January 27, 2015

A Visit to the de Young Museum

It has been about a decade since I last visited the beautiful city of San Francisco, so when I was invited to exhibit in a print fair here last weekend I accepted immediately!  What a pleasure to be back in The City by the Bay with its amazing beauty both natural and man-made.  The San Francisco Fine Print Fair took place at the Golden Gate Club situated in the verdant Presidio Park with stunning views of San Francisco Bay and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.  Unfortunately for my blog, I was rather preoccupied with the show but the threat of "Snowmageddon" delayed my return to New York and gave me a chance to do a little sight seeing!

One of the must-see museums in San Francisco is the de Young which showcases American art from the 17th century to modern times.  The museum was founded in 1895 and is located just inside the beautiful Golden Gate Park.  Since 2005 the museum has been housed in a state-of-the-art facility designed by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron that features dramatic interior exhibition space and lovely gardens outside.

I spent several very pleasant hours exploring the permanent collection of the de Young Museum starting with the Art of the Americas Galleries that featured an outstanding group of Eskimo and Inuit artifacts and works from ancient Mexico and South America.

Two Cribbage Boards with carved animals, 
Alaska, ca. 1890

Also on the main floor is the Photography gallery featuring "Janet Delaney: South of Market",  oil paintings by California Abstract Expressionists, and the Works on Paper section presently showcasing prints from the Anderson Collection entitled "Celebrating the Spectrum".

On my way to lunch at the Museum Café, I stopped in to see the Piazzoni Murals - two sets of five panoramic murals created in 1931 and depicting California landscapes of "The Sea" and "The Land".

After a bite to eat I headed outdoors to the Osher Sculpture Garden to enjoy the modern and contemporary, oversize works in a natural setting.  Here you see Claes Oldenberg's "Corridor Pin, Blue", 1999.

And Gustav and Ulla Kraitz's "Apples", 2005, with the 1969 Calder stabile "Big Crinkly" in the background...


And the James Turrell "Sky Space" entitled "Three Gems", 2005, which would have been fabulous had the lights actually been working!

Back inside I headed to the Upper Level and its collection of American Art from the 18th to the 20th Centuries.  What was quite lovely about the installation was the mix of objects together with paintings.  

 A selection of American antique chairs

John Singer Sargent
"Caroline de Bassano, Marquise d'Espeuilles", 1884

Gustav Grunewald
"The Niagara River at the Cataract" & 
"Horseshoe Falls from Below the High Bank", 1832

Georgia O'Keeffe "Petunias", 1925

There are also galleries dedicated to the Art of Africa, Art of Indonesia, Art of New Guinea and the Art of Oceania making for a comprehensive ethnographic experience.

As I was getting ready to leave a guard stopped me and asked if I had seen the Tower view.  After a little looking I found the elevator that takes visitors up to the 9th floor Hamon Observation Tower that offers a 360 degree panorama of San Francisco and its environs.

Facing South toward The Music Concourse with the 
Spreckels Temple of Music

Yes, that is the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance!

The "Blizzard of 2015" may not have lived up to expectations, but my extended stay in San Francisco turned out to be a blessing in disguise! 

January 18, 2015

The Colorful Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse

If you were asked to choose the most important artists of the early twentieth century, those who took the new century by storm and turned traditional thinking on its ear, who would they be?  Picasso probably, Duchamp definitely, and there is a very good possibility that Matisse would round out the triumvirate of Modernist movers and shakers.

Indeed, it was Henri Matisse (1869-1954) who rocked the art world in 1904 with his brilliantly colored canvases that had nothing to do with nature but everything to do with emotion and as such earned him and his cohorts the nickname Fauves, or "wild beasts".  While Matisse's outrageous palette may have toned down slightly after that initial explosion, he maintained a passion for pigment throughout his career.

Henri Matisse "The Dance I", 1909

By the 1930s and 40s, Matisse shifted his focus from large scale paintings to the more intimate mediums of prints and illustrated books.  This was the initial transition from brush and oil paint to scissors and colored paper, the technique that dominated the final stage of his life's work and the subject of a major exhibition now in its last weeks at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

"Henri Matisse:  The Cut-Outs" is the wildly popular continuation of a show that began at the Tate Modern in London last April.  Obviously, this is not a retrospective of Matisse's impressive career, but a comprehensive look at the last, and arguably most important, period of his artistic life.  Confined to a wheelchair, the master could no longer manage an easel and canvas and so indulged his obsession with color by developing an entirely new way of drawing - using scissors to create forms that he directed his assistants to pin to the wall.  These forms, cut from vibrantly hued paper, were layered to create texture and arranged in a composition of color and form.  Once the perfect formation had been achieved, the result was fixed by either gluing the pieces of paper to a backing, or re-creating it as a print, stained glass window or mural.

"The Swimming Pool" installed in Matisse's Dining Room, Nice, 1953

Close up of a panel from "The Swimming Pool"
Gouache painted cut-outs mounted on white paper mounted on burlap

Matisse became obsessed with his discovery, indeed Picasso referred to him as a "crafty as a monkey" and seemed almost jealous of this new-fangled means of expression.  Before long the "cut-outs" expanded from modestly sized creations to much larger scaled projects for murals ("The Parakeet and the Mermaid", 1952), entire rooms ("The Swimming Pool", 1952) or the complete Chapel of the Rosary in Vence.  It was almost as if the more physically confined Matisse became, the more he assumed control over his situation by creating entire environments in which to live.

