SAM trustee (who spoke with Patti about his friend Georgia at a museum event in November).

We spent quite a bit of time in that room, learning about O’Keeffe, then about some photographers. Imogen Cunningham, of course. A northwest native, she attended the University of Washington, where she studied the chemistry behind photography, then went on to work with Edward Curtis at his Seattle studio. And Ella McBride, who also worked with Curtis, and whose handful of photos exhibited in the show are breathtaking. But, as explained in the piece about her at HistoryLink, and as Patti related to us to our horror:

Following her death and the closing of the McBride & Anderson studio, her archive of negatives, dating from 1916 through the 1950s, were stored at 6303 Roosevelt Way NE and then to 1752 NW Market in Ballard. In 1972, the photography studio holding the negatives offered to donate the entire collection to any interested institution.

Unfortunately, all declined except for a selection retained by Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry. The remaining tens of thousands of negatives, which essentially documented the important social and cultural events of that period in Seattle’s history, were destroyed.

On to the next room, featuring work of women who painted on the side—unable to sustain careers as artists—while pursuing other careers. Women Patti suggested we were unlikely to have heard of, as artists anyway. Esphyr Slobodkina. Wait. You’ve heard of Esphyr Slobodkina? Yes, she is the author of the children’s literature classic Caps for Sale. Suzy Frelinghuysen. A prominent soprano in New York after World War II, descended from nineteenth-century Frelinghuysens that included a New Jersey senator and a US secretary of State. Patti talked about the artists in this room, their work, their plight as women artists.

Back out to the third floor’s extended open gallery. Jutting into the entrance hall below, it serves as a comfortable home for the large canvases of Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and Joan Mitchell. Next, a gallery with less familiar artists. At this point, I realize that my memory is failing me, in terms of which artists were in this room and which in the second room we saw. Perhaps this is where we saw works of Charmion Von Wiegand and Alice Trumbull Mason. Mason for sure, with Patti pointing out the genetic implausibility of a descendant of John Trumbull painting such abstract works.

Declaration of Independence, John Trumbull, 1819

Declaration of Independence, John Trumbull, 1819

Patti ended our walkaround with the work of Yayoi Kusama, which fills the large northwest gallery space. Polka dots and more polka dots. Patti was clearly a fan, and made fans of us as well. On moving to the US from Japan, Kusama spent her first year in Seattle. From the SAM website, we learn:

Beginning in the 1950s, the largely self-taught Japanese artist created a startling visual universe. Her early drawings suggest microscopic cell structures or clusters of stars in exuberant colors, whereas her Infinity Net paintings of the 1960s adopted an all-over matrix that covers a canvas like a tight web. Kusama had her very first solo exhibition in December 1957, at Zoe Dusanne’s Gallery in Seattle. Only a few years later an ARTnews review called her work “stunning and quietly overwhelming,” a description that remains appropriate to this day. Kusama’s work has an obsessive intensity that sets her apart. She gained early recognition in New York where she moved in the late 1950s but also came to the attention of the European avant-gardes.

In the early 1960s, Kusama developed a radically new approach to sculpture. She began to cover household objects—pots, pans, shoes, chairs, sofas, and increasingly larger objects—with phallic protrusions as though some foreign organism had taken over. These works opened the door for a new and more psychologically charged conversation about the body and the self. Kusama grew up in hard times in Japan during World War II. Her outrageous nude performances in New York in the 1960s, which sometimes included examples of her sculptures as props, must have been an enormous leap for the artist who grew up in a society where adherence to the norm—especially as a woman—was paramount.

Plagued with hallucinations since childhood, she has repeatedly stated that painting pictures has been an inspiration and a form of therapy for her. Over the last six decades Kusama has turned these psychological challenges, the push and pull between self and outside world, or what she might term the threat of self-obliteration, into a dizzying, limitless vision that is as exhilarating as it is unsettling.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama

After discussing Kusama, Patti thanked us for our time and left us to explore on our own.

Gail and I wandered around the Kusama room, taking a closer look at some of the works. Then Gail led me back to a room Patti had passed over, in order to show me a work she had enjoyed on a previous visit. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who the artist was. Also on the unfortunate front, as you have noticed, I didn’t take any photos, so I have nothing with which to illustrate this post other than what I’ve taken off the SAM website.

