Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (Blessed are your dreams, my Child)

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night – [Verses from a Welsh lullaby translated into English]Hans Memling
Christ Blessing, 1481
Oil on panel

England (London), ca. 1800-10
Oak and pine veneered with mahogany, ebonized pine, patinated bronze, gilded metal, modern upholstery This bed is among the most original pieces of English Regency furniture. Dominant in English interiors from about 1800 to 1830, the Regency style perpetuated the classical taste of the late 18th century but was more academic and archaeologically correct. This bed closely resembles furnishings designed by Thomas Hope – collector, connoisseur and a pivotal figure in the classical revival of Regency England- for one of his residences. Its architectural form and bronze mounts derive from ancient and Renaissance models. The greyhounds, however, are inspired by medieval tomb sculpture and exemplify the more romantic interpretation of historical sources characteristic of Hope’s influential furniture designs. The bed may have been used for resting – a day bed – or for sleeping. 

Sweet (day)dreams from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

May 2nd, 2017

[All Art Has Been Contemporary]


All Art Has Been Contemporary
Neon, transformer, clips; 1999, fabricated in 2011
Maurizio Nannucci

Darkness Made Visible, featuring:

Blue (1993), film
Derek Jarman

Spiderman (2015), video installation
Mark Bradford

The exhibition pairs Derek Jarman’s final feature-length film Blue (1993) with Mark Bradford’s video installation Spiderman (2015)—both riveting first-person accounts of the AIDS crisis that are distinctly subjective, lyrical, humorous, and dark. Through imageless projection and bold voiceovers, they both expose and defy the forces that have marginalized queer bodies since the 1980s.

Visual and emotional stimulation at the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

May 2nd, 2017

Imogen and Twinka

Judy Dater
Imogen and Twinka, 1974
Gelatin silver print

Judy Dater is one of a younger generation of female photographers who credited Cunningham with having had a major impact on their work and on them as individuals. In this image, Dater’s most famous portrait, we see a sprightly Imogen, wearing her usual long dark dress and peace signs on her camera straps, with her favourite model, Twinka. Each appraises the other across a massive tree trunk in Yosemite – one young and the other old, one clothed and the other nude, a study in contrasts with a generous dose of humour mixed in.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

May 2nd, 2017

The art of having your head in the clouds

Walking into the galleries of the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, I could hardly believe we were still in the same Museum.  Tara Donovan
Untitled, 2003
Styrofoam cups, hot glue

This undulating lattice of styrofoam drinking cups with glowing hollows and pliable rims was made to expand into the architecture of this particular space. To discover how they react to light and space in transcendent ways, Donovan experiments with huge volumes of manufactured materials. Clustered with an almost viral repetition, the cups above assume forms that both evoke natural systems and seem to defy the laws of nature. ”My work is mimicking the ways of nature, not necessarily mimicking nature” she notes. Here, it might suggest cellular growth or even the density of molecules in rolling clouds. 

Jonathan Borofsky
I Dreamed I Could Fly, 2000
Acrylic on fiberglass and incandescent lamp

Borofsky’s work is driven by the ideals of equality and harmony. Made especially for the wide open spaces of the Linde Family Wing, these flying figures ”are able to rise up and look down upon the whole planet… [they] see and feel that human beings are all connected together and that we are all one – no divisions and no walls.” 

Always a pleasure to discover a work by Borofsky; you can see two more works we came across in earlier trips, in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
May 2nd, 2017

Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston || Botticelli

Botticelli and the Search for the Divine” was MFA’s main exhibition during our visit, and the ”largest, most important display of Botticelli’s works in the US” at that. While Botticelli’s subject matter, i.e. religious (Christian) imagery, leaves me unaffected, I can’t but admire his artistic dexterity, no doubt cultivated and enhanced by the support of his patrons, the wealthy Medici family, headed by Lorenzo the Magnificent. And, while his patrons largely dictated what the artist would create, they also provided the means for some of his most emblematic works. For instance, on Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Book), the artist used rare, expensive materials: green pigment from the mineral malachite; pure gold; and, most valuable of all, pulverized lapis lazuli, imported from Afghanistan, for the deep ultramarine of the Virgin’s robe. Materials that the majority of artists could very rarely afford – if at all.

