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Museum of Math

December 13, 2012 Leave a comment

momath

MoMath, the Museum of Mathematics, opens on Saturday in Manhattan. From the press release last September:

The only math museum in the US, MoMath strives to enhance public understanding and perception of mathematics in daily life. The Museum’s dynamic, interactive exhibits and programs geared for families and adults will present mathematical experiences that are designed to stimulate inquiry, spark curiosity, and reveal the wonders of math.

Spearheaded by Glen Whitney, a hedge fund manager turned mathematics advocate, MoMath will fulfill the incredible demand for hands-on math programming, creating a space where those who are math-challenged — as well as math enthusiasts of all backgrounds and levels of understanding — can revel in their own personal realm of the infinite world of mathematics through state-of-the-art interactive exhibitions.

MoMath will consist of a suite of newly-created exhibits, following on the heels of the successful Math Midway, a popular traveling exhibition that offers an interactive, hands-on tour of mathematical concepts in a carnival-style pop-up. The Math Midway launched in NYC in 2009, and has been making the rounds throughout the country for the past three years. The overwhelmingly positive response to the Math Midway convinced Glen Whitney that he and his team were onto something – that math exhibits could indeed attract an audience, as well as inspire participants of all ages to learn. Those who enjoyed the Math Midway will be delighted to know that its marquee exhibit, Pedal on the Petals, in which visitors ride a square-wheeled tricycle over a sunflower-shaped track, will be featured in the new museum, taking its place among two stories of innovative new offerings.

The opening gala took place last night.

Edward Rothstein’s previews MoMath in tomorrow’s NYT:

For those of us who have been intoxicated by the powers and possibilities of mathematics, the mystery isn’t why that fascination developed but why it isn’t universal. How can students not be entranced? So profound are the effects of math for those who have felt them, that you never really become a former mathematician (or ex-mathematics student) but one who has “lapsed,” as if it were an apostasy.

[snip]

The goal … was to show that math was fun, engaging, exciting. MoMath is a proselytizing museum. And despite its flaws, it is exhilarating to see math so exuberantly celebrated. … The reason that there haven’t been many math museums is that the enthusiasm the subject inspires is not easily communicated and not readily discovered. In the United States, where student math performance is far from stellar, it is easy to see why a compensatory straining at “fun” is more evident than a drive toward illumination.

To attract the uninitiated, a display must be sensuous, readily grasped and memorable. Yet the concepts invoked are often abstract, requiring reflection and explanation. How are these opposing needs to be reconciled? With widely varying results. When I visited the museum twice this week not every display was completed, but the exhibits covered a broad spectrum of achievement. Many on the higher end of that range should be celebrated; much on the lower should be scrutinized and brought up to grade level.

So first, celebrate: in many of these exhibits the physical sensation of being immersed in a world shaped by a mathematical idea will have lasting resonance.

Having spent years trying to immerse students in worlds shaped by mathematical ideas, aiming for resonance, I’m eager to see how MoMath succeeds.

Categories: Math, Museums

Elles: Pompidou

December 9, 2012 Leave a comment
Suzanne Valadon’s, "La Chambre blue," 1923

Suzanne Valadon’s, “La Chambre blue,” 1923

[Jacqueline Hyde, Centre Pompidou]

Two months ago, the Elles: Pompidou exhibition opened at the Seattle Art Museum. I wrote at the time about attending opening night. The program had a late starting time, with a long list of dignitaries (such as the French ambassador to the US) making remarks, as a result of which we weren’t released to see the art until 8:45. This was a weekday night. We didn’t last long. A return visit was called for, and that visit came on Tuesday morning.

Before saying more about that, let me quote once again from the exhibition website, where Marisa Sánchez, the museum’s associate curator for modern and contemporary art, writes:

Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris is a landmark exhibition of more than 130 works of art made by 75 women artists from 1907 to 2007. Organized by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, home to the Musée National d’Art Moderne—the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe—this exhibition is an unforgettable visual experience that will challenge visitors’ assumptions about art of the past century. This survey of daring painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, video and installation by pioneering women artists offers a fresh perspective on a history of modern and contemporary art. With humor, disdain, sensuality and ambiguity, these women represent the major movements in modern art—from abstraction to contemporary concerns.

Artists include Sonia Delaunay, Frida Kahlo, Dora Maar, Diane Arbus, Marina Abramovic, Louise Bourgeois, Atsuko Tanaka, Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle, Hannah Wilke, Nan Goldin and Tania Bruguera, among others.

An exhilarating exhibition that has already become a milestone in the history of exhibitions, Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris will excite the casual viewer as much as the hardboiled expert.

What brought us back was a one hour, pre-opening-hours tour of the exhibition for which we had signed up, led by Catharina Manchanda, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art. As an unexpected bonus, we were joined afterwards by Camille Morineau, senior curator at the Centre Pompidou and chief curator of Elles, for a fifteen-minute Q&A. She happened to be in from Paris on her first visit to Seattle.

Our walkthrough with Catharina Manchanda was an eye-opener. Where two months ago I saw an assemblage of works that happened to be made by women, this time Catharina placed the art and artists in cultural and historical context. She is a gifted speaker, a scholar who, with an economy of words, gives you the sense that you understand what you’re seeing. There’s a touch of magic to this. On leaving, I couldn’t reproduce what I learned. It was part illusion, yet a most welcome illusion.