"The Parakeet and the Mermaid"

When Matisse died of a heart attack in 1954 he was at the height of his creative powers.  His invented method of cut-outs had afforded him a unique perspective on color and form that, judging from the thousands of visitors flocking to catch the last few days of this exhibition, resonates to this day.

January 15, 2015

"Cubism" Captures The Met

It's time for me to make good on a promise to re-visit the wonderful exhibition "Cubism" on view until February 16th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  As I mentioned in my blog post "Metropolitan Miscellany", this show comprises 81 outstanding examples of Cubist Art, as gifted to the museum by the collector and philanthropist Leonard Lauder.  Mr. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus of the Estée Lauder Company, a major cosmetics concern founded by his mother in1946, has been a fixture among the museum patron crowd for quite a while, but with this gift he ascended from mere "donor" to somewhere next to God.

You see, while the Metropolitan Museum of Art is unquestionably one of The great art museums in the world, its modern and contemporary art departments were never quite on a par with the rest of their collections.  To be sure, they had some very important works but there were gaps in the 20th century holdings.  With this most generous gift, Mr. Lauder has filled a void and thereby elevated the Met to a whole new status in the world of Modern Art collections.

Why does this gift make such a difference?  The answer is two-fold.  First, Cubism might very well be considered the most important art movement of the 20th century - a radical departure from traditional art whose influence is felt to this day.  Basically, the Cubists took a subject and broke it down into its most elementary forms, shuffled the forms around and reassembled them into an abstract image.  Often the subject was depicted from a variety of perspectives giving the viewer almost an infinity mirror effect.  The forms were generally very geometric thereby giving the impression of cubes, although they are often more like a "Where's Waldo" puzzle than a recognizable form.  Cubism was effectively the start of Abstract Art and was also influential in the fields of architecture and literature.

The second reason why this gift is so significant is because Mr. Lauder only collected the very best and these 81 examples of paintings, sculpture and works on paper represent the crème de la crème of the field.  Therefore, not only does the Met now have a stock of Cubist Art, but they have the finest examples of Cubist Art in any collection, public or private, anywhere.

The Cubist Art movement began around 1907 and was dominated by four main artists - Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Léger.  Mr. Lauder chose to concentrate his collecting on just these preeminent artists and acquired major examples from each one.  In this special exhibition to celebrate the gift, the Met has opted to present the entire collection in seven galleries arranged chronologically beginning with Picasso and Braque, the true Fathers of Cubism.

Pablo Picasso
"Still Life with Fan: L'Indépendant", 1911

Georges Braque
"Still Life with Metronome", 1909

Here we see for the very first time a blurring of the line between fine art and popular culture as pieces of newspaper or tobacco wrappers were incorporated into paintings.  Visitors can peruse the influence of Old Masters on the emerging avant garde and the fusion of "certitudes" or "attributes", visual clues, into the finished product.  For me, the most informative discussion was on the differences between Picasso and Braque whose works during this period were almost indistinguishable.  The exhibition wraps up just prior to World War I when color had re-entered the Cubist vocabulary and the images were the purest forms of abstraction.

Fernand Léger
"The Village", 1914

There are gifts and there are GIFTS and Mr. Lauder has bestowed a grant to the Met that will extend beyond the museum walls for many years to come.  It is thanks to the altruism of connoisseurs such as Mr. Lauder that New York lays claim to some of the finest museums in the world - a gift to art lovers everywhere!

January 08, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

I had intended to begin 2015 with an upbeat blog - something fun and interesting to start the New Year off on a high note.  But yesterday's terrible events in Paris made a light-hearted post seem trivial and inappropriate.  My readers know that I refrain from politically charged subjects, but the terrorist attack on the freedom we hold most dear - the freedom of speech - the very freedom that allows me to post blog after blog in a global forum - had to be broached.

The execution of twelve innocent people - police officers, journalists and cartoonists - by extremists avenging a satirical referral to their prophet, might well be the tipping point for freedom loving people tired of being dictated to by radical religious fanatics.  The idea of respecting other opinions and faiths is a two way street and people are finally pushing back against being terrorized for their beliefs.

To be sure, the beautiful City of Light, my beloved Paris, has suffered an incredible blow and I have called and emailed many friends and colleagues to show support and solidarity, much the same as they did for me after the horror of 9/11.  But they are also very strong and no one is willing to be ruled by the sword.  After the initial shock and sadness, so early in the new year, the French will reach into their collective inner core and stand up to bullies who are trying to take away their freedom.  In the meantime, here are a few photos I found of commemorations and freedom protests held around the world:

The intrepid editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stephane Charbonnier, once said "I'd rather die standing than living on my knees".  Courageous words and words he lived, and died, by.  The Charlie Hebdo website has announced that they will be publishing as usual next Wednesday - but this time an edition of one million papers.  A fitting testament to the brave souls who perished in the exercise of freedom yesterday.