But first, in order to reach the exhibition, one had to walk through the Museum’s Rotunda – in itself a work of art, decorated as it is with John Singer Sargent’s murals.

”In 1916, the MFA’s Trustees invited Sargent to decorate three lunettes in the Rotunda. Sargent offered a counter-proposal, suggesting that the Rotunda’s coffered ceiling be redesigned to allow space for a program of sculptural reliefs representing various classical gods and heroes. Using a scale model, Sargent ultimately decided that the limited daylight coming through the oculus would compromise the reliefs’ visibility from the floor. He did integrate some reliefs into his overall program for the Rotunda, but Sargent instead embarked upon a series of paintings for the space, which was unveiled to great fanfare in 1921, along with his designs for the surrounding balustrades and the casts of Venus and Minerva seen in the niches above.”

Sandro Botticelli, Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Book), ca. 1478–80
Tempera and gold on panel

Sandro Botticelli and workshop, Venus, ca. 1484-90. Oil on canvas, transferred from panel.
While this particular Venus (and another, now in Berlin) have been attributed directly to Botticelli in the past, some experts today regard them as painted under the master’s supervision by assistants.

Sandro Botticelli, Minerva and the Centaur, ca. 1482
Tempera on canvas

Sandro Botticelli, Saint Augustine in his Study, ca. 1480
Detached fresco

May 2nd, 2017

The Woodner Collections: Master Drawings from Seven Centuries

Sheer delight continued with the discovery of these masterpieces dating from the 14th to the 20th century.

Beham, Sebald, 1500 – 1550, Cimon and Pero (1540), pen and black ink with charcoal heightened with white on heavy laid paper

The story of Cimon and Pero was told by the first-century historian Valerius Maximus in his Memorable Deeds and Sayings. Imprisoned without food or water, the aged Cimon was saved from death by the visits of his daughter Pero, a young mother who nourished him with breast milk. Pero’s selfless act, which came to be known as ”Roman charity”, was regarded as a model of filial piety.

Niccolò dell’Abbate, 1509 or 1512-1571, The Rape of Ganymede (c. 1545), pen and ink with wash and watercolour over traces of chalk, heightened with white on paper washed light brown

Ganymede was a handsome shepherd who was carried off by Zeus (shown here in the form of an eagle) to become cupbearer to the Gods. The youth is usually shown nude or in classical dress, but here he wears the elegant costume of a sixteenth-century courtier.

Federico Barocci, probably 1535-1612, Head of a Bearded Man (1579/1582), chalks on blue paper
Luca Signorelli, 1445/1450 – 1523, Bust of a Youth Looking Upward (c. 1500), chalk, partially indented with a stylus
Andrea del Sarto, 1486-1530, Head of Saint John the Baptist (c. 1523), chalk
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725-1805, Bust of an Old Man, probably 1763, chalks with stumping, wetting and erasure

After completing a painting, Greuze often made finished drawings of the heads of some of the individual figures. These ”têtes d’expression” (expressive heads) were intended to be sold and appreciated as independent works of art. 

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1780-1867, Mademoiselle Mary de Borderieux (?), 1857, graphite and watercolour with white highlights
Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, Self-Portrait, c. 1855, chalk
Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881 – 1973, Two Fashionable Women, 1900, charcoal
Henry Fuseli, 1741-1825, Satan Defying the Powers of Heaven, late 1790s, graphite, chalk and wash

National Gallery of Art

”Washington, DC—Ian Woodner assembled an extraordinary collection of over 1,000 old master and modern drawings, making him one of the 20th century’s most important collectors. More than 150 works from his collection now reside at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. While Ian Woodner gave some works himself in the 1980s, the majority have been donated by his daughters, Dian and Andrea. His daughters have also made other gifts and have pledged works from their personal collections. The Woodner Collections: Master Drawings from Seven Centuries brings together for the first time the best of Ian Woodner’s collection with some of the works given and promised by Dian and Andrea Woodner. […] 

Some 100 drawings dating from the 14th to the 20th century are presented in an exhibition of masterworks donated by one of the great connoisseurs of the 20th century, Ian Woodner, and his daughters, Dian and Andrea. The Woodner Collections includes drawings executed by outstanding draftsmen such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Edgar Degas, and Pablo Picasso, among many others.”

They were on view in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art through July 16, 2017.

