Month: December 2009

The Year in Art

In a pictorial that summarizes the major art trends for 2009, the New York Times captured Holland Carter’s view:

“Artwise, there were still big-deal shows – Afghan gold at the Met, Arshile Gorky in Philadelphia, Titian & Co. in Boston – but our major museums were mainly in austerity mode, concentrating on small, collection-based exhibitions, a pattern likely to hold for years.”

While I did notice that the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gauguin exhibit this year used many works from its own collection, this isn’t a new phenomena for the museum. Looking back at the exhibitions over the past two years, the museum has incorporated many of its own works in shows, and several — including the Arms and Armor, Monet to Dali, and Van Gogh to Picasso — highlighted primarily CMA-owned works. They’ve been busy — co-curating shows while keeping up with a massive renovation that extends into 2014.

Artistic Luxury: Fabergé Tiffany Lalique
Oct 19, 2008 to Jan 18, 2009

Arms and Armor from Imperial Austria
Feb 24 – Jun 01, 2008
Icons of American Photography
Jun 24 – Sep 16, 2007
Shiva: A Recent Acquisition
Jun 24, 2007 to Jan 13, 2008
Ansel Adams: A Legacy
May 20 – Aug 19, 2007
Building for the Future
May 08, 2007 to Jun 18, 2008
Monet in Normandy
Feb 18 – May 28, 2007
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The Hirshorn’s Big Blue Balloon

DC’s  Hirshorn museum recently released plans to create a new meeting space that fills its courtyard and mushrooms above the roof. What’s fascinating about this is that it’s a balloon. Literally. A big blue one. To be blown up in May and October of each year to provide a temporary space for concerts, performing arts, and films. The New York Times loves the idea, the Washington Post is iffy. DC is often set on edge by these kinds of things (remember how the Corcoran trashed plans for an ultra-modern Frank Ghery addition a few years ago?). “What will the tourists think?” The Washington Post sums up their worries:

…if a precedent is established to build temporary structures so as to have greater aesthetic freedom (and less bureaucratic interference), then they may well proliferate, with further impact on the look and design of the city.

I suppose DC has a smaller footprint and a more consistent architectural style (Neo-classical/Beaux-Arts) than many other cities, but a little spice would liven it up. Though they’ve already tried “spice” with the Hirshorn’s architecture — the building is often called “Bunshaft’s oversize toilet seat”. Apparently they are still acclimating to Gordon Bunshaft’s 1974-designed building.

Spontaneity According to The Cubist: Andre Lhote

Andre Lhote

La Danse au bar (Gypsy Bar), Andre Lhote

One of the novelist-bloggers that I follow, Christina Baker Kline, posted a quote by Andre Lhote (1923) that to me gets at the heart of writing (because that’s the craft, or some would argue art, that I know best):

The essence of art is sensitivity.  How does one retain the freshness of sensitivity?  Answer: By working without worry, freely.  How does one work freely?  By possessing a technique which permits one to work spontaneously:  it is necessary, therefore, to possess the elements of this technique.  Meditation in front of the works of the masters puts one in possession of the eternal rules of art.  Once these rules are learned there is nothing left but to know how to apply them to one’s own temperament.

Funny how a French sculptor and painter who worked in modernist styles including Fauvism and Cubism and was part of a group of revolutionaries including Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Jacques Villon, and writers somehow have the same world view. Bridging art and writing… It just shows that concepts and the words to describe those concepts are timeless…

No Art? For Real?

Last week I was on business travel to DC to check in with colleagues and meet with clients. It essentially entailed one long strategy meeting where two people fell asleep, and lots of planes, trains, and automobiles.

As this time required sitting in one long strategy meeting, I jumped out of my seat at the breaks to explore. Usually I walk the halls to check out the corporate art (because other than bland carpet, there is really nothing else to stare at), and sometimes I walk away from some huge  installation or work on paper thinking wow, that was pretty off-the-wall/odd/bizarrely-chosen.  WHY did they choose that particular piece?

But worse, is when there’s NO art. And this was such a case.

I was in a slick, new, fabulously designed, glossy-floored government building in Arlington, and one would expect there was art. Some sort of art. Something. Anything. But along those long, sinuous halls was… nothing! Nada! A few miles away, my company’s headquarters has tons of art, seemingly in every nook and cranny, the cafeteria, outside each elevator — commissioned art, employee art (including the winners of photography contests that are extremely competitive), and just great random pieces that provide that visual pickup you need during the day.

Some research on corporate art shows that the government may not be the number one consumer of art:

We define a corporate art client in our field mainly as a hospitality account” explains Tony Barrett, director of sales for Bentley Publishing Group in Walnut Creek, CA. “That is, someone who supplies art to hotels, vacation properties, restaurants, corporate offices and healthcare facilities.” These are all venues that are in constant need of artwork, often with rotating collections that change several times a year.”

So I suppose that makes sense. I guess. Restaurants, hotels want to create a mood, a synergy, a personal connection with the client that will lure them back. Does the government have no similar incentive?

So on this trip I was disappointed. Perhaps the architecture was enough, because it was a beautiful building (er, compound, as every government building is now a sprawling monolith, even in downtown Arlington). Next time I’ll have to ask the taxi to weave through downtown and stop off at the Philips gallery (Man Ray is there now!). Or National Geographic headquarters (the Terra Cotta Warriors are there now!).

At the Intersection of a Museum and a Book: Orhan Pamuk

One of my favorite authors, Orhan Pamuk, has a new book hot off the presses The Museum of  Innocence. To complement the book, he is opening a museum. I’m not positive, but this seems the first time such a thing has been done. Here’s a description from the UK’s Guardian:

 The Museum of Innocence… contains a locator map for his museum, and a free entrance ticket. The actual museum, in an Ottoman-style house along a stretch of antique shops in hilly Cukurcuma, will hold Istanbul ephemera that Pamuk gathered for inspiration while writing his Proustian … epic of lost love. … He told me his “museum of the everyday”, which holds everything from ferry tickets and women’s hair clips to a quince grinder, would have a display for each of the novel’s 83 chapters.’

Pamuk describes the relationship of the museum and novel: “The museum is not an illustration of the novel and the novel is not an explanation of the museum. They are two representations of one single story perhaps.”

Pamuk’s other literary ventures have been laced with art, including My Name Is Red, which details the murder of a miniaturist painter in the Ottoman Empire. And I thought his breathtaking descriptions of Istanbul in his memoir Istanbul (which details his life growing up in the Turkish city) were poetic and extremely visual, like landscapes launching off of the pages into your lap. Also, according to the New York Review of Books, “As a young man, his great hope was to become a painter, and he started, he notes wryly, by producing imitations of Monet and Sisley and Pissarro…” It seems Pamuk turned from copying the masters to absorbing himself in the awe of everyday people and life and painted a verbal canvas.

I’m thinking Turkey might be the country we indulge ourselves in next summer, and if so, this is one museum I’m not going to miss!