starlady: (run)
After eight years, a long night bus ride, and a rather poky JR service to a ferry sailing beneath a bona fide double rainbow, I've made it to Naoshima, the chief of the art islands of the inland sea. After some folderol with internet service and missing the previous ferry by all of two minutes, Spike & I wound up eating out of a conbini for dinner last night, and this morning we took a late start, with the advantage that we had our hostel (a residence so recently converted it still has the former owner's nameplate on the doorpost and their family altar behind a curtain in the alcove) mostly to ourselves.

We hiked out (well actually, took the bus, since it is hot and I am attempting to not walk my knee to death, as I have done twice now this year already) to the Chichu Art Museum at the top of the hill, and I thought it was pretty cool. Like most of the major galleries on the art islands it was done by Ando Tadao, who is possibly my favorite living architect, and it uses almost entirely natural light and is also almost entirely underground--you'd hardly know it, since it's done so cleverly to let in as much natural light as possible, which also makes the entire museum itself a site-specific installation that changes with daily conditions. The weather was changeable today, though not drastically so, but enough to get something of a sense.

The museum only has works by three artists: Monet, Walter De Maria, and James Turrell. It was, as far as I can remember, my first encounter with De Maria and Turrell's stuff, of which more anon, but Monet was probably the first artist I learned to appreciate and like as an individual, and I've always loved his works; it helps that just about every one of them is a gem. The gallery has five Monets, all late period, all water lilies, one monumental, two square, two smaller and rectangular, designed to evoke the Musee de l'Orangerie of which they were a part. You have to put on slippers before you can walk into the gallery, which is floored in tumbled cubes of Italian marble (we were informed), and frankly, more art should be contemplated while wearing slippers. It was quiet, and that quiet really added to the experience.

The Walter De Maria piece was set in a two-story gallery, much like a church, with a 2.2m-diameter sphere of marble in the center between two flights of stairs and 27 wooden, gold-leafed sculptures of geometric shapes. I'm totally stealing it for a Stargate fanfic at some point--it was more than a little otherworldly, and very cool, to walk up those steps and then back down again, past the smooth, reflective marble sphere, in which you could always see the skylight. We walked past another Walter De Maria piece outside using some of the same elements, and it was also cool, but witty, in that it was tucked into the side of a staircase built into a hill. I was reminded a little of the scene at the end of the Sesame Street movie set in the Met, where the kid has to climb the stairs so that Osiris can weigh his heart in the scales.

The James Turrell pieces were, quite simply, stunning, particularly "Open Field," which played with light and space to alter viewers' perceptions, and then alter them further by allowing us to go, guided, inside the artwork, which didn't make it any less trippy or brain-bending: quite the opposite, in fact. Later in the afternoon we saw another Turrell artwork in the Minamidera art house, which also played with our perceptions, but instead of using light to do so, used darkness. Both times, walking back out into the world was like a revelation. I was reminded a little of LaMonte Young's Dream House, in all the best ways. I am an instant Turrell fan.

After that we trekked back down the hill--Yayoi Kusama's yellow pumpkin sculpture, ahoy!--and then into Honmura town, where we had a lovely vegetarian lunch in a tiny house cafe and set about seeing five of the six parts of the art house project (actually there are seven, but I failed to book the seventh in advance) in just under an hour. The aforementioned Minamidera, housed in an Ando-designed house, was the best, but I also really liked Kadoya, which has a number of counters appearing to float inside a darkened traditional house--again, I had a lot of thoughts about the sea of time and other notions. Haisha, which has a partial Statue of Liberty replica in it, was also a hoot, and the Go'o Shrine, which included an underground chamber with a glass staircase uniting heaven and earth, was also pretty cool, and very Old Kingdom, as Spike remarked. Gokaido was a bit subtle--the camellia tree element is key, but I suspect much is gained from knowing that the camellia tree has long associations as a Buddhist symbol of the transience of life. The rock garden was lovely, though. We missed Ishibashi and Kinza; next time.

Spike was generally less impressed by all of this than I was, and in fact we are now going to cut short our art island excursion and go to Takamatsu for udon on Friday, rather than hitting Teshima as I had originally planned. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the art islands are a scam--I have been very satisfied with all this so far, but I won't deny that the Benesse Foundation's orchestration of all this is a bit…not quite heavy-handed, but definitely institutional. We noticed while wandering around Honmura a series of witty yarn artworks, which turned out to be done by one Ishikawa Kazuhara, who just started doing his art here in 2006 after someone told him he should. (I suspect this isn't quite yarn-bombing; he visits to maintain the art once a year.) Despite the fact that there is now a brochure with a map of all his pieces, there is something much more charming about their extreme site specificity and spontaneity that the Benesse-brokered art simply can't match.

