Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

2017 Photographs: Marsden Hartley at the Met Breuer

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

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“Marsden Harley’s Maine” exhibition at Met Breuer, June 15, 2017 at 2:19:22 PM

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2017 Photographs: When a Self-Portrait Appropriates Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing”

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

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The 2017 Robert Rauschenberg restrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends) included a notorious early work entitled Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953). As explained in information supplied on the museum wall, Rauschenberg’s idea was to test “whether a drawing could be created out of erasing.”

Here are my initial photos of the piece and related wall text.

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Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, MOMA, June 15, 2017, 3:37:08 PM

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As I waited to get a closer, one-on-one encounter with the picture itself, I began to see why capturing a clean shot of the erasing — a clean shot at nothing — was impossible. The frame’s glazing reflected objects elsewhere in the room, such as a display case in the middle of the gallery, a red EXIT sign on the opposite wall, and visitors as they came and went. Viewers who halted directly in front of the drawing were met with reflections of themselves. They became part of the artwork. This phenomenon, while probably not in Rauschenberg’s plan for this particular piece, is satisfyingly consistent with the participatory element of his artistic practice.*

So I like to think Rauschenberg would have welcomed me occupying his picture, briefly, as a ghost-like silhouette:

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Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, MOMA, June 15, 2017 at 3:38:30 PM

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* For example, Rauschenberg’s 1951 White Paintings and their subsequent incarnations were meant to be receptive surfaces registering light and shadow effects generated within their surrounding space — including shadows of viewers. Numerous times the artist included mirrors and other reflective materials in his Combines, Spreads, and other series, to the same end.

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The Persistence of Edward Hopper’s Vision

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

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The best of Edward Hopper’s art never seems dated. While details in each of his paintings and works on paper may disclose when and where it was created, the essence of what Hopper captured — a psychological and emotional truth — is timeless and everywhere. It’s as if Hopper searched for persons and places and then used only poses, tableaux or scenes he knew were bound to recur. Whatever the source of his insight, his perspicacity in this regard is is why his work continues to speak to us today.

Hopper’s insight extended not just to men and women, but to the physical environment as well.  The American man-made structures he was attracted to — especially those of the mutating city — remain in form and mood pretty much the same today.

If you seek evidence of this, there’s an easy source at hand.

Call up Google Maps. In the search box enter the name of an American city of your choice. Zoom in to reveal enough of the city’s oldest urban street grid to allow you to invoke the Street View function found in the lower right corner of your screen. Drag and drop the yellow little man icon down upon a street corner. Proceed to “walk” through the neighborhood with a Hopper-inspired intent and gaze.

In the homely example below, I chose to visit Pittsburgh and explore a transitioning residential block. I halted when I came upon a lonely house.

The same as I imagine Hopper did, though in a difference place and time.

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Abandoned House at Webster Ave. and Perry St., Pittsburgh, PA, Jan. 2016 (source: Google Street View)

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Edward Hopper, The Lonely House, 1923, etching, 8 x 10 inches

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2017 Photographs: At the Phillips Collection

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Over the days ahead I want to post a handful of photographs from 2017 I’m especially happy with.

This first one was taken on the afternoon of January 6, 2017, at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, during the exhibition, “People on the Move: Beauty and Struggle in Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series

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The central painting on the wall, in front of which a trio of kids have stopped to look and discuss, is Panel no. 58 out of a total of 60 panels in the complete Migration Series. Lawrence’s caption to it is: “In the North the African American had more educational opportunities.”

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Jacob Lawrence, Migration Series, Panel no. 58, 1940-41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy

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Let’s Face It

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Recently in the Glover Park neighborhood of Washington, DC, two new faces appeared.

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The Tobacco Barns of Calvert County – No. 1

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

If you travel the country roads of southern Maryland’s Calvert County, you are sure to come upon many tobacco barns. They are remnants of a once thriving tobacco-growing industry. While a few barns survive in good condition, most are falling victim to disrepair and the ruinous forces of nature.

I’m intrigued by these large wooden structures. There is beauty in them. Character, too. Large and simple in form, they command the landscape with a presence somehow both rustic and majestic.

From time-to-time I plan to post photos of favorite examples.

First up:  A tobacco barn located in northern Calvert County at the meeting of Vanous Road and Jewell Road, photographed April 8, 2017, shortly before sunset. The second photograph catches the rising moon, in its waxing gibbous phase, trying to touch the apex of the barn’s western facade.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

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WONDER at the Renwick Gallery

Monday, September 5th, 2016

The 2015 reopening of the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, was celebrated with an exhibition featuring the work of nine contemporary artists. Five women and four men created site-specific installations that occupied and transformed the museum’s refurbished gallery spaces. Over a period of 8 months, visitors found themselves immersed in wonders indeed. Official photographs of the event can seen at the online gallery, here.  Below are photos of three of the nine rooms that I took during my visit in April, 2016. Descriptions of the artists’ works quoted below are borrowed from the Renwick Gallery’s wall texts, found here.

 

Maya Lin, Folding the Chesapeake (installation, 2015)

“Growing up in Ohio in the 1960s, Lin watched her father participate in the fledgling studio glass movement then gathering steam in nearby Toledo. The marbles used in this installation are the same industrial fiberglass product Henry Huan Lin and other glass-blowing pioneers experimented with then, which were soon abandoned by artists as technical knowledge matured. Folding the Chesapeake marks their first use by Maya Lin and a new chapter in her decades-long investigation of natural wonders. By shaping rivers, fields, canyons, and mountains within the museum, Lin shifts our attention to their outdoor counterparts, sharpening our focus on the need for their conservation.”
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Gabriel Dawe, Plexus A1 (installation, 2015)

“Dawe’s architecturally scaled weavings are often mistaken for fleeting rays of light. It is an appropriate trick of the eye, as the artist was inspired to use thread in this fashion by memories of the skies above Mexico City and East Texas, his childhood and current homes, respectively. The material and vivid colors also recall the embroideries everywhere in production during Dawe’s upbringing.”