I would attempt to demonstrate, but the SAM exhibition website doesn’t offer images of the art for me to use. Well, there’s one image I can copy, from a May 2009 LA Times article on the original Elles exhibition at the Pompidou. It’s the one I’ve put at the top of this post. This painting is in the Seattle show too, and is one that Catharina discussed, relating it to traditional male depictions of women. She highlighted the pose, the clothing, and the cigarette. But again, I can’t reproduce her insights. Let me instead turn to the excellent gallery guide, which one can download as a pdf file. There we read about gallery three, Paris in the 1920s and 1930s:

During the twenties and thirties, Paris was a vibrant heyday of intellectual exchange among artists, writers, and poets; their artistic endeavors defined their age. In addition to the shifting realities of a post-WWI society, the role and image of women began to evolve, due in part to more women entering the work force. The modern woman emerged to occupy an important place within that culture. Valadon’s reclining female painted in 1926 embodies the emergence of a modern woman—one who has done away with her corset and assumes a more confident pose. Many women became chroniclers of their time, advancing their voice in various disciplines, including photography and literature. For example, Virginia Woolf published her influential A Room of One’s Own in 1929 in London.

In Gallery Ten, Genital Panic, we learned about several interesting works, including a video of performance art by Valie Export. Here is part of the guide’s gallery description.

In the politically charged 1960s and 1970s, women artists particularly took to task representations of the female body, challenging conventional perceptions of the figure and acceptable behavior—embodied in works like Valie Export’s TappundTaskino, 1968, and Hannah Wilke’s S.O.S. Starification Object Series: An Adult Game of Mastication (MasticationBox), both of which remain raw and startling today. Brought together here under the title of the legendary performance work by Austrian artist Valie Export, in which the artist moved among an audience seated in an X-rated cinema, the works in this gallery offer unorthodox representations of the female body.

The particular video Catharina pointed us to is mentioned in Valie Export’s wikipedia entry:

Valie Export’s early guerilla performances have attained an iconic status in feminist art history. Tapp- und Tast-Kino (“Tap and Touch Cinema”) was performed in ten European cities in 1968-1971. In this avowedly revolutionary work, Valie Export wore a tiny “movie theater” around her naked upper body, so that her body could not be seen but could be touched by anyone reaching through the curtained front of the “theater.” She then went into the street and invited men, women, and children to come and touch her.

The video showed her in a busy central square in Vienna, accompanied by a colleague using a bullhorn to attract a crowd. (Catharina informed us that he is now the director of one of Germany’s major museums.) People would come up, uncertain, and put their hands in the box she was wearing. Catharina commented on the visible awkwardness of one of the men, then ushered us on to the next gallery.

It was a privilege to chat afterwards with Camille Morineau. In describing the genesis of the exhibition in Paris a few years ago, she explained that her initial idea was to have a temporary show of women artists drawn from various museums. What made all the difference was her revised conception of a show installed in the permanent Pompidou galleries consisting of works from the Pompidou collection. By law, state museums can’t deaccess their art. Collections continue to grow, with very little on display. Of course, this is true of any major museum. But Morineau wanted us to understand that many works by women are stored away, likely never to see the light of day. Her idea reversed this, opening half to two-thirds of the permanent exhibition space to women’s art in a sequence of installations over a couple of years.

About a thousand works were exhibited. This created an entirely different challenge for the Seattle show: how to select just a fraction of these works. The show required a reconception, one Morineau hadn’t seen until the day before. Asked what she thought, Morineau claimed to be impressed.

The LA Times article from three years ago that I mentioned above has a good discussion of the original show. I’ll close with excerpts, and urge you to see Elles before it closes on January 13.

Imagine a museum that boasts the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe. Now imagine that an intrepid female curator puts all the men’s work in storage and fills the permanent collection galleries with a new version of 20th and early 21st century art history, the one that women created.

Would she emerge as a champion, finally proving that women artists are as good as — or better than — the guys? Or would she simply expose weaknesses of the museum’s collection and the art itself?

“It’s a risk,” says Camille Morineau, who has organized “elles@centrepompidou,” opening Wednesday at the Pompidou Center. “Excluding men and showing only women is a revolutionary gesture of affirmative action. But the museum is avant-garde. It’s part of the Centre Pompidou culture to do things differently. And we like a lot of drama. This is going to be dramatic in a big way.”

[snip]

As Stephanie Barron, senior curator of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, puts it: “When you have an institution of the scale and prestige of the Pompidou devoting its entire hang of its collection thematically to women artists, it’s making a very serious statement.”

[snip]

Some of the artists have subtle sensibilities; others deliver a punch. In a text panel by Barbara Kruger, an awe-struck exclamation — “What big muscles you have!” — overlaps sappy terms of endearment such as “My better half,” “My sugar daddy” and “My ticket to ride.” In “Life Size Portraits,” a huge painting by Agnes Thurnauer, female versions of famous male artists’ names — Annie Warhol, Francine Bacon, Jacqueline Pollock — appear on 11 of 12 circles of bright color. But the first name of Louise Bourgeois, a sculptor who has garnered almost as most notice as her male counterparts — has been changed to Louis.

Time will tell how all this is received.

“It’s a very un-French thing to do,” Morineau says over lunch at a cafe overlooking the Pompidou’s plaza, where lovers smooch, sunbathers catch fleeting rays and schoolkids line up for museum tours. “In France, nobody counts the number of men and women in exhibitions. Very few people notice that sometimes there are no women.”

Categories: Art, Museums

Met Museum Stroll

November 15, 2012 Leave a comment

We’ve been back from New York nine days, since which I’ve been to Chicago and back. Before the NY trip fades, I want to describe our brief outing to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on our final morning.