If you live in the area, be sure to get to the show before it closes on February 17. By then, SAM’s newest show, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London, will have opened. I’ll report on that next month.

Categories: Art, Museums

Wright Dozen

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment

wrightmanchanda

Yesterday, we went down to the Wright Exhibition Space* to see their latest show, a rose is a rose is a rose, curated by the Seattle Art Museum‘s curator for modern and contemporary art, Catharina Manchanda. I wrote about Manchanda earlier this month, after we had the good fortune to tour the Elles: Pompidou exhibition at SAM with her as our guide. This time, though not present, she was our guide once again, having been invited by Virginia Wright to mount a show with whatever works she liked from the Wright collection. Manchanda chose just a dozen, the dozen you see above.

*I have explained in previous posts on the Wright Exhibition Space—for instance, this one—that it “is a small gallery that mounts shows from time to time drawn largely, or entirely, from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the largest collection of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. I highly recommend going, whatever the show, because the art is superb, the mix of art is interesting, you often have the space to yourself or nearly to yourself, there’s an informative little printed guide, and there’s often a docent to introduce you to the show and chat with. The gallery is open Thursdays and Saturday, with free admission.”

The gallery is a single large space, as its name suggests, but divided into one larger central segment and two smaller segments by a pair of walls. Moments after descending the steps into the central segment, we were met by Sylvia, the docent, who had just ushered another visitor out. She would spend the next 45 minutes walking us through the exhibition. Pointing out how few works were presented, she offered this as an opportunity to focus on the architecture of the building, a former flower wholesale seller. She then explained how Virginia Wright had given Manchanda carte blanche to select whatever works she pleased, and how surprising it was that Manchanda chose just the dozen. As we visited each work, Sylvia discussed with us not just each in isolation, but also how they related to each other and what Manchanda had in mind.

Besides Sylvia, we were armed with a pamphlet that had the image above on the back and Manchanda’s own text inside. There were no signs on the walls identifying or giving background on the works. The pamphlet served that purpose.

We began, as the pamphlet does, with Warhol, which was hung in the segmented room to the left, on the far wall, not visible from the entry. We never did read the pamphlet as we walked, relying on Sylvia instead. Had we taken a look, we would have learned this:

Like canonical and apocryphal versions of the Bible, art history has its official and its less official interpretations. Take Andy Warhol for example. Although heavily researched, a large part of art historical writing focuses on his early pop icons: the Campbell soup cans, Coke bottles, movie stars and other items of mass production and consumption. As a result, the critique of abstract expressionist painting, the clash of high and low, the readymade and reproduction, are some of the perennial cornerstones of Warhol interpretation. Sex appeal and Warhol’s fascination with the aura of glamour and death, which also loom large, are most often discussed in view of his celebrity portraits. But these themes also extend to a person’s production of an aura in front of the film or video camera and Warhol’s often cruel fascination with the psychological unraveling of his subjects. His enormous compendium of films and videos is not nearly as well-known as his silkscreens, in part because some of the subject matter is of the X-rated kind, or so long that it tries the patience of his most ardent admirers.

Late in his career, Warhol produced a series of Rorschach paintings, named after the Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach, who invented an ink blot test–a psychological projective test of personality, based on responses to 10 abstract designs. The Rorschach is a mirror image simply achieved by putting wet blots of paint on one half of a paper and folding it over, resulting in an abstract design when reopened. The test was conceived to assess a person’s emotional and intellectual functioning and integration and it is telling that Warhol, who never supplied interpretations of his works, puts the viewer again in the position of finding his or her own. One way to look at the Rorschach paintings is in relation to the history of abstraction, as yet another gesture of opposing immediacy and grand inspiration. But what of the psychological suggestiveness and how the Rorschach speaks of the body?

Manchanda next explains what she had in mind in putting the show together.