April 25th, 2017

The Urban Scene: 1920-1950

What a sheer delight, to walk in the National Gallery of Art and discover these rather brilliant prints depicting urban scenes from the Jazz Age and beyond!

Martin Lewis, Building a Babylon, Tudor City, N.Y.C., 1929, etching and drypoint
Stow Wengenroth, Quiet Hour, (New York), 1947, lithograph
Robert Riggs, Germantown & Chelten, (Philadelphia), c. 1950, lithograph
John Taylor Arms, West Forty-Second Street, Night, (New York), 1922, aquatint and etching on yellow laid paper
Isac Friedlander, 3 A.M., (New York), 1934, etching
Howard Norton Cook, Looking up Broadway, 1937, lithograph
Martin Lewis, Quarter of Nine – Saturday’s Children, (New York), 1929, drypoint
Clare Leighton, Breadline, New York, 1931, wood engraving
Armin Landeck, View of New York, 1932, lithograph

National Gallery of Art

”Washington, DC—American artists of the early 20th century sought to interpret the beauty, power, and anxiety of the modern age in diverse ways. Through depictions of bustling city crowds and breathtaking metropolitan vistas, 25 black-and-white prints on view in The Urban Scene: 1920–1950 will explore the spectacle of urban modernity. Prints by recognized artists such as Louis Lozowick (1892–1973) and Reginald Marsh (1898–1954), as well as lesser-known artists including Mabel Dwight (1875–1955), Gerald Geerlings (1897–1998), Victoria Hutson Huntley (1900–1971), Martin Lewis (1881–1962), and Stow Wengenroth (1906–1978), are included in this exhibition.”

The Urban Scene was on view in the West Building until August 6, 2017.

April 25th, 2017

Inventing Utamaro: A Japanese Masterpiece Rediscovered

A reason big enough to visit the Sackler and a wonderful coincidence these masterpieces were on show during our visit (show ran until July 2017).

”In 2014, the Okada Museum of Art in Hakone, Japan, made an announcement that startled the art world. The new arts center revealed it had discovered a long-lost painting by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), a legendary but mysterious Japanese artist.Titled Snow at Fukagawa, the immense work is one of three paintings by Utamaro that idealize famous pleasure districts in Edo (now Tokyo). This trio reached the Paris art market in the late 1880s and was quickly dispersed. Museum founder Charles Lang Freer acquired Moon at Shinagawa in 1903. Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara passed through several hands in France until the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, purchased it in the late 1950s. And Snow at Fukagawa had been missing for nearly seventy years before it resurfaced in Hakone.

For the first time in nearly 140 years, these paintings reunite in Inventing Utamaro at the Freer|Sackler, the only location to show all three original pieces. Contextualizing them within collecting and connoisseurship at the turn of the twentieth century, the exhibition explores the many questions surrounding the paintings and Utamaro himself.”

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait @ The National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.

The American Art Museum shares its premises with the National Portrait Gallery, both being part of the Smithsonian Institution. First-time visitors may have a hard time distinguishing between the two, but that’s just a minor detail – what’s important is to allow time to enjoy some incredible works of American art, like Bill Viola’s ”The Moving Portrait” exhibit, which was running until May 2017.

I’ve been admiring Viola’s work for years, his use of video technologies, experimentation with portraiture and the fact that he always seems to submerge his subjects in water, an element present in -almost- his entire body of work. But, it was only recently I learned, coming across an interview on Louisiana Channel, that when Viola was 6 years old he fell into a lake, all the way to the bottom, ”to a place which seemed like paradise”. That’s when he learned that “there’s more than just the surface of life” […] and ”the real things are under the surface”. That explains his fascination with water, also evident in ”The Dreamers”, a video/sound installation of 2013:

No water present in ”Man Searching for Immortality/Woman Searching for Eternity” (2013), an installation in two frames, showing an elderly man and a woman, naked, inspecting their bodies with a flashlight.

But water is present with all its mighty force in ”The Raft” (2004), in which 19 perfect strangers unsuspectingly gather in a spot, as if waiting for a bus, when suddenly disaster strikes as torrents of water knock them down, leaving them gasping for breath.  

Bill Viola Interview on Louisiana Channel, including views from ”The Raft”:

National Portrait Gallery
Washington, D.C.

April 24th, 2017