Once done packing, we had a couple of free hours before we were to meet my sister and brother-in-law for lunch at Cafe Boulud (which I described here), from which we would head to JFK. Off to the Met we walked. Here’s what we saw:

1. Bernini: Sculpting in Clay. From the website:

To visualize lifesize or colossal marbles, the great Roman Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) began by making small, spirited clay models. Fired as terracotta, these studies and related drawings preserve the first traces of the thought process that evolved into some of the most famous statuary in the city, including the fountains in the Piazza Navona and the angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo. This exhibition assembles for the first time some fifty of these bozzetti and modelli, as well as thirty chalk or pen sketches alongside three small-scale bronzes and a marble group. Through connoisseurship and a comprehensive campaign of scientific examination, the selection of models addresses the issue of what separates the hand of the master from the production of his large workshop.

Or, from Karen Wilkin’s review in today’s WSJ:

The stellar exhibition “Bernini: Sculpting in Clay,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers an intimate view of this most public of Counter-Reformation artists, making us privy to the studies that preceded the celebrated monuments executed by the master and his busy workshop. It’s like watching Bernini think, and it makes him seem as present and vital as he must have seemed to his colleagues and rivals in 17th-century Rome, all of them undoubtedly frustrated at his getting all the best commissions but surely awed by his talent.

Spend some time with the works elegantly installed in the Met’s Lehman Wing and you understand just why Bernini was so often the first choice of popes, cardinals, the nobility and, though the project ended badly, Louis XIV.

I didn’t give this exhibition the time it deserved. Mostly, as we wandered around, I realized that I needed to get back to Rome to spend more time wandering the squares so that I could see the works for which these studies were made. Some photographs helped.

2. To get from the Lehman wing, which housed the Bernini show, up a floor and over to the Asian wing, we passed Medieval European works, including a case of extraordinary northern European Christian objects from the 12th century or so. And this, Lorenzo Monaco’s “Intercession of Christ and the Virgin,” from Santa Maria del Fiori cathedral in Florence, painted before 1402.

3. Colors of the Universe: Chinese Hardstone Carvings. From the website:

The stone carvings of the Qing period can be grouped in three categories: personal adornments such as rings, bracelets, and pendants; articles for daily use (mainly in the scholar’s studio) such as brush holders, water pots, and seals; and display pieces such as copies of antiques, miniature mountains, and animal and human figures, the latter being the largest of the group. The carvings can also be classified by their decorative style: archaic or classical, meaning their shapes were derived from ancient ritual vessels; “Western,” which bore the influence of contemporary Mughal art from northern India; and new or modern, meaning novel shapes and designs created during the Qing dynasty.

This is a small show, occupying just one room in the East Asian decorative arts galleries on the third-floor annex in the Asian wing. Viewing all the pieces didn’t take long. Some are astonishing. Here’s one:

Dongfang Shuo Stealing the Peach of Longevity, Qing dynasty, amber

4. Buddhism Along the Silk Road: 5th-8th Centuries. Another single-room show in another third-floor annex of the Asian wing. From the website:

Drawing together objects from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the western reaches of Central Asia—regions connected in the sixth century A.D. through trade, military conquest, and the diffusion of Buddhism—the exhibition illuminates a remarkable moment of artistic exchange. At the roots of this transnational connection is the empire established the end of the fifth century by the Huns (Hunas or Hephthalites) that extended from Afghanistan to the northern plains of India. Although this political system soon disintegrated into chaos, over the next century trade routes connecting India to the western reaches of the Central Asian Silk Road continued to link these distant communities, facilitating ideological exchange and financing the production of Buddhist imagery of great artistic sophistication.

A representative piece:

Seated Buddha Flanked by Bodhisattvas, 7th–8th century, Pakistan (Swat Valley), marble

5. Chinese pottery. Some pieces along the walls on the balcony above the great court as we walked south along the 5th Avenue side of the museum from the Asian wing to the Mesopotamian rooms.

6. Assyrian art and the Assyrian royal court — the Assyrian palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud in northern Mesopotamia. We spent some time in this room. Nothing new — part of the permanent collection. But still wonderful. Here’s a description:

The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery for Assyrian Art has been arranged to evoke the main audience hall of the ninth-century B.C. Assyrian palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud in northern Mesopotamia.

The reliefs that line the walls come from various rooms in the palace, and were excavated during the mid-nineteenth century in one of the earliest archaeological expeditions to the Near East. Guarded by a colossal winged, human-headed lion and bull, wearing the horns of divinity, the reliefs depict the king performing a ritual, surrounded by attendants and supernatural creatures facing stylized trees. The famous Standard Inscription of Ashurnasirpal, which records his achievements, runs across each relief panel. It is written in cuneiform, the script used for the Akkadian language then in wide usage throughout the Near East.

7. European paintings. To finish, we made a short loop within the European painting collection: from late Medieval Italian paintings through early Renaissance to the Titian-Tintoretto-Veronese room, doubling back in reverse chronological order through Flemish rooms, from Bruegel (I’ve long been a sucker for this one)

Pieter Bruegel, The Harvesters, 1565

to van Eyck.

Jan Eyck and assistant, The Crucifixion and The Last Judgment, ca. 1390-1441

Not the best photos. Sorry about that. You can do better at the Met website.

With that we headed down, picked up our belongings in the coatroom, returned to the hotel, closed our bags, checked out, and met my sister and brother-in-law in the lobby for lunch next door, bringing our New York trip to a close.