I would love to get out here for the Setouchi Triennale next year, when even more of the islands will be transformed into art; I would love to come back; I'm really looking forward to Inujima tomorrow. Still, the contrast between my own unconscious expectations and the reality continues to intrigue me.

starlady: Holmes and Watson walking around New York (springtime in new york)
I went down to Shinagawa today to one of my favorite museums in Tokyo, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. It's housed in a small but beautifully converted (pre-war) Showa-era mansion, and I've seen some really great shows there--last year when I was here I saw Nicolas Buffe's first solo exhibition there, "The Dream of Polifilo," which was a site-specific installation combining Renaissance art, Disney animation, video games, and manga, and was pretty amazing. That exhibit even had the gallery attendants take on the role of sprites and put them in costumes that the artist had designed, and you could go into some of the art itself--a "save point" was a takeoff on a Zen hut, for example. Enchanting, and just sheer fun.

Cy Twombly is one of my favorite 20thC artists, not only because his work is idiosyncratic and great but because he is, I think, one of the foremost interpreters of the classical Mediterranean of the past century. I first encountered his series of paintings on the Iliad in an austere gallery devoted to them in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and I've loved his work ever since then. In a weird way that makes total sense when you think about it, the bleakness of the postwar 1950s world view among artists was perfectly suited to the bleak, bloody worldview of the ancient world's myths, if people were willing to pull back the cruft of Victoriana that had accumulated on it. This exhibition, a repeat of one staged at the Hermitage in the previous decade, collected works on paper, including major clumps of work from the 1950s, the 1970s, the 1980s, and the early 2000s. (Twombly died in 2011.) I'm mostly familiar with his large paintings, which is what museums tend to have in their general galleries. These works, smaller but still intense, were all compelling, but I liked the works from the 1980s--often vibrantly colorful, and clearly not less complete works than his larger paintings, even though most of them were actually mixed media collages. The works from the 1980s and 1990s flirted with representation at times--bicycles, irises--but retained enough of Twombly's style to make it clear that representation was only part of the story. Many of the works from the 1970s and 1980s were some of his meditations on the classics, including pieces on Apollo, Venus, Orpheus, Adonais, Plato, and Pan. The painting about Pan--actually partly a collage--consisted of two white rectangles of paper, with a botanical illustration of chard superimposed on the top one, and a rectangle of paper on which Twombly had written "PAN" and "(panic)" in his crabbed scrawl above a smear of brown paint--blood? mud? somewhere in that range--that rectangle of paper itself exceeding the borders of the larger sheets. I have rarely seen a more accurate depiction of the god. I thought the Plato piece was very witty too: a rectangle of blue sky inside a rectangle inside an oval crossed with measuring lines. Great stuff.

It was positively downpouring last year when I went, so it was actually the first time I'd been in the sculpture garden since 2008; much as I liked the Lee U-Fan sculpture and the Sol Lewitt incomplete cube, the best sculpture was clearly a witty commentary on the Ming tiles the Dutch and others favored for fireplaces in the 17thC, except depicting hallucinogenic substances.
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
The Bridgestone Museum
This is the favorite Tokyo museum of the father-in-law of a good friend of mine, and my friend B and I more or less randomly glommed onto a line of old ladies who were queueing to get in on the Monday of Golden Week, since it closed for renovation last Monday for a period of several years. The farewell exhibit was "The Best of the Best" and was more or less the collection's greatest hits. They had a few very fine Monets, some really interesting contemporary Asian art, and two really great Meiji-era Art Nouveau paintings, Aoki Shigeru's Paradise under the Sea and Fujishima Takeji's Reminiscence of the Tenpyo Era. I wish more Japanese Western-style art of the period had taken on that sort of approach. Female artist count: two works (two different women) out of 161.

Pola Museum Annex
It was totally by chance that I realized that this museum is in the same building as one of my favorite cafes in all of Tokyo. I'd wanted to go because it's free and it's currently hosting a series of paper sculptures by Su Blackwell, who does amazing art made out of books. The level of detail and the sheer craftsmanship that went into each of her pieces is amazing, and both B and I were, it's fair to say, enchanted. Even better, there were some of our favorite books in the exhibit, including The Dark Is Rising and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I'm considering going to the actual Pola Museum, except it's in Hakone, which has that whole volcano thing going on right now. (Also I really dislike Cezanne, the current main exhibition.) We'll see.