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Tara Donovan, Untitled , 2014, © Tara Donovan, courtesy of Pace Gallery

“Employing mundane materials such as toothpicks, straws, Styrofoam cups, scotch tape, and index cards, Donovan gathers up the things we think we know, transforming the familiar into the unrecognizable through overwhelming accumulation. The resulting enigmatic landscapes force us to wonder just what it is we are looking at and how to respond. The mystery, and the potential for any material in her hands to capture it, prompts us to pay better attention to our surroundings, permitting the everyday to catch us up again.”

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Paintings from the defunct Corcoran Gallery of Art integrated into National Gallery of Art Collection

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

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Earlier this evening while visiting the National Gallery of Art I saw how smartly the museum has integrated a few of the thousands of American works of art it acquired last year from the defunct Corcoran Gallery of Art (founded 1869, dissolved 2014).

For example, the pinnacle of the Corcoran’s collection of Hudson River School paintings, Niagara (1857) by Frederick Edwin Church (1826-1900), has been given pride of place in this room at the National Gallery of Art — where it has become the painting people invariably stop to admire:

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"Niagara" (1857) by Frederic Church, now at National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

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"Niagara" by Frederick Church, now at National Gallery of Art

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(For a memento of how the painting looked when it used to hang at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, click here.)

A strength of the Corcoran museum, and an element that in my personal experience over the years turned that institution into an enlightening museum of American history as well as a fine museum of American art, was its collection of genre paintings — depictions of everyday life in our nation. Here are four gems belonging to that category, newly huddled in a corner where they are adding vitality to visitors’ experience of the National Gallery of Art.

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Four American genre paintings, Corcoran/NGA Collection: RIchard Norris Brooke, William Sidney Mount, Richard Caton Woodville, Frank Blackwell Mayer

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The large canvas on the left is a picture I made certain to pay my respects to on dozens of visits (starting in the 1970s) to its former home. Titled A Pastoral Visit, it was painted in 1881 by Richard Norris Brooke (1847-1920). A powerful narrative executed with controlled sentimentality, the painting succeeds in a way that Norman Rockwell — our most beloved genre artist — all too often does not.

On the right side of the photo, the three other paintings that came to the NGA from the Corcoran share Brooke’s ambition and achievement. But these are scenes of more modest scale, with a tone unique to each artist. From left to right: The Tough Story–Scene in a Country Tavern (1837) by William Sidney Mount (1807-1868); Waiting for the Stage (1851) by Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855); and Leisure and Labor (1858) by Frank Blackwell Mayer (1827-1899), an early political commentary conveyed via posture and dress (while beautifully composed and painted, too).

Now I look forward to the NGA hanging on its walls additional, equally bold works from the Corcoran trove. Two suggestions, if I may: The Longshoreman’s Noon (1879) by John George Brown, and Nearing the Issue at the Cockpit (1879) by Horace Bonham.

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The White House: An Evening Tour during Christmas Season

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

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Just returned from an evening tour of the White House, now decorated for the Christmas season.

The entrance to the East Wing is guarded by stalwart Penguins — volunteers, one imagines, from Santa’s polar region.

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Penguins guard the West Wing entrance

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Once inside, your journey down a hallway turns magical under a canopy of paper snowflakes:

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White House hallway with paper snowflakes

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When you reach the White House proper, a succession of public rooms greets you. One of these is the Green Room, which displays a spectrum of American art, including paintings by John Marin and Jacob Lawrence (for a daytime photo of the Green Room, click here):

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The White House, Green Room

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The White House, Green Room, with paintings by John Marin and Jacob Lawrence

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Of the many Christmas trees on display, this one in the East Room is my candidate for best (neither the fellow in the lower left nor the one on the back wall expressed an opinion):

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The White House, East Room

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Visual Literacy – 3

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

The so-called War on Christmas may be a fiction, but there is no doubting that contemporary Americans, even those you would expect to know better, are much less familiar with Christian iconography than in the past. I previously posted an idle observation on this subject, here.

A new example came to my attention this week, in an auction catalog posted online by an auction house in Connecticut. In the listings for the sale there is an item labeled, “TOMAS PENNING (1905-1982) CARVED CROSS.” It’s accompanied by several photos and the following description:

“Carved slate, marked NR above figure, Dimensions: H 36″ x W 22.5″ Condition: good”

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Here’s one of the photos showing the segment above the figure:

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One can suppose the cataloguer mentioned that two letters, NR, appear above the figure for some reason beyond mere diligence (it’s standard cataloguing practice to indicate for the benefit of remote bidders who can’t examine the object in person, all of the marks, initials, dates and other inscriptions found on it). But why mention just the N and the R?  Did the cataloguer not see within the rectangle the “I” before and the “I” after the letters NR? Was he or she not familiar with the four letter inscription, INRI, that appears in representations of the crucified Jesus? Was there no one around who knew the significance of the acronym INRI? That it comes from the Latin phrase ‘Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum’ — ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’?  That according to the crucifixion story in the Bible (John 19:19), this was a notice Pontius Pilate posted over the head of Jesus as he lay dying on the cross? That this imagery has been a part of our cultural conversation spanning centuries?

Two unforgettable examples:

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Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), The Crucifixion, 1459 (detail)

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Emile Nolde (1867-1956), Crucifixion, 1912

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