Categories: Museums, Travel

Met Museum Stroll

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

We’ve been back from New York nine days, since which I’ve been to Chicago and back. Before the NY trip fades, I want to describe our brief outing to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on our final morning.

Once done packing, we had a couple of free hours before we were to meet my sister and brother-in-law for lunch at Cafe Boulud (which I described here), from which we would head to JFK. Off to the Met we walked. Here’s what we saw:

1. Bernini: Sculpting in Clay. From the website:

To visualize lifesize or colossal marbles, the great Roman Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) began by making small, spirited clay models. Fired as terracotta, these studies and related drawings preserve the first traces of the thought process that evolved into some of the most famous statuary in the city, including the fountains in the Piazza Navona and the angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo. This exhibition assembles for the first time some fifty of these bozzetti and modelli, as well as thirty chalk or pen sketches alongside three small-scale bronzes and a marble group. Through connoisseurship and a comprehensive campaign of scientific examination, the selection of models addresses the issue of what separates the hand of the master from the production of his large workshop.

Or, from Karen Wilkin’s review in today’s WSJ:

The stellar exhibition “Bernini: Sculpting in Clay,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers an intimate view of this most public of Counter-Reformation artists, making us privy to the studies that preceded the celebrated monuments executed by the master and his busy workshop. It’s like watching Bernini think, and it makes him seem as present and vital as he must have seemed to his colleagues and rivals in 17th-century Rome, all of them undoubtedly frustrated at his getting all the best commissions but surely awed by his talent.

Spend some time with the works elegantly installed in the Met’s Lehman Wing and you understand just why Bernini was so often the first choice of popes, cardinals, the nobility and, though the project ended badly, Louis XIV.

I didn’t give this exhibition the time it deserved. Mostly, as we wandered around, I realized that I needed to get back to Rome to spend more time wandering the squares so that I could see the works for which these studies were made. Some photographs helped.

2. To get from the Lehman wing, which housed the Bernini show, up a floor and over to the Asian wing, we passed Medieval European works, including a case of extraordinary northern European Christian objects from the 12th century or so. And this, Lorenzo Monaco’s “Intercession of Christ and the Virgin,” from Santa Maria del Fiori cathedral in Florence, painted before 1402.

3. Colors of the Universe: Chinese Hardstone Carvings. From the website:

The stone carvings of the Qing period can be grouped in three categories: personal adornments such as rings, bracelets, and pendants; articles for daily use (mainly in the scholar’s studio) such as brush holders, water pots, and seals; and display pieces such as copies of antiques, miniature mountains, and animal and human figures, the latter being the largest of the group. The carvings can also be classified by their decorative style: archaic or classical, meaning their shapes were derived from ancient ritual vessels; “Western,” which bore the influence of contemporary Mughal art from northern India; and new or modern, meaning novel shapes and designs created during the Qing dynasty.

This is a small show, occupying just one room in the East Asian decorative arts galleries on the third-floor annex in the Asian wing. Viewing all the pieces didn’t take long. Some are astonishing. Here’s one:

Dongfang Shuo Stealing the Peach of Longevity, Qing dynasty, amber

4. Buddhism Along the Silk Road: 5th-8th Centuries. Another single-room show in another third-floor annex of the Asian wing. From the website:

Drawing together objects from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the western reaches of Central Asia—regions connected in the sixth century A.D. through trade, military conquest, and the diffusion of Buddhism—the exhibition illuminates a remarkable moment of artistic exchange. At the roots of this transnational connection is the empire established the end of the fifth century by the Huns (Hunas or Hephthalites) that extended from Afghanistan to the northern plains of India. Although this political system soon disintegrated into chaos, over the next century trade routes connecting India to the western reaches of the Central Asian Silk Road continued to link these distant communities, facilitating ideological exchange and financing the production of Buddhist imagery of great artistic sophistication.

A representative piece:

Seated Buddha Flanked by Bodhisattvas, 7th–8th century, Pakistan (Swat Valley), marble

5. Chinese pottery. Some pieces along the walls on the balcony above the great court as we walked south along the 5th Avenue side of the museum from the Asian wing to the Mesopotamian rooms.

6. Assyrian art and the Assyrian royal court — the Assyrian palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud in northern Mesopotamia. We spent some time in this room. Nothing new — part of the permanent collection. But still wonderful. Here’s a description:

The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery for Assyrian Art has been arranged to evoke the main audience hall of the ninth-century B.C. Assyrian palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud in northern Mesopotamia.

The reliefs that line the walls come from various rooms in the palace, and were excavated during the mid-nineteenth century in one of the earliest archaeological expeditions to the Near East. Guarded by a colossal winged, human-headed lion and bull, wearing the horns of divinity, the reliefs depict the king performing a ritual, surrounded by attendants and supernatural creatures facing stylized trees. The famous Standard Inscription of Ashurnasirpal, which records his achievements, runs across each relief panel. It is written in cuneiform, the script used for the Akkadian language then in wide usage throughout the Near East.

7. European paintings. To finish, we made a short loop within the European painting collection: from late Medieval Italian paintings through early Renaissance to the Titian-Tintoretto-Veronese room, doubling back in reverse chronological order through Flemish rooms, from Bruegel (I’ve long been a bit of a sucker for this one)

Pieter Bruegel, The Harvesters, 1565

to van Eyck.