The Ghibli Museum
It's been seven years (goodness) since my one and only prior visit to the Ghibli Museum, and they still won't let adults go on the Cat Bus. That sadness was offset by the fact that they now make Ghibli Museum beer, available in the cafe for quite a reasonable price. As much of a pain as it is to buy tickets for the museum (crucial realization: you can use the Lawson tickets website to scope out which days and times are available before going to the actual Lawson, or maybe your web browser will let you actually buy tickets online), they're quite reasonably priced for a few hours of being totally enchanted by the museum itself. I understood much more of the exhibits on the principles of animation this time around (funny how being literate will help with that) but I was, overall, just as pleased by the experience, which is still utterly charming. Miyazaki couldn't buy his pseudo-European palace house, so he built it himself in Mitaka. Also this time the movie playing in the theater was "Mei and the Kitten Bus," which is a vignette follow-up to My Neighbor Totoro and was vast improvement on the sexist "Whale Hunt" short that was on offer the last time I visited. The kitten bus was adorable, to no one's surprise.
starlady: a barcode with my DW username & user ID (barcode)
I heard about this from [personal profile] littlebutfierce, and we tried to go see it together but failed, so today I took my rainy August Bank Holiday down at the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is pretty amazing. I saw only a few galleries, but it was really great throughout, and this special exhibition, on the objects and design of protest and activism, was one of the best I've seen. It goes from the suffragette movement to #occupygezi and beyond, though the meat of it is from the 1970s forward, and it is quite well done. Though it's honestly on the small side, it packs a real punch; I teared up at one point (the point where the organizers had displayed the quote from Mario Savio's machine speech), and left, as usual, feeling inspired, determined, and challenged. I also left with handouts on how to construct one's own book bloc shield and makeshift tear-gas mask, so don't let anyone tell you that museums don't teach you anything.

Seeing these objects in the museum setting was really interesting; I would never have thought to put them there, and as the organizers note, these objects challenge the museum paradigm itself, among many other things (my favorite item in the exhibition was probably the banner reading Capitalism IS Crisis, but it's so hard to choose). Kudos to the Victoria & Albert for having the chutzpah to put this on. Go see it if you can.

starlady: (Rick Roll'd!)
Tokyo is--there's a lot of people in Tokyo, a feeling exacerbated for the fact that I'm staying in a hotel in a busy area for almost the first time ever; I've previously stayed at conference centers, hostels, friends' places in residential areas. I've had a good time, but it's been a weird trip; I miss Kyoto, and I'm not 100% looking forward to the idea of living here (though I know I'll have a great time when I do).

Today I braved the thunder and lightning to check out the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, which is actually one of my favorite museums in Tokyo. I really like contemporary art, and the Hara Museum has a great building and really well-chosen stuff. This time it was an exhibition--the first in a museum--by the French artist Nicholas Buffe, called "The Dream of Polifilo." It was seriously one of the coolest things I've seen in a museum in a very long time: he turned the museum into an RPG/Disney-esque animation/reinterpretation of a Renaissance fairy tale-esque story. I bought the exhibition catalog because I liked it so much. Contemporary art in general is pretty great in Tokyo; there are a ton of great galleries, and a lot of pretty great museums, many of which don't get any near enough press.

I've also been on the trail of coffee. Yesterday I went to Toranomon Koffee in the new Toranomon Hills, Mori Minoru's latest thumb in the eye to business as usual in Tokyo. The coffee was practically perfect, though I will admit that it was at least as much the space and the presentation as the coffee itself. I actually walked past the Be a Good Neighbor in Arc Hills on my way; I doubt I'm going to get back there tomorrow, since I'm bound for Shimokitazawa and Bear Pond Espresso, which is supposed to be the best coffee in Tokyo. We'll see.

starlady: The Welcome to Night Vale Logo, with clouds over the moon (welcome to night vale)
I tried to write this last night, and then I fell asleep at 10:30 with the lights on. 

I went to DC for Con.Txt and to see some people last week, and it was a lot of fun. I hadn't been back to the National Gallery of Art in about fifteen years, so last Thursday I headed down that way. It turns out that there are some pretty good exhibitions on right now! The first one, Degas and Cassat, was really good--apparently the artists were friends for more than 40 years, and worked together very closely for 10. I've never seen so many of Mary Cassat's works in one place, and the exhibition also put Degas in a new perspective. 

There was also an Andrew Wyeth retrospective focused around his paintings of windows--many of the paintings are hung next to their preliminary studies, so you can see the process of abstraction he went through in all his works. I'd never really considered Andrew Wyeth before, but I really liked his stuff from what I saw. It was also kind of a kick to be able to recognize, despite the abstraction, the countryside of Pennsylvania in many of his works. 

