Art on the Metro

On the way downtown this morning I looked around my metro car. Advertisements were plastered all around, luring you to buy into this new residential community downtown, or to hop on the new Silver Line route that just opened to “explore destinations unknown” (which kinda sounds scary!).

Where’s the art around here? I thought. And then I looked closer at the typography of the advertisement for the ‘urban living’ apartments. With double neon lined typescript and vintage photographs of the building’s doorways, gardens, and what looks to be a Manhattan on the bar of the rooftop, I realized there’s art in this frighteningly cramped plastic-seated metro car.

And so I’m actually looking forward to my commute tomorrow. And I might just take that Silver Line to the middle of nowhere –I might find a gem or two on the way.


Are Writers Artists?

So I can dream about being an artist, and set up my canvas in the corner of my office, and stare at it a bit, now and then. I can walk through galleries and get excited about openings and gulp down white wine so that I can have a somewhat intelligent conversation with the person next to me.

But I’m a writer. I was thinking that was as far from being an artist as possible. They use different instruments, different platforms. Are appreciated by very different types of people. Books are portable; art is usually not. Art you have around for a long time; books you toss on the used book shelf at the library.

But K.M.Weiland, an author, has written this on her blog:

As one of the most structured forms of art, writing is very much a left-brain pursuit. We put our intellect to work every time we sit down and start thinking about three-act story arcs, complex vs. compound sentences, gerunds and participles, keeping our characters in character, and organizing our subplots. Our desks are cluttered with notes and reminders; our bulletin boards teem with sketches, maps, and timelines; and our filing cabinets are jammed with draft upon draft of our novels. There’s a lot to think about in this writing game.

So can I consider myself an artist? I would be so honored!

In DC, Ready to Blog

After a five-year hiatus in which I got caught up in the craziness of a move, a bigger city, and a mind-boggling array of philanthropic events, work functions, and kid programming, I’m finding my way back to my base and what really grounds me – thinking about art. I apologize to all my followers (if you are still out there!) for being MIA!

I have been consumed for the last five years – but in the best of ways. Returning to DC has brought me back to old experiences (e.g., jazz in the garden at NGA on Friday nights) and starting new traditions (e.g., all of the Arts After Dark that light up the museum facades in purple, green, and blue). Of cruising through the Renwick, the Corcoran. The Portrait Gallery and the Kreger. Of gorging on the gastronomy at the Museum of the American Indian (btw, run, do not walk, to grab the Pacific Northwest salmon platter there).

So happy to be back. Here we go!

Seeing Through Matisse

“Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917” opens next week at the Museum of Modern Art. It shows off new advances in technology, with Matisse’s work as the test subject. It features 26 pieces that were examined with new digital imaging techniques, laser scanning, ultraviolet illumination, and computer software to determine changes Matisse made to the works over their construction. (For more on the upcoming exhibit, see the New York Times article “Electronic Insights Into Matisse’s Technique.)

It’s truly amazing that we  now have the technology to look deep through layers of paint to ascertain insights into an artist’s changing outlook as the painting progressed.

Curators could see changes in the outlines of figures beneath the painting’s surface, revealing a constantly shifting landscape of figures, with stronger lines and more intense tones over time.

The article also reminded me of how artists’ works are perfect anthropological time capsules. Matisse, as other artists, were moved in their subject and construction techniques by the current social and political climate. During WWI, for example, Matisse reflected a grave atmosphere and opted for neutral, less flamboyant colors. The painting above, Mme Matisse: Madras Rouge (The Red Madras Headress), created by Matisse in the summer of 1907, clearly shows a pre-war oeuvre.

Rome’s Art Conundrum


Rome is caught up in an art conundrum. Wealthy art collectors support a contemporary art scene; politicians clutch at the crumbling classics.

