Boston 2017: Part 3

We awoke to our third and final day in Cambridge. For those of you keeping count, that is a different place each night. Our first night was in Boston, second in Westport, and third in Cambridge. And as luck would have it, we spent our first day in Cambridge and our final day in Boston!

We headed to the one of the finest museums in the country: the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Due to the generosity of our friend, we had passes to go and were able to bypass the incredible line outside to get in. What a place. We started in the brief exhibition of paintings by Renaissance Grandmaster Raphael. Very few of works ever make their way to America. While small, it did have some really exquisite pieces of his work along with some of his contemporaries. Here, his work outshined them all.

Our next stop was a gallery of musical instruments, which I adored. There was a piano with blue white Wedgewood decorations, crazily shaped horns, and a wooden case filled with glasses that you filled with water and played! Next to the gallery was a little exhibition about revivalist jewelry; different eras of history became fashionable in jewel form.

The main special exhibition was an interesting pairing of Matisse’s paintings with the objects he owned and featured in said paintings. It had gotten really good reviews. It was thought-provoking to see certain objects depicted in multiple paintings but many weren’t his most interesting works. They did have some wonderful paintings of wall hangings and Moroccan chairs etc. that were worthwhile. You really got to see his passion for color jump out. It ended with some drawings of robes he made for the Matisse Chapel in Vence, one of my all-time favorite chapels!

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We spent the next hour or so wandering the museum as our whims took us. We ended up in the American wing to see some gigantic photos of Washington. I personally fell in love with this portraitist; I had seen his work earlier in an exhibition about food at the art Institute. This painting of a young boy and his pet squirrel made me particularly happy.

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We also ended up in the section of American indigenous art (in the same wing as the other American art!). I loved that they had incorporated some contemporary Native American art into the gallery of Native American artifacts. I always love seeing the juxtaposition of tradition and interpretation. This piece by Stan Natchez, inspired directly by Picasso’s Guernica, was particularly striking.

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By popular demand, we headed to the impressionist wing to check out the Monet’s. I found another one of Degas’ ballerinas, one of my favorite sculptures. The Art Institute has one. And so did the Harvard Art Museums. Two on one trip!

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We ended our trip to the museum with a brief foray into the contemporary art wing where I got to see a lovely Kara Walker and a Guerilla Girls piece. Next time, we’ll have to spend more time here.

We had a final lunch of sushi at a nearby restaurant and then headed to the airport.

It was a good but exhausting trip. Next time, we might try to stay put in one place and see a little bit more of Boston itself.

That’s all!

NYC in June: Part 1

So after my adventures in NY and DC, I was back to NYC for a few days. This time, it was for a work conference where I was presenting a panel. The conference was situated in the heart of Time Square, which was a rather new experience for me. The hotel was part of the Time Square; part of the billboards that make up the insanity of the place were located on the hotel. When I got to the hotel and checked into my room, I discovered that I had a partial view of the Time Square. The amount of light that flowed into the room was fairly astonishing. But I would later grow rather fond of my view since I’ve learned that I like the place as long as I’m not in it. Staring down is kinda neat (as long as there are thick curtains for sleeping).

Since it was late at night, I grabbed a quick bite at a local pizza place. It’s funny how I had forgotten the concept of NY pizza in recent years. The fast food that I associated with NYC was shish kebab and other Middle Eastern meat dishes from kiosks outside. But pizza was ideal for my late night dinner. It was one slice with pepperoni and olives covered in a fine layer of grease. It was so big I had to scoop it up in one hand. Perfection.

The following day, I spent the lunch hour at the MOMA. I really wanted to check out the Yoko Ono Retrospective. I didn’t know a lot about her work and was curious. Also, not a lot of women artists have retrospectives so I wanted to ensure that I went. The backstory to the exhibition is that in 1971, Yoko Ono had an unofficial show at the MOMA. Per the MOMA, “At that time, Ono advertised her “one woman show,” titled Museum of Modern [F]art. However, when visitors arrived at the Museum there was little evidence of her work. According to a sign outside the entrance, Ono had released flies on the Museum grounds, and the public was invited to track them as they dispersed across the city.” (https://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/1544)

I fell in love with her work. I walked into the first room and there was a pedestal with a green apple onto of it. On the pedestal, there was a sign “Apple.” The apple will stay there was it rots. It’s taking Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain to a new level. There was footage from her famous performance piece where visitors were told they could cut off her clothing with a pair of scissors. What powerful and terrifying idea. The part of the video that I caught was when a man was cutting off her shirt as she shifted uncomfortably. It makes me think of Rebecca Wolfram’s work “We are capable people…” What are we capable of? This man was nonchalantly snipping away at her clothing. At the last moment, he snipped her bra straps so she sat there holding the cups of her bra up.