There was also an impromptu Van Gogh exhibition--the museum has recently acquired two new Van Goghs, and has the loan of one of his portraits of the postmaster from Rotterdam, and as far as I'm concerned the painting of the wheat fields should be understood as the daytime counterpart to Starry Night. It's easily now my second-favorite Van Gogh after that one, and it repays standing and staring at it from multiple angles. It's--enchanting. And the National Gallery owns not one but four Vermeers, which I'd totally forgotten about since I hadn't been there in fifteen years. I'm definitely considering going back again when I'm there in October. 

I also went to the Folger Shakespeare Library, which was cool, though sadly their board was meeting in the Founders' Room, with the result that we couldn't see the whole thing. My friend M and I also went to the National Geographic Society After Dark, which was cool--they have an exhibition of Peruvian artifacts on display right now, and the gold headdress that's one of the standouts is actually a piece I had seen a replica of at its home museum in Lima in April, so it was doubly cool to get to see the real thing in person. I also had gelato at Dolcezza twice and it may well be the second-best gelato I've had in North America. 
starlady: (through the trapdoor)
In happier news, Janet Cardiff's The Forty Part Motet is the first work of contemporary art ever to be installed in The Cloisters, New York. I saw it at the Art Gallery of Ontatario earlier this year and called it "one of the most transporting experiences I've ever had in a museum." If you're in New York between now and 8 December 2013, you owe it to yourself to go see this.
starlady: (through the trapdoor)
I went to Toronto last weekend! It was pretty great. [personal profile] toft had urged me to check out the AGO, and I did, and it was really awesome. I am a big fan of contemporary architecture, and the building itself is really cool (pictures may be forthcoming on Tumblr if I can get all my ducks in order). I checked out the Group of Seven, whose landscape paintings are as a group pretty phenomenal and which form the cornerstone of the AGO collection. I also saw the Henry Moore gallery, which includes many of his really striking monumental sculptures, and which currently has Janet Cardiff's 40 Part Motet installed in part of the gallery.

The 40 Part Motet is extraordinary, particularly installed as it is in a light-filled gallery filled with amazing sculptures. I can't remember the last time I had such a trasnporting experience in an art museum. I would have stayed much longer than I did, but I wanted to get to the special exhibition of Cardiff's works with her collaborator George Miller, Lost in the Memory Palace. I could have stayed hours in there; everything was amazing and absorbing. Cardiff does multimedia installations that suggest narrative but withhold it at the same time. Storm Room is a room in a house in northern Japan with a thunderstorm outside. Experiments in F# Major (name?) is a shadow-activated spontaneous jam session of different kinds of music in the same key. Opera for a Small Room and Dark Pool are like a page from the old I Spy books, in which you know there's a story that beyond your reach, and in the meantime there are many amazing things to look at.

If you can go to the AGO and see this exhibition, you totally should, and if you have an opportunity to see Janet Cardiff work's ever, take it.

starlady: (always)
My sister and I went to see Dancing around the Bride at the PMA last Saturday. I hadn't been back to the PMA since they put in the parking garage, and I'm here to tell you: it's pretty nice, and it's got great rates. (If you're thinking, why the hell is she explicitly talking about the parking garage rates, clearly you've never tried to find affordable parking in Philadelphia.)

The exhibit chronicles the friendship and mutual influences of Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauchenberg, and John Cage and Merce Cunningham, who of course were lifelong partners both personally and professionally. I don't care much about Johns or Rauchenberg--Duchamp is my favorite among that set of visual artists--but I was thrilled to see all five of these artists' works set in conversation with each other, which is how they were conceived of and created, and it's the sort of thing that only a large museum can do and that large museums, I think, should do. The exhibition also integrated the multimedia aspects of these artists' works really well--recordings of Cage pieces played throughout the exhibition, and videos of Cunningham performances were available to watch too. I was especially thrilled to see so much of Cage's visual art as well as his original scores, which are just so cool. 

There was also an epic slate of live performances and events. We went because we heard on WHYY's stupid local show that Lee Ranaldo, the guitarist for Sonic Youth, was going to be there playing John Cage compositions as well as his own stuff, and it was really cool to go see the music being performed--at one point he was swinging the guitar around on a pendulum, nearly hitting some of the dancers--because there were former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing Merce Cunningham pieces at the same time too. I know so little about dance, but it was really cool to see the dancers and the music taking up the same space at the same time--not coincidentally, the performances were timed down to the second--and to think about how they fit together. (Also, the dancers were amazing.) Ranaldo was great, both with the Cage pieces and his own works. He said on WHYY that in his experience this kind of music either grabs you or it doesn't, and my sister and I are definitely people whom it does grab, and it was a really wonderful chance to see this kind of thing up close among people who know and appreciate it. I daresay Cage would have liked all the ambient noise of the gallery, which was especially noticeable during the performance of 4'33".