In the famous line from Gertrude Stein’s poem, the meaning of the thing, that romantic rose, starts to change through the triple repetition. A rose is a rose is a tautology that flattens and empties it of romantic association, but the third time around, the word acquires new meaning. And every time you reread the line, you might place the emphasis differently and think in new ways about its meaning. Similarly, this selection from the Wright collection is brought together with the intention of a deeper second and third look. It is, admittedly, a highly subjective grouping that plays on the synergy between artworks and how that relationship between objects changes the way we perceive them individually and as a group. All of the works that are brought together here play with more subliminal messages and reference or allude in one way or another to the human body, or contain an aspect of yearning. While each object stands in relationship to the others in the gallery, each piece is also part of a continuum and echoes with other works made by the same artist, resulting in a web of cross-references.

From Warhol, we turned right and looked at the Mapplethorpe plate. The Warhol, about 13 feet tall, filled its wall. The Mapplethorpe, which is indeed just a plate, sat sparely toward the right side of its wall. Manchanda again:

On its own, Mapplethorpe’s orchid, which here appears on a plate, is just a pretty flower, but if you know how Mapplethorpe moves back and forth between beautiful flowers and depictions of sensuous bodies, the orchid starts conjuring associations with more intimate parts of the body. Adjacent to Andy Warhol’s Rorschach, the shared sexual orientation of both men, not to mention the psychologically charged associations of Warhol’s image, adds another dimension.

The third piece in the left segment of the gallery is Sugimoto’s photograph. “The portrait of Catherine Parr, the sixth and last wife of Henry the VIII is a photograph of a wax figure, which was modeled after a painting. In its sumptuous details, the photograph might read as a different articulation of desire.”

Back in the central space, we zig-zagged among the six pieces, visiting in order the urinal and skates of Gober, Fritsch’s vases, Lichtenstein’s still life, Hawkin’s pilgrim, and Oldenburg’s wingnut. The pilgrim stands about 7 feet high, the drippings consisting of white athletic socks connected together. The wick too is a sock, a purple one. Nothing about the photo gives any sense of what the piece is like, in texture, scale, or color. Of course, this is true of all the works, but perhaps especially of this one. Manchanda comments only on the urinal.

The works in the central gallery speak more obliquely about the body and create a web of associations. The most overt bodily form is Robert Gober’s Urinal, which is not only heavily encoded with references to Marcel Duchamp’s scandalous bathroom fixture, Fountain of 1917. But unlike Duchamp’s famous readymade, Gober’s object is handmade and in its display there is an intimacy in the way it addresses itself to the viewer. The textured surface of the Urinal brings memories of his sculpted body parts protruding from a wall that extends to other works in the room.

I was fond of the Fritsch kitsch-like vases, which I would have happily taken home. (At least they would fit in the house comfortably.) Well, the Lichtenstein would fit too. Sylvia made it a point to contrast the two, with their similar blue shade and disparate art-market value.

The segmented space to the right had just two works, Wesselmann’s nude and Salle’s four-part canvas. We spent quite a bit of time discussing these with Sylvia.

The final gallery, with paintings by Tom Wesselmann and David Salle grandly stage the female figure. Wesselmann’s painting from the Pop era shows the reclining nude as surface, devoid of emotion or erotic appeal, while Salle’s dramatic presentation of the dancer and choreographer Karole Armitage, crowned by a suggestive braid of bread and a small image with a group of onlookers reasserts sensuality.

That braid of bread looked like a perfectly edible challah. The portion of the Wesselmann nude depicted above is the smallest of fragments, giving no sense of the painting as a whole. All the more reason why, if you’re in the neighborhood, you really should drop in and see the show.

One work remained, the Jasper Johns, a small work back in the hallway, positioned so you look right at it as you leave the gallery space. “As you exit, Jasper Johns’ thermometer takes the temperature.”

The hallway connects the small entry area of the building to the right with the room to the left that was Bagley Wright’s office, the Johns hanging just by the office doorway. (Wright died two summers ago.) A rope hangs in the doorway, keeping the public out. After we looked at the Johns painting, Sylvia asked if we had seen the office before. No, other than peering in from outside. She removed the rope, brought us in, and continued the tour by telling us about the works of art on the walls, a happy bonus.

It was a splendid outing. The Wright Exhibition Space is a gem, its shows not to be missed. Thanks to Virginia Wright for her ongoing generosity in opening up her collection to the public.

Categories: Art, Museums