Apple

I really loved her Grapefruit piece. It’s a text with each page containing instructions, many of them impossible. They had 30 or 40 of the texts hanging up in a long line in the gallery. Absolutely astonishing. They also displayed 9 texts that were instructions for musical pieces for John Cage. I would have loved to have caught a performance of any one of them!

One Page of Grapefruit

There was also a piece with a black metal staircase. Visitors were invited to walk up the staircase, one at a time, to stare into the clouds. I had to wait a few minutes to go up there but it was neat. The staircase shook like crazy when I went up. I briefly stared through the glass ceiling into the sky (which was mostly clear or constant at the time). It was a breath of meditation.

Sky View from MOMA

I had only a short period of time to check out my old friends in the Modern galleries. I discovered that theMOMA had decided to keep Matisse’s cut out room on display, which made me super happy. The trip also reminded me that when Picasso was on, he was on. “The Three Musicians” is still one of my favorite paintings in the world. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is also a masterpiece. I tipped my hat at the Klmits, the Magrittes, and the Ernsts. I made a quick run through the comtempory galleries since I had learned that Kara Walker had a piece there. I’ve recently become fascinated with her work which largely employs silhouetted figures referencing race and gender. Her work took up an entire wall of the museum with these nightmarish/dream scenarios of silhouetted figures. They were also a piece by Doris Salcedo, who just had an incredible retrospective at the MCA. Her work deals a lot with political violence and memory. Her exhibition at the MCA was astonishing. This was a smaller version of her shoe piece that had people’s shoes set into the walls hidden behind fabric. These are the shoes that victims left behind. It reminds me of the piles of shoes that you’ll find at the Holocaust Museum.

Matisse Room

I feel that I spend a lot of time defending contemporary art to my friends and family. I will admit that I have an interest in really innovative and often cutting edge work. But I try to remind people that the artists we take for granted as masters, namely our beloved Impressionists, were once derided and insulted by the establishment. I do believe that there are an amazing number of artists doing incredible work now. Sure there is art that I don’t care for. But then again, there was a lot of art in every period that was not very good, though heralded as excellent. You have to move beyond your prejudices because you’ll find some really neat things in the contemporary art gallery. Maybe it’s just one piece that knocks your socks off. But given how hard it is to find a really great book/movie/musical piece, that’s not a bad ratio.

That’s all for now!

Macy’s Flower Show 2015

It’s that amazing time of year again. One of my favorite commercial events is going on: The Macy’s Flower show. I’ve talked about it last year but it bears mentioning again. For about two weeks in the spring, Macy’s puts together these incredible flower displays in their windows and the 9th floor. It’s a great tradition that was brought over from NY. Yes, I’ve said it. But the nice thing is that they have improved upon it by adding a magical flowering forest in the 9th floor of Macy’s.

Each year has a different theme, like Brazil and India. This year, they’ve taken the theme to a new level: art. There are sections for major art “movements” like the Renaissance, Impressionism, Fauvism, and even Pop Art. They each exemplify the art movement in really unique ways. For instance, the Renaissance section projects famous oil paintings onto a woven carpet of white blossoms. One gallery was a nod to Gustave Klimt with his highly decorative shapes on the walls and columns of the room. There was a nice tip of the hat to Piet Mondrian, though he might be spinning in his grave since his work tried to remove nature from art…

Mondrian...

Mondrian…

The Fauvism Room created an inspired 3D landscape. You look through a picture frame and it looks 2D. But when you start moving around, you realize the 3D aspect behind it. Amazing. There’s even a version of one of Matisse’s paintings filled in with appropriately colored flowers. Also, they have a section with amazing art glass that has to be Chihuly. Once again, the art glass seamlessly blends with the surrounding flowers and plants.

That's not a 2D painting

That’s not a 2D painting

Matisse + Flowers

Matisse + Flowers

My personal favorite was the room for Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry night. It’s simply the best reproduction of the painting. It’s a nice reminder of the potency of the over-exposed painting. Seriously, go for this alone. It’s magnificent.