No props to the PMA museum guards, however, who were hell-bent on hassling us for no actual reason. The PMA: packing 'em in by the thousands like sardines for Cezanne is okay, but 200 people who want to hear John Cage can't be tolerated. 
starlady: (coraline)
# My friend J and I have had an ongoing debate about the relative merits of In 'n Out, Five Guys, and Shake Shack in terms of which has the best burgers. We were stymied in coming to a consensus by the fact that I'd never been to Shake Shack in Manhattan, which deficiency we remedied on Friday. J has actually modeled his burger recipe on Shake Shack's; both his version and the original are darn tasty. Five Guys clearly wins on fries, as we noted, but throw in the fact that Shake Shack has Abiita root beer (and actual beer) on tap, and custard, and there's no real contest.

# I went to the Met (the suggested student rate of $12 is, I think, reasonable, though I suppose I could have given less) after J went back to the UN archives. I make it a point to stroll through either the Roman or the Egyptian galleries every time; this time I wandered through Egypt to the Temple of Dendur, and took note of all the stuff in the cases from the Eighteenth Dynasty and later that don't just look bloody "Aegean," they look Minoan (the dolphin vessel) and then Mycenean (the ceiling paintings from the 1300s BCE). This is a problem, I find, that I have now; I always want the museum cards to go into more detail. And the other, more crucial thing is that rigidly dividing up stuff in museums even by civilization or by contemporary national boundary means that the interactions between cultures and regions get marginalized or just left out entirely. The map is not the territory; sometimes it's not even a good map.

The Temple of Dendur is still one of my favorite places in New York, of course.

The real draw of the museum for me right now--I actually bumped into one of the people from my classical Japanese program last summer in the coat check line--is the exhibit on Japanese storytelling, which is rich, intense, and pretty darn fabulous. It's an exhibition of emaki (picture scrolls), illustrated screens, playing cards, and other items that have been used to tell narratives visually since the late classical period in Japan, and it's amazing. The two standouts of the show, for me, were the illustrated Tales of Kitano Shrine, which is a medieval embroidering of the classical stories about Sugiwara no Michizane: you can tell it's medieval because in one of the scrolls a wandering monk goes down to visit Emperor Daigo and retinue in Hell, but before that there's an absolutely fabulous painting of the waters of the Kamo river (which would have to be a bloody millennial flood to reach the site of the classical palace!) flooding the palace while Michizane in his guise of Raijin terrifies those who did him wrong. Stellar, and on view all together for the first time ever. Several of the other illustrated scrolls are amazing too, particularly one of the chigo (monk falls in love with a beautiful young acolyte) tales, which leads me to wonder just how many times those jerks up on Mt. Hiei marched on Mii-dera and burned it down. Needless to say, there are several screens showing episodes from the Heike, which were also awesome. The other best thing, though, aside from the fact that the exhibit (welcomely) sidelines the damn Genji emaki, is that it concludes with an extraordinarily well-preserved demons' parade scroll, which is delightful. I just wish the cards had pointed out more explicitly just how much of all this is a medieval invention or innovation. That said, I was pleased at how much of the handwriting I could read, even without having kept up my kuzushiji practice much at all, particularly since Japanese people around me remarked at several points that they couldn't read any of it. Several of the scribes whose manuscripts are on display had extraordinarily clear handwriting. Others, not so much.

# I went down to meet my friend M at the Strand, which is quite a brilliant bookstore but not one for keeping older books in stock, and then we went to Family Recipe. Verdict: delicious, innovative, and not too unreasonably priced. The portions are small, but if you eat slowly, and order at least two courses, you'll get enough to eat, and the food is really, really good, and so is the sake selection. We'd talked about seeing a movie, but there was nothing at all showing in the 8 o'clock hour in lower Manhattan, so we wound up retiring to a bar, which had something to do with my taking the wrong subway back to Penn Station, and thus not catching the earlier train to New Jersey, later on.
starlady: "Where's your sister?" "She's on Jupiter, Mom." (sister's on jupiter)
# Lunch at Pret a Manger, because I have loved their sandwiches since I first had them in London eleven years ago, and no I don't care that they're apparently the Starbucks of sandwich shops in Manhattan nowadays.