Rome’s architecture crumbling? Yes. A recent New York Times article “As Rome Modernizes, Its Past Quietly Crumbles” brings up some dire realities. Funding for restoring antiquities is not keeping pace with the wind, rain, and time’s lashings. And so politicians are faced with a challenge:  do you throw money at the old, at the expense of the new? Just rely on private benefactors to bootstrap and bankroll the contemporary scene?

Apparently, in Italy, you do. Italy provides less support to its young artists than do museums in Holland, France, or Britain. The Museum of Modern Art in the U.S., the Tate in Britain, and the Pompidou in France have emerged as central institutions that spur spin-off museums and private foundations. There’s fewer of these institutions in Italy. In Italy, the private galleries must pick up the slack.

Bringing Yourself to Art

"The Artist is Present" A viewer sitting with Marina Abramovic at MoMA - New York

Performance art is a difficult art media to understand — one which people may be less comfortable with or familiar with, than say visual art. Marina Abramovic, perhaps one of the most well-known performance artists who began her work with the emergence of the form in the 1970’s and ’80’s, is exhibiting at MoMA in a work entitled “The Artist is Present”.

In this work, she simply sits in a chair. Across from her is an empty chair in which viewers can sit for as long as they like. Some viewers sit for 5 minutes, some sit all day. A camera crew is present to photograph these viewers, many of whom are very emotional; some cry and others show extreme anguish). This is striking. What can possibly be so interesting about Marina’s face, her hair, her body, her expression?

It appears that she takes on a luminescence, that she somehow is able to look through the viewer. In interacting with others, we usually have their full attention — there is engagement. This performance art seems to keep the art on display and the viewer distanced, yet I wonder if Marina’s movements or changing facial expressions reflect the viewer’s response? After all, aren’t they also reacting to the piece and being photographed as the art? In essence, is the viewer actually part of the art? And is the title of her show “The Artist is Present” yet another clue that may allude to the viewer also being the artist?

The photos that the photographer has taken of these viewers are surely fascinating to look at, and cause me to wonder if indeed they will, in the future, be an accompanying piece to any writeup or essay on this exhibition, where the viewer is artist…

Is Art Love Really So Fickle?

Bringing Forth the Fruits of Righteousness from Darkness, 2008
Damien Hirst’s famous butterfly paintings
Currently on loan to the Cleveland Museum of Art

The two major art auction houses -Christie’s and Sotheby’s – held their Spring auctions recently. Record prices were set, record lows were recorded. And in the past year, some famous artists’ works have received zero bids. ZERO.

What’s causing all of this fluctuation in the art market? The international economy. And just like in a recession where we revert back to comfort food – meat and potatoes – so too does the art market switch from flamboyant Damien Hirst to the comfort of a Renoir or Monet.

Another factor leading this is the increasing share of Asian collectors holding up the auction paddle. Relatively new to the scene, Asian buyers choose “safe” bets, like European impressionists.

Other characteristics of art that sell in a recession is rarity. Count Jasper Johns in this category. Many of his works were owned by the late Michael Crichton, and when his estate went up for sale, people realized what they’d been missing and so they pounced.

Some classic artists who have enjoyed previous fame have fallen out of favor with new collectors – Pierre Bonnard being one of them. It was one of his works that had no bites at an auction last year. Edvard Munch (The Scream) is another example of an artist whose work is sputtering.

Undervalued works are also snatched up more feverishly in times of recession. A good deal of prospecting goes on, and surprisingly, Alexander Caulder’s works fall into this category.

Damien Hirst, who had his origins as a Young British Artist (YBA), has gone dormant in auctions as of late. As mentioned above, rarity whets the appetites of collectors, so perhaps this is his intent. I stared at one of his butterfly wing works (the series features butterfly wings that mimic stained glass windows) at the Cleveland Museum of Art this past weekend and I found myself up close, sorting the butterfly wings to see how many repeats there were, rather than stepping back to capture the piece in its holistic form.

The art market is fickle, but that’s what makes it all exciting.