Starry Night 3D

Starry Night 3D

They also had some fun moments riffing off still lifes. There was a bouquet of flowers next to a painting of the identical display of flowers. Or a display of flowers like a classic still life behind a glass panel. There’s even a fish tank (I’m not sure why).

Also I have to say that I haven’t had time to study the shop windows. What I’ve seen quickly looks amazing. I’ll be going back again.

I do have to say that I’m disappointed that they really only included Western Art. There didn’t seem to be anything referencing art outside the European and American traditions. Plus, I didn’t love the surrealist room. It’s my favorite art movement so I’m very picky. More Magritte references were needed.

However, those criticisms should not stop you from going. It’s only open until Easter Sunday so hurry by.

That’s all for now!

Day 12: France and England

On our first full day in Paris, I convinced my fiancé that we needed to go to the Musée de L’Orangerie. He’s a huge fan of Monet and had never been to this museum. We had gone to Musée D’Orsay the prior year. But I knew L’Orangerie was one of those museums that was super popular so we tried to get there when it opened. There was already a line. So I have now revised a prior rule about arriving early to museums especially in Paris. If you can, buy advance tickets, and arrive early! Ticketholders had a tinier line to wait in. Thankfully, it was only about a thirty minute wait (very lucky considering I’d seen three-hour waits there in the past).

It’s definitely well worth the wait. We walked into the first oval-shaped room with four giant canvases on each wall. Each canvas showed a lake/pond with lily pads and other flora at different times of day. They were so large that it felt like looking out of a window to the horizon. Absolutely stunning. It was quiet so you could appreciate their serene beauty. And then bonus! There was a second room with the same layout. It had been so long that I hadn’t remembered that fact. Again, each canvas was a different swirl and blend of light and colors. It was stunning and awe-inspiring. My fiance and I also tried to guess what times of day each painting attempted to represent. So many different ways of representing light!

Then another bonus! There were more paintings by other Impressionists downstairs! It was the private collection of Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume. The museum had some small miniature rooms to show how the collection would have been hung in their former owners’ home. In the collection, I didn’t love the collection of Renoirs. I usually adore him; I love all the paintings at the Art Institute. These seemed harried, rushed compared to his more considered brushstrokes I’ve seen in his other paintings. I was amused by pairing Picasso and Matisse across the same room. They had an immense rivalry (which I need to read more about) and hated each other (I think). But I was impressed by the Matisses. I don’t love Matisse but these paintings made me appreciate his colorful blend of patterns. I loved how he’d combine polka-dotted blankets with bright yellow striped walls with red and blue flowered couches, etc. Stunning.

They also had some nice paintings by Henri Rousseau. I’m really only familiar with his famous jungle scenes. He was the custom officer or toll collector who never left France but created these beautiful desert and jungle scenes that were very imaginative (albeit exorcised). This museum had very different paintings like domestic scenes and modern European life. I didn’t even know he made these other paintings. Always a nice discovery.

I discovered a new artist, a female artist named Marie Laurencin. It’s always exciting to learn of new female painters. She was a contemporary of Picasso and the others. She uses broad strokes in usual color patterns like teal, grays, and whites. Her work doesn’t have a lot of details. Her paintings have this dreamlike quality to them but I wouldn’t describe them as surreal. In this collection, her paintings tended to be about women.

Next we decided to go to the Mayan exhibition at the Musée du quai Branly. This museum was very new to me. It’s a museum near the Eiffel tower filled with Latin American, African, and Asian art. I’m not sure how its Asian collection differs from the Guimet, another museum of Asian art (with a fantastic collection on Cambodian sculpture). The ticket set up is a little odd though. We ended up in the wrong line and waited a lot longer than we needed to. We also ended up purchasing the wrong tickets (damn automated machines) but security was nice and let us go in. The tickets were the same price.

The exhibition was quite fantastic. I love Meso-American art; I had previously studied the Aztecs and to a lesser extent, the Incans. I don’t know a lot about the Mayans but I was keen to learn more. Their civilization went back earlier than the Aztecs. In comparison, the Aztecs were around for a very short period of time. But they both have created incredible works of art in stone and ceramics. There were some incredible turquoise mosaic masks.