# Ob!stop at Book-Off, though I resisted temptation bravely. Or more precisely, I couldn't remember which volumes of 20th Century Boys I still need.

# My friend B and I went up to The Frick Collection--the student rate is pretty good, only $10. I hadn't been there in, oh, at least five years; the first and only time I went was with my mother. That was a good day. Anyway, currently they have an exhibition of Picasso drawings in the basement galleries and have created a new glassed-in portico gallery which has a small but fine exhibition of early European porcelain, well worth seeing in the sun. I enjoyed the Picassos, since now that I've learned that African art heavily influenced Cubism I can finally begin to understand it, though I suspect I'll never like it much.

But the real draw of the Frick is the permanent collection of Old Masters, Asian art, and decorative art objects amassed by Henry Clay Frick before his death. I love these personal tycoon museums, partly because they have such a strong personal vision, and the Frick is certainly the least eccentric of the three I've been to in the States (the Barnes Foundation and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum being the other two). The house and the collection suit each other, comfortably and brilliantly, and moving through them offers a very different experience than the cattle call of many major museums. Also it has my very favorite Vermeer (Officer and Laughing Girl) in a perfect spot just off the grand staircase. I could stare at that painting for days, it's so lovely. And they have two others, which are also wonderful but not as good.

# My favorite coffee shop on the East Coast, joe the art of coffee, has opened a new location on the Upper East Side, so recently that they're still sanding the walls in between customers. I can't decide whether I like joe or Ritual better; but damn, joe is good.

# McNally Jackson on Prince Street! What the hell is wrong with Berkeley that there are no bookstores this good there? And where are they hiding in San Francisco? I couldn't remember which Joanna Russ novels I own in late '70s and early '80s paperbacks, so again, no purchases, but their SFF shelf alone is better than B&N, despite the fact that they only have three bookcases total.

# Failed excursion to Family Recipe turned into yet another delicious meal at Hampton Chutney Co. I swear I end up there every other time I am in the city, and I never regret it because the dosas and chai and chutney are so damn good.

# Home again home again, jiggety-jig. As ever, I am grateful for friends who will drag me out of my vacation cocoon.
starlady: "I can hear the sound of empires falling." (burning empires)
The American painter Cy Twombly died last month at the age of 83. He's been one of my favorites for years, since I realized that I knew enough about art to have taste in it and to realize that my taste encompasses some very contemporary work. But Twombly married his modern sensibilities to some decidedly (neo)classical subject matter in a way that was guaranteed to appeal to me, who's always straddled the ancient and the contemporary.

The series of his paintings that I know best--I make a point of going to see them every time I'm at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where they're ensconced in an out of the way gallery of their own, is Fifty Days at Illium, paintings 6-15 in this gallery on Twombly's website. The Times is right that his paintings don't reproduce well, at least not at the scales the PMA sells them at; part of the problem in this case is that they only reproduce Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It, when my favorites are the others, particularly The Shield of Achilles. The shield is supposed to be incredibly elaborate, depicting all the delights of civilization and peace in exquisite detail; in Twombly's painting it's reduced to a circular smudge with a blood-red smear of crimson at the center. There's no room for civilization on the battlefield, and violence is just violence, particularly when you're the greatest warrior in Greece--but the Illiad, and Twombly's art, are just the sort of responses around violence that are the stuff of culture, and civilization. As The New Yorker says, he brought a very human vision to some very chilly received subjects, and that sort of humanity is always a loss.
starlady: (run)
So last Friday afternoon I drove down to Silver Spring for Con.TXT. It's been a year since I was down in the DC area, and I was pleased to make the trip in only 2.5 hours, despite a gaper delay on 95-S in Delaware and the fact that the entire Eastern seaboard is under construction (or at least, I'm prepared to vouch for DC to New York, and to bet on New York to Boston; can anyone speak about Boston to the border, or parts south of DC?). Yes, this does mean I drove above 75mph for most of the trip; I made the Gay Steampunk Sherlock Holmes panel, which is the important thing.

A weekend in the District. With cool photos! )
starlady: Gryffinclaw: "Don't believe what you're told. Double check."  (question everything)
(In honor of International Museum Day.)

Last month I went to the Barnes Foundation again.

The Barnes Foundation, located pointedly outside Philadelphia in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, is without question the greatest single collection of Modern art in the United States and quite possibly anywhere: it has more Cézannes than the entire city of Paris, to quote just one statistic; the collection is valued conservatively at $25 billion, but in reality it's simply priceless.