Jan Eyck and assistant, The Crucifixion and The Last Judgment, ca. 1390-1441

Not the best photos. Sorry about that. You can do better at the Met website.

With that we headed down, picked up our belongings in the coatroom, returned to the hotel, closed our bags, checked out, and met my sister and brother-in-law in the lobby for lunch next door, bringing our New York trip to a close.

Categories: Museums, Travel

Seattle Art Museum: Elles Pompidou

October 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Venice Painting 82, Marthe Wéry, 1982. Oil on canvas, 58-piece installation.

A new exhibition opened at the Seattle Art Museum this week: Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris. On Tuesday evening, Gail and I attended the opening celebration.

Here is the description of the show offered by Marisa Sánchez, the museum’s associate curator for modern and contemporary art:

Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris is a landmark exhibition of more than 130 works of art made by 75 women artists from 1907 to 2007. Organized by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, home to the Musée National d’Art Moderne—the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe—this exhibition is an unforgettable visual experience that will challenge visitors’ assumptions about art of the past century. This survey of daring painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, video and installation by pioneering women artists offers a fresh perspective on a history of modern and contemporary art. With humor, disdain, sensuality and ambiguity, these women represent the major movements in modern art—from abstraction to contemporary concerns.

Artists include Sonia Delaunay, Frida Kahlo, Dora Maar, Diane Arbus, Marina Abramovic, Louise Bourgeois, Atsuko Tanaka, Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle, Hannah Wilke, Nan Goldin and Tania Bruguera, among others.

An exhilarating exhibition that has already become a milestone in the history of exhibitions, Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris will excite the casual viewer as much as the hardboiled expert.

And here’s a link to the Centre Pompidou English-language website.

The museum has also reinstalled the permanent galleries to create a parallel show, Elles:SAM.

To expand on the Elles: Pompidou exhibition, SAM is also mounting Elles: SAM—Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists. This special exhibition of works by some 30 women artists is the first complete reconsideration of the Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries since the opening of the downtown museum in 2007. Elles: SAM at SAM Downtown will bring together exceptional loans and stunning treasures from SAM’s collection (including works never seen in the Northwest) and highlight some of the inspired, and hard-fought, achievements of 20th and 21st century women artists.

SAM is taking our celebration of women artists even further by featuring works by women at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Park, and SAM Gallery as well.

The celebration followed the typical format, though with a later start time than usual, as a result of which we didn’t spend as much time seeing the art as we would have liked.

We arrived at 7:15, in time for the cocktail hour outside the museum’s auditorium. We took our seats at 7:45, the nominal program start time, but things didn’t get underway until just before 8:00. The program concluded at 8:45, by which time I was sufficiently tired that going home was an attractive option. We had to see some of the art, though, so up we went, three floors, to the temporary exhibition space and Elles: Pompidou, passing Elles: SAM along the way.

We hardly did the exhibition justice, so I won’t even try to offer any impressions just yet. We’ll go back, perhaps once for a curator-led tour and another time on our own. In the meantime, have a look at one piece, by Belgian painter Marthe Wéry, above and below.

After our brief time with the exhibition, we came down and sampled the food before heading out. Carrots and green beans, a polenta cake, and a bite of salmon on a skewer. I have to say, that polenta cake was amazing. Worth the drive downtown all by itself. I resisted taking more.

As for the program, usually there’s an introduction by the museum board chair or president, remarks by a dignitary or two, then the main feature: an overview of the exhibition by one of the curators. The format of this one was a little different, and longer.

Leading off was board chair Charlie Wright, who acknowledged donors and sponsors. He has a light touch, does it well, making it even a little entertaining. Next up was the museum’s new director, Kimerly Rorschach, making a special appearance before her official start on November 5. More thank yous. Then, François Delattre, the French ambassador to the US, in from Washington to tell us about the special relationship between our museum and the Pompidou Center, and implicitly the US and France. He made reference to the recent SAM Picasso and Gauguin exhibitions, which led into a little joke about his choosing to pronounce their names the French way — repeating his pronunciation of Gauguin and contrasting it with his imagined English pronunciation of the name. Charlie Wright returned and did him one better, offering more plausible English (mis)-pronunciations of Gauguin. They were having a good time.

Next up, Alain Seban, the president of Centre Pompidou. More thank yous. Then Alfred Pacquemant, the director of the Musée National d’Art Moderne within the center, and still more expressions of appreciation.

Finally, on came the curators: Cécile Debray, the curator of modern collections at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, and the aforementioned Marisa Sánchez of SAM. This is what we were waiting for. After introductions and expressions of gratitude, Marisa explained that she would interview Cécile, which she proceeded to do, asking about the history of the original exhibition at Centre Pompidou, the reaction of other curators to the idea, and so on.

The celebration attracted quite a crowd. Those who chose to skip the program got first crack at the exhibitions and the polenta cakes. Perhaps that should have been our strategy. But then we would have missed the Gauguin joke.

We’ll return.

Categories: Art, Museums

Haub Collection of Western Art

July 7, 2012 1 comment

Departure of an Indian War Party, Albert Bierstadt, oil on board

[Tacoma Art Museum, Promised Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub]

I learned some exciting local arts news from the Wall Street Journal today. German supermarket billionaire Erivan “Mr. Haub and his wife, Helga, are giving the bulk of their collection of Western art to the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington state. The couple is also funding most of a $15 million project to add a lobby and a museum wing to display it all.”