Feathered snake

Feathered snake

Mask

Turquoise Mask

Pelican

Pelican?

 

One thing that I find amusing is that some of the stone carvings are deceptively tranquil. You’ll be looking at several figures with their magnificent headdresses and then realize they are practicing auto-sacrifice or ritually cutting themselves.

The exhibition also had two short films about the breaking of the Mayan code (in English!), which was really cool. One neat story was how a Russian solider named Yuri Knoroso in WWII ended up in a damaged and burnt library. While there, he happened upon a Mayan codex. He began to be obsessed with it and became a linguist behind the Iron Curtain in order to decipher it. I love the sheer chance of the whole thing! It was interesting to see how they pieced out the glyphs, moving back and forth in arguments that they were pictographs to syllabaries. I seem to recall that it was a little bit of both.

After we finished at the museum, we wandered around the base of the Eiffel tower. Again, it had been many years since I had been in this area. The lines for the Eiffel tower were impressive, even the one for the stairs! But it was fun to stare up into this symbol of Paris and France. Totally Steampunk. 🙂

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

That’s all for now! Next, we’ll talk about the Winter Circus and the Musée de Luxembourg.

 

 

 

Part 2: New York, New York

In addition to “Death Becomes Her”, I was keen to see “Matisse Cut Outs” at the MOMA. I had read a little about the exhibition in the Chicago Tribune. There was some talk of recreating some rooms that he had made using his cut out technique. That was particularly exciting for me. I always like seeing these larger creations.

I was also pleased with this exhibition. I learned that Matisse began using this technique in the last decade of his life. He’d use a variety of scissors to create various shapes from paper. He began with smaller compositions but later graduated to stained glass windows, large wall installations, and even a dining room. I think I like his cut outs more than his actual paintings. I love his use of colors and form. There were some lovely tableaus of the sea and the sky; the background color was beige and all shapes were all white. I don’t usually like beige but this worked for me. Also, I thought it kinda looked like a bird’s eye view of both the ocean and the sky. Looking straight down, you saw birds flying with the fish.
This era also coincided with one of my favorite works ever. Matisse designed a Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, France. It’s this beautiful white walled chapel with bright blue, green, and yellow stained glass windows. It’s pitch perfect. The exhibition had some earlier mockups for the stained glass before he settled on the amazing floral yellow, blue and green windows. There was also a mock up of stained glass window for Christmas (I think) and the actual completed stained glass statue. I was in heaven.
There was also a room of his blue cut outs. It showed a series of studies of a nude in blue that he had taken weeks to complete. Apparently, he drove one of his assistants crazy working on these so methodically. The result was pretty neat. There was also this incredible cut out of a woman with an amphora on her head.
But the piece de la resistance was the dining room called “The Swimming Pool.” One day Matisse demanded to see divers so they drove out to his favorite pool in Cannes. Apparently, the sun was too much so they returned. Upon arrival, he decided to make his own pool. He asked the Hotel to ring the dining room with white paper. He then made his own divers and animals out of blue and white paper. It was recently restored and put up in the exhibition. It’s remarkable. I love how one side of it has this wonderful gradation. The blue is used for the swimmer’s bodies and gradually the blue becomes the negative space and the white becomes the bodies.  There were some other amazing pieces covering giant walls. They were invariably colorful scenes usually depicting Matisse’s stylized plants. Absolutely stunning.
The rest of the MOMA was fantastic as always. I enjoyed wandering the early 20th century galleries to check out old friends. I saw “The Three Musicians” by Picasso; it’s one of my top favorite pantings. I’m not even a huge fan of Picasso; I sometimes feel inundated with his work. But this work is his masterpiece. Somehow he aptly captured the mood and visual cues of jazz. And then there is the room of the Brancusi sculptures. Five different sculptures made from different materials soar into space. Each a masterpiece in their own right but all five together makes it sublime.
They also moved some art around since we were last here in May. They brought out some lovely Klimts, which was neat. One is a tragic painting of a pregnant woman holding a skull to her body. I learned that images of pregnant women are rare in Western art history. This painting speaks of some tragedy. There was also a painting of Adele Bloch Bauer. It’s not the famous one; it’s a different one of the same person. This painting had also been stolen by the Nazis and had to be won back by the descendants. Eventually it got sold to the MOMA. Hmm.
Again, it was a good day at the MOMA.
That’s all for now!