There are three other museums I can think of like the Barnes: both the Frick Collection in New York and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston were built by wealthy, eccentric industrialist money, but both Frick and Stewart Gardner were drinking the Old Master Kool-Aid (which is great stuff, to be certain); Barnes remained pointedly contemporary in his tastes. I also find the Miho Museum in Shigaraki, Japan to be an interesting comparand, since its collections were acquired by a mother and daughter purely on the basis of their aesthetic appeal, recalling Barnes' arrangement of his collection along his own aesthetic principles.

These works of art were collected and arranged by the late Dr. Albert Barnes, self-made man, staunch Democrat and anti-establishmentarian. Despite the fact that Barnes employed the strictest language possible in his will to keep his paintings where he wanted them, in the arrangements he chose according to the layout he designed in accordance with the art education principles devised by him and John Dewey, at the end of this summer the Foundation will close its permanent home and decamp to a new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, the victim of a concerted effort on the part of state and local politicians and 'philanthropists' to deface Barnes' vision. It is without question tantamount to getting away with murder; though the new building will keep Barnes' arrangements, it will very much offer the sort of en masse, cattle call-experience that is the opposite of everything Barnes, who taught classes in art appreciation at his collection almost until the day he died, wanted for his art. If you can go, do it this summer.

Henri Matisse, who created an in situ mural just for the Foundation, said that the Barnes was the only sane place to view art in America, and for my money, I'll take Matisse over people like Ed Rendell and Ray Perelman any day. But when I first went to the Barnes five or six years ago I knew much less of the story, and I found the experience somewhat overwhelming; in particular, I can't share Barnes's evident love of Renoir, whose works comprise probably 1/3 of the collection.

This time around the experience was just as engrossing, but much richer; it's impossible to convey how it feels to be able to stand in the corner of one room and look into other rooms, and to see how Barnes's arrangements work not only within the walls, not only within the rooms, but among the rooms too. The reason Barnes was able to amass such a stunning collection is because he was buying this stuff when no one else liked it, which goes against a lot of the popular wisdom about how to spot art for the ages; no one bought Impressionist paintings, right? But Barnes's life defies such clichés, as do his defiant mixtures of medieval Greek icons, twentieth century modernist masters such as Míro and Picasso, high 19thC painters like Renoir, and Old Mexico paintings of the 17thC with pre-colonization African and Olmec masks and stonework, to say nothing of the early American furniture and metalwork interspersed liberally amongst the art. It's a heady brew, and Barnes's installations insistently make the point that the divisions we impose on art and art history are arbitrary at best and invidious at worst, masking commonalities and ghettoizing human creativity from knowing itself (and preventing the acknowledgment of inspiration). These ideas are still things the art world doesn't want to hear. The best I can hope for in the Barnes moving to Philly is that maybe Barnes's truly radical message will reach more people, but my cynical soul doubts it. The fate of the Barnes is nothing other than a tragedy.
starlady: (coraline)
Today I went up to New York with [personal profile] sparrow_hawk to see the Tim Burton exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. We had a good time, needless to say.

It's the first time I've been to MOMA since it reopened after its renovation (which is actually sort of shocking to me, really), and at this point it's probably superfluous for me to say that the new building is pretty awesome. But it is; there are clever windows situated in interesting places throughout the building so that while viewing the art one can also view one's fellow viewers, often in the act of viewing. It's charming, even on days like today when the museum is a cattle run.

I really enjoyed the Tim Burton exhibit; I'm not going to claim (as the exhibit doesn't) that he's a giant of contemporary art, but he is unquestionably an artist with a consistent and characteristic vision who has brought that vision to life in various media with persistence, dedication and imagination. Also, particularly in his sketches done while he was bored at Disney, he has quite the sense of humor. Vis-a-vis the fact that what has to be his best movie (The Nightmare Before Christmas) was done in collaboration with Henry Selick, who actually directed it, [personal profile] sparrow_hawk and I wound up musing about whether it's always necessary to have a collaborator with whom one can refine one's ideas. Certainly comparing Nightmare to, say, The Corpse Bride suggests that the answer is yes.