The article goes on to explain:

The 280 pieces in the gift include works by major Western artists Thomas Moran, Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. Collectively, the works chronicle the Western sweep of Manifest Destiny—from portraits of Native American chiefs to cowboys astride horses to sun-drenched vistas.

Many of the works are by 19th-century European painters who fell hard for the American West, whether or not they ever actually visited the region. The terrain they conjured on canvas is largely grand and unspoiled. The gem is “Green River, Wyoming,” by Moran, a self-taught painter from England who later crisscrossed the West to paint his epic landscapes. Moran’s 1907 scene shows a band of Indians riding toward the river as terracotta-colored rocks loom on the opposite bank.

I looked online in the Tacoma News Tribune to see if I could learn more, and they too have an article, which says the official announcement will be made on Monday.

Most of the new 15,000-square-foot wing and all of the 280-piece art collection come courtesy of Erivan Haub and his wife Helga, who own property here. They amassed the collection over 25 years.

[snip]

The Haub collection is a who’s who of Western art: Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, John Clymer, and Tom Lovell as well as contemporary artists such as Bill Schenck. It contains both paintings and sculptures. The new wing will display anywhere from 100 to 150 pieces at a time, Hushka said.

“This is definitely one of the finest Western art collections in private hands,” [Curator Rock] Hushka said. Only the Denver Art Museum with its extensive collections of Native American art and Western painting and photography has a substantially greater collection.

We haven’t been to the Tacoma Art Museum in many years. Our loss, since they always seem to have interesting exhibitions. We’ll have to get down there soon. And again, of course, once the new wing opens.

Categories: Art, Museums

Australian Aboriginal Art, 2

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Waarlla, Billy Thomas, 1998, Natural pigments on canvas

A month ago, Gail and I attended the opening of Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection at the Seattle Art Museum. I wrote about the exhibition at the time, quoting from the website:

With more than 100 works created from 1970 through 2009, the exhibition showcases what has been called the artistic renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.

And:

Welcome to visions of the long haul and big picture of our existence on Earth. Finally, after over 50,000 years of making art, we are able to see what the oldest continuous culture on the planet has in mind. Isn’t it about time? This art takes us into immense deserts and shimmering billabongs, into night skies and underground.

It is an aesthetic pleasure unlike any other. Utilizing contemporary mediums, these artists adapt visual languages that evolved over centuries. What may look abstract is full of symbols and stories that take on common human dilemmas—greed, desire, the search for nourishment, and punishment of deceit. Most often, this art offers veneration of the lands that are in their care and the founding ancestors who continue to provide direction.

I wrote that “we didn’t go through the galleries in any systematic way or read the signs. We simply got an overview, examining a few pieces that we especially liked, and happily anticipated an extended return visit.” When offered the opportunity to join curator Pam McClusky for a tour, we accepted.

Yes, this is the same Pam McClusky whose tour of the Central Asian ikat exhibition at the Seattle Asian Art Museum we went on just a week earlier. She’s been busy, serving as co-curator of the Gauguin show at SAM a few months ago, the ikat show at SAAM, and the aboriginal show, each overlapping with one of the others. We’ve been dutiful followers, hearing her speak at all three openings, visiting the Gauguin show before regular opening hours as she led a high school group through the space, and most recently taking these tours with her.

At the outset of the aboriginal tour, I followed Pam’s narrative closely, as we spent 35 minutes in just the first three rooms. She provided valuable background on aboriginal art, specific artists, their paintings, and what the paintings represented. I realized, as somehow I had failed to on opening night, that many of the paintings were dream representations. This is hardly news. It’s prominently highlighted on the exhibition website:

The Dreaming encompasses the cosmologies and belief systems of Aboriginal societies, and it also provides the great themes of their art.

Regarding the painting at the top of the post, we learn from the exhibition website that

Billy Thomas paints a warning sign filled with impasto circles about Waarlla. He calls it a very significant sacred place where rockholes are abundant and serve as burial or Dreaming sites. It is set apart from the country which he says is “flat like an airport” and when big rains come, they fill the rockholes with fresh water. If you are traveling in this area, however, he warns that you should go “right around” this convergence of rockholes.

And then there’s this example,

Wati Kutjarra (Two Brothers Dreaming), Tjumpo Tjapanangka, 2004, Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

[Susan Cole]

about which the website tells us:

Two brothers created land forms and models of behavior that appear in many narratives of the Western Desert. In this painting, they have created a vast salt-encrusted lake known as Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay). Tjumpo Tjapanangka reminds us of their presence by gently inserting two vertical lines at the top and bottom to indicate where the brothers camped. Across the middle is a white line where they built a protective windbreak. His formal symmetry reflects the ordered nature of ancestral creation. Known for walking vast distances himself, the artist’s work is committed to his custodianship of these epics and the sites that he grew up in.

Pam didn’t actually discuss these two paintings. I include them because they are available on the website, and because they give a sense of what we learned. What they don’t do is represent the work of aboriginal women, on which Pam focused in the first rooms.

As striking as the art is and as wonderful as Pam is, about halfway through I began to lose my focus. I don’t know what my problem was. The format? By which I mean, here are twenty or twenty-five of us (the numbers would continually shift, with uninvited interlopers joining for a room or two) walking from room to room, and time and again I was forced to squeeze past tour members who first entered a room and planted themselves just past the doorway because that’s where Pam stopped, ending up at the back as a result, only to find myself in front of the next painting on Pam’s itinerary, requiring a circling maneuver to get out of the way. Standing and more standing and more standing, staring at those who grabbed a free bench and wondering whether to join them. Glancing at the painting at hand while Pam talked about the one twenty feet away, wondering whether to go off and see more of the exhibition without guidance.

Before I knew it, my mind was elsewhere. At one point I was thinking through a revision to a book I’m working on, looking forward to getting to the office to carry it out, taking a peek ahead to see how many more rooms there were, estimating how long we might spend in each.

Maybe a half hour overview from Pam would have been sufficient, followed by touring on our own. An extended return visit is still in order.

Categories: Art, Museums

Conservation Photography

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment

The 2012 International Conservation Photography Awards exhibit had its members opening last night at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Regarding the awards themselves, the ICPA website explains:

Known for his passionate advocacy of the environment, nature photographer Art Wolfe created a conservation-themed photo contest in 1997 as “an event for the advancement of photography as a unique medium capable of bringing awareness and preservation to our environment through art.”

The 2012 International Conservation Photography Awards is a continuation of Art Wolfe’s vision and has become a biennial (every two years) international event.

Gail and I arrived early, walked through the exhibit, then joined our friend Kai at the Flair Taco food truck — parked outside the museum by special arrangement for the convenience of attendees — where we obtained an excellent light dinner. We finished eating in time to return to the lobby for the special program, with remarks by museum director Julie Stein and ICP director Chris Gorley. Some 20 award recipients were on hand for the evening and introduced themselves. Many were local; some were from a little farther away, such as British Columbia, Calfornia, Calgary; one came from Kenya.

I wouldn’t be a good judge. All the photographs looked great to me, from the two distinguished award winners to the honorable mentions. Show me a close-up of an animal, eyes aglow, and I’ll be happy. Such as the arctic loon with enormous head that was first place in my book, though it was in fact just honorably mentioned. (It’s in this slideshow.) Or the snowy owl shot by great bird photographer Paul Bannick, which in fact did win one of the two overall show awards. (You can see it here along with the other distinguished award winner, Stefano Pesarelli’s flamingos.)

By all means enjoy the on-line slideshows for the different award categories But better yet, if you’re in the area, head to the Burke and see the stunning prints. You have until November 25.

Categories: Museums

Central Asian Ikats, 2

June 27, 2012 Leave a comment

In March, I wrote about the exhibition Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats, whose opening we had just attended at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. (SAAM, housed in the original art deco home of the Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park, is now one of three SAM sites.) I quoted from Curator Pam McClusky’s description of the show:

Exuberant clothes were a common sight in the Oasis cities of Central Asia. During the 19th century, patrons wore rich colors and mysterious designs on a daily basis. Their encouragement led to a flourishing use of ikat, a labor intensive process that requires many stages and layers of experience to complete. Positioned as a trading center where goods and people flowed in from India, China, Iran and Russia, Central Asia fostered an aesthetic that made the most of overlapping influences.

This exhibition will recreate a sense of walking into a crowd of cosmopolitan clients who wear robes of distinctive boldness. As an English visitor (William Eleroy Curtis) wrote in 1911: “Everybody wears a coat like a rainbow… No matter how humble or hungry a man may be, and even if he has but a single garment, it is made of the most brilliantly colored material he can find.” Over 40 robes will provide a vision of the Oasis crowd. Some feature sharp graphic designs of rigorous abstraction, but others favor delicate harmonies with flowing floral motifs. Scorpions and Arabic script, paisleys and European florals, jeweled tassels and cypress trees swirl together in a design pool that reflects Oasis life.

The exhibition was one impetus for my new-found interest in things Central Asian. Soon I was reading Colin Thubron’s Shadow of the Silk Road and dreaming of a Central Asia trip sponsored by the Met that includes stops in Samarkand and Bukhara.

We may not make it there, but last Thursday we did get back to SAAM, for a walk-through of the exhibition with Pam McClusky. It was a quiet morning. There were about 18 of us in the group, and only the occasional additional viewer passing through the galleries. Pam started us with a map showing Central Asia, focusing on Samarkand and Bukhara. She also explained her idea of interspersing amongst the ikats a series of color photographs taken around 1900 by a pioneer photographer whose name I don’t remember. He created the color images by taking each shot with three filters and combining the results. One sees men walking the streets in ikats not unlike the ones exhibited, plus the region’s grand architecture, albeit in a decayed state.

We learned about the functional role of ikats (good for wearing while riding horses), the evolution of design (degenerating with the arrival of machine methods), the silk- and dye-making processes (and the disastrous arrival of cotton). At the end of a sequence of small rooms, we arrived in a large hall, with perhaps twenty ikats in a central display that one can circumscribe. Pam explained that it is designed to represent the colorful scene one might come upon at a Central Asian market, men standing in twos and threes in their colorful robes, no two alike. On the walls are more robes and photographs, including dramatic, large-scale photos of modern-day Samarkand and Bukhara. In a final room, two short films by a young Kazakh filmmaker play in alternation. We half-watched one while Pam explained what we were seeing and took questions. Then we were off.

The exhibition originated at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., the pieces all drawn from their Megalli Collection, which consists of nearly 200 nineteenth-century ikats that Murad Megalli collected and donated. The Textile Museum’s website for the exhibition has a few photos, a video (the one at the top), and some additional information. See also Rebeka Schiller’s blog post about the exhibit, at the least so you can click on the slideshow that beautifully renders five of the ikats.

Catalog

By chance, I happened to see a one-paragraph fashion note in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal about designer Joseph Altuzarra’s latest collection, featuring a Rasta belt inspired by Bob Marley and an ikat linen dress. This led me to Altuzarra’s website, which currently displays his resort collection (I’m hoping this is a permalink) with ikat-themed dresses and an amazing pair of ikat-slacks, below. Everything shows up better in the website slideshow.