One of the things brought up implicitly in the documentary The Art of the Steal is--not what art is, but how it ought to be experienced. The Barnes Foundation was intended to provide an intimate, almost early modern experience with many works of art at once, while MOMA and the large cultural institutions are providing a much more industrial experience--works of art isolated on white walls while one jostles many other people to look at them (and, in MOMA, while people every so often take flash photos of the art because they don't know how to work their cameras). Certainly the latter is more democratic, and there's quite an irony in the fact that Albert Barnes was a self-made millionaire and a Democrat who set up a foundation to provide a much more aristocratic interaction with art. But some of the coolest things in MOMA today were the artworks that are participatory, particularly Yin Xiuzhen's Collective Subconsciousness, which is a de-reconstructed van in which one can sit and chill while listening to a Mandarin pop song and is really freaking cool, and something in the mezzanine about which I cannot find anything on the website, but which involved a table and two chairs in the center of a klieg-lit square at which people could sit if they wished, the whole thing being filmed for use at some later date. In other words, these experiences were participatory. The other thing I really, really liked was the installation of several of Claude Monet's water lily paintings, including one of his monumental three-panel ones, which really have to be experienced directly to be grasped, but which are an amazing experience on multiple levels; it's not a coincidence, I think, that the water lily paintings are in a separate, less-trafficked gallery.

ETA: On further reflection, though, it seems that this obsessive and characteristic vision--this ability to keep revisiting the same subject (matter) and to see in it something different, or to see it in a different way, with every look--is common to artists, full stop: Monet and his water lilies, Burton and his monsters, they keep going back and seeing things no one else could no matter how often they looked. /eta

That said, though, the permanent collection is clearly amazing (though not quite on the level of the Barnes in the 1880-1940 department; I snark because I have opinions) and we didn't spend enough time there, since after fighting our way through the Tim Burton exhibit we were ready to be finished. Probably the thing to do is to go back on a weekday afternoon.

Then at McNally Jackson I found a copy of Samuel R. Delany's The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, which is not only back in print as of 2009 (I ♥ you, Wesleyan University Press) but revised. I'm not sure how that could be more awesome--oh wait, it could have cost less than $30 for a paperback. Ah well, it's totally worth it.
starlady: (run)
So I went down to DC this weekend to visit my friend M, who like me spent her first year out of college on a research fellowship abroad (in her case, Belgium) and whom I hadn't seen since graduation. It was, in brief, an excellent time.

We went to the Library of Congress, which is simply phenomenal as a building and as an institution. I very much hope some day to secure a reader's pass to the Asian (or even the main) reading room. The Library currently has exhibits about the pre-contact Americas and the founding of the United States, both of which were quite good--though I thought the early America one was better.

We also went to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which is the world's only museum devoted exclusively to artwork by women. It's a great little museum, but I don't think the galleries are well served by the fact that the building is a converted Masonic temple--they could use a redesign. The museum doesn't seem to have any pieces by Artemisia Gentileschi or Mary Cassat, who are two of the most famous women artists I could think of, but it does have pieces by Kathe Köllwitz and by Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun, Marie Antoinette's court painter, about whom I've recently read books, which made me happy. Later in the evening one of M's friends expressed dislike of "balkanizing" women out of general museums, but I found the NMWA's female-centered perspective on art history--and on conditions for women artists in the time periods it described--to be a refreshing, perhaps not corrective, but supplement, to art HIStory as it's taught.

We then went to the National Portrait Gallery, which used to be the Patent Building and which during the Civil War served as the Union hospital in which Walt Whitman volunteered. The courtyard has recently been roofed in an amazing piece of architecture, and I wish we'd had a bit more time to spend there, but I spent most of my time checking out the portraits as well as the special exhibit on Marcel Duchamp, who is one of my favorite artists and who apparently became an American citizen towards the end of his life--the exhibit focuses, fittingly enough, mostly on portraiture by and of Duchamp, with particular attention to his alter ego Rrose Celavy. Transvestism! I feel like since I read Vested Interests it's everywhere, but really it's just that the book opened my eyes. At any rate, the NPG is fantastic--we saw the original Obama portrait print, it's great--particularly the collection of portraits of Civil War figures, and the American art in general. I'm sort of obsessed with the Civil War at the moment, and it was great to see portraits of so many of the major players, particularly Stanton.

After a stop at the Red Velvet Cupcakery (one word: YUM) we saw approximately 1.5 innings of the Nationals vs. the Padres before the game was postponed on account of rain, but there was much beer and burgers to consoles us while we waited and then eventually gave up. On Sunday we went to Eastern Market and had lunch at Market Lunch--the crabcakes are amazing, let me tell you. After that we hiked up to AU for an alumni event from our college featuring one of our professors. It was great to see said professor and to hang out with some fellow alums during and after the event--we had pizza afterward, which always goes down well. 

Seeing M was inspiring in that, well, I need a different and better job. Not that I don't have other things on my plate, but really, I need to get in gear on that front in the next few weeks. Le sigh. Ah well. Wish me luck.


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