I wouldn’t mind a jacket with that design.

Categories: Art, Museums

Australian Aboriginal Art

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Bush Hen Dreaming, Sandhill Country, Abie Loy Kamerre, 2004, synthetic polymer paint on canvas

[Seattle Art Museum website]

A new show opened today at the Seattle Art Museum, titled Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection. Here is the short description of the show.

With more than 100 works created from 1970 through 2009, the exhibition showcases what has been called the artistic renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.

More from the website:

When the British began settling the continent some 230 years ago, Aboriginal people were regarded as among the most miserable societies, possessing little in the way of culture. Without framed paintings or sculptures on pedestals (the Euro-pean archetypes of art), they were considered a people with no art at all. In fact, because most Aboriginal art was being made for the restricted context of ceremony, it was intentionally hidden from public view. During the last one hundred years, Aboriginal artists have chosen to change that. While they continue to make art for ceremonies that are part of the longest continuing tradition of art known to humanity, they now also create art that is disseminated to an international audience.

And:

Welcome to visions of the long haul and big picture of our existence on Earth. Finally, after over 50,000 years of making art, we are able to see what the oldest continuous culture on the planet has in mind. Isn’t it about time? This art takes us into immense deserts and shimmering billabongs, into night skies and underground.

It is an aesthetic pleasure unlike any other. Utilizing contemporary mediums, these artists adapt visual languages that evolved over centuries. What may look abstract is full of symbols and stories that take on common human dilemmas—greed, desire, the search for nourishment, and punishment of deceit. Most often, this art offers veneration of the lands that are in their care and the founding ancestors who continue to provide direction.

The collection from which the exhibition is drawn is a promised gift to SAM from Margaret Levi and Bob Kaplan, a local couple who have been building it over the last two decades. As it turns out, I know Margaret, a colleague at the university and political scientist of great distinction. Until the opening celebration we attended last night, though, I failed to appreciate the size and scope of the collection.

We arrived in the middle of the half-hour reception, tried a couple of hors d’oeuvres, then went into the auditorium to await the start of the formal program. Eventually, a museum trustee made welcoming remarks and thanked the list of sponsors, then introduced Margaret and Bob, each of whom said a few words about how they built the collection and why. Next up was Kim Beazley, the Australian ambassador to the US, in from DC. Whoever wrote his remarks did an excellent job. He placed the show in the context of aboriginal culture, emphasizing (as in the quoted passage above) the 50,000-year-long development of that culture, its depth, its uniqueness, its importance. We then were the beneficiaries of a superb slideshow-lecture by Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of Art of Africa and Oceania. Having heard three of her presentations in the past four months, for three different exhibition openings, I can say that she’s quite gifted at this.

Prepped for the art we were to see, we then proceeded to the galleries three floors up in a procession led by Joe Seymour, a local Native American. He chanted and hit a drum as we ascended the stairs and escalators. Then we gathered around at the exhibition entrance, waiting for everyone to arrive, after which he explained the meaning of and then sang a Native song. Ambassador Beazley officially opened the exhibition before placing us in the hands of Djambawa Marawili, an aboriginal Australian. He led us through the galleries in yet another procession, banging two sticks together and singing, accompanied by two young aboriginal men and an older aboriginal woman.

Once Marawili had made a loop, he stood in the opening gallery with his companions and sang more songs, with one of the young men playing a didgeridoo while the other man and the woman danced. After several minutes of this, he invited us to see the show, which we did.

It was already late and the rooms were crowded. As a result, we didn’t go through the galleries in any systematic way or read the signs. We simply got an overview, examining a few pieces that we especially liked, and happily anticipated an extended return visit.

Here is the SAM exhibition website’s description of the painting shown at the top of this post:

Image and title seem to be at odds in this painting. Swirling lines provide no clue as to where the hen might be. However, the bush hen’s search for seeds, plums and tomatoes is imbedded in the memory of the artist and forms a source of inspiration. Both a glimpse of the dynamic movement of a creature trying to find fruit, and a record of the channels of sandhills, this landscape merges daily life with the eternal forces of the dreaming. “Dreaming” is a term that often stands for Aboriginal cosmologies that encompass the creation of the universe, and provide a source of ongoing spiritual nourishment.

And here’s another painting, with website description:

Untitled (05.013), 2004, Mick Jawalji, natural pigments on plywood

A subtle luminosity comes from Mick Jawalji’s unique combinations of ochres and resins. His application of pigments is washed and soaked into the wood, giving a sense of light as the sun hits the earth or the ancestral forces that infuse the land. The arcs and curves may denote people, windbreaks and symbolism of the desert. While Jawalji paints at Warmun, his traditional country lies some 400 miles away and he tends to work in isolation to evoke the desert in distinctive ways.

On the way out, we stopped in the lobby for some food: salmon skewers, garbanzo bean cakes, vegetables. Mini-desserts were being passed by the serving staff. I passed on the tiny cheesecake, but tried some other little cake.

We’ll be back, perhaps for one of the tours that Pam McClusky is sure to lead. (In three weeks, we will join her for a tour of the Central Asian ikat exhibition that I wrote about here in March.)

One more? Okay.

Wati Kutjara (Two Men Story), 2003, Spinifex Men’s Collaborative, synthetic polymer paint on canvas

Categories: Art, Museums