Washington D.C. – The Smithsonian American Art Museum part I

Taking refuge from the rain, letting the experience at Ford’s Theatre sink in. Next stop, the wonders of the American Art Museum. We arrived late in the day, two hours before closing, and instantly knew we were coming back for more. Perfect for rainy days – here is a first look:   Peacocks and Peonies, 1882, Stained glass – John La Farge (1835-1910)


John La Farge’s stained glass windows reflect the Gilded Age fascination with medieval art and craftsmanship. The tail feathers of the peacocks are made of bits of glass in the ”broken jewel” technique; each peony blossom is a single piece of glass molded to catch the light differently through the day. La Farge layered his coloured glass as a painter would build glazes of colours to achieve the right shade. For the composition, he borrowed from many cultured: the central panels with the bird and flower motif evoke Chinese and Japanese screens; the lower panels emulate Pompeiian architecture; and the transoms recall the curved arch above the door to a Romanesque cathedral. 


The Industrial Revolution had made inexpensive, mass-produced glass available to anyone, but art glass remained a prized emblem of wealth and good taste. These windows were commissioned by Frederick Lothrop Ames, a railroad magnate, who had them installed in a vast, baronial hall of his Boston house.


The Sun God, modeled 1882, cast iron – Elihu Vedder (1836-1923)

Between 1881 and 1885, Elihu Vedder undertook a number of commercial projects, including book illustrations and the design of firebacks and decorative tiles. A fireback was a metal insert placed against the back wall of a fireplace to protect the masonry and radiate heat forward into the room. Vedder decorated this example with the head of a sun god; the rays surrounding this face are a visual play on the warmth usually associated with the hearth.


Adams Memorial, modeled 1886-91, cast 1969, bronze – Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907)


Marian ”Clover” Hooper Adams, wife of writer Henry Adams, committed suicide in 1885 by drinking chemicals used to develop photographs [Clover was a skilled autodidact photographer]. Her grieving husband commissioned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a memorial that would express the Buddhist idea of nirvana, a state of being beyond joy and sorrow. In Adams’ circle of artists and writers, the old Christian certainties seemed inadequate after the violence of the Civil War, the industrialization of America, and Darwin’s theories of evolution.

Saint-Gaudens’ ambiguous figure reflects the search for new insights into the mysteries of life and death. The shrouded being is neither male nor female, neither triumphant nor downcast. Its message is inscrutable. Clover’s gravesite in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C., quickly became a tourist attraction, but Adams resisted all attempts to sentimentalize the memorial as a symbol of grief. He acknowledged the power of Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture, however, and allowed reproductions to be made and sold to a chosen few.


Diana, 1889, bronze – Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907)


Angel, 1887, oil on canvas – Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921)


Adoration of St. Joan of Arc, 1896, fire etched wood relief – J. William Fosdick (1858-1937)


J. William Fosdick made this relief to appeal to wealthy industrialists who favoured richly designed interiors and uplifting art. He tapped into the fantasy of a more spiritual past, and when the screen was exhibited, it was praised for craftsmanship that rivaled a medieval masterwork.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Joan of Arc was a popular symbol in American culture. Mark Twain wrote about her in 1896, Anna Hyatt Huntington created a sculpture of the martyr for Riverside Drive in New York and George Bernard Shaw’s famous play about her was first produced on Broadway in 1923. She could be a figure from the romantic past and an emblem of the ”New Woman” in the modern world. Joan may have died for king and country – as the legend at the bottom of the screen records – but her symbolic power as a woman who took history into her hands also resonated among women fighting for the right to vote.


Rising Sun, 1914, bronze – Adolph A. Weinman (1870-1952)


Girl Skating, 1907, bronze – Abastenia St. Léger Eberle (1878-1942)


Synthetic Arrangement, 1922, oil on canvas – Morris Kantor (1896-1974)


People in the Sun, 1960, oil on canvas – Edward Hopper (1882-1967)


Night in Bologna, 1958, egg tempera on fiberboard – Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)


Night in Bologna is a dark comedy of sexual tensions played out on a stage of shadowy arcades. In the foreground, a soldier on leave throws off a visible heat that suffuses the air around him with a red glow. He casts an appraising look at a worldly woman nearby, who gauges the interest of a man seated at a café table. The gawky tourist is unaware of her attentions, and looks longingly at the man in uniform. Paul Cadmus noted that he used red, green and yellow to denote the characters’ vices – lust, envy and greed – but left the outcome unclear; he was more interested in the tangle of human instincts than in tidy resolutions. He once said that he would always rather paint a novel than a short story.


Smithsonian American Art Museum

April 24th, 2017

*PAPARAZZI*

I was walking down Greenwich Avenue toward the Jefferson Market Library, planning on taking a closer look at the stained glass windows I had read so much about, when suddenly….
… the familiar click click click and, before I knew it, I was surrounded…!They appeared out of nowhere and, in a matter of seconds, they seemed to be everywhere…Covering my face, I struggled to get away but could not shake them off; they kept tailing me until somebody else got their attention… … at last they left me alone… their next target had arrived and already taken position! I hurried into the calm, quiet hallway of the library but not before noticing the sign: at least now I know who is the mastermind behind the commotion…! 

Joel, Charlie, Rocky & Samuel aka Pararazzi Dogs in Bronze
By Gillie and Marc

 

Greenwich Village
April 2nd, 2017

Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years @ MAD

“Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years is the first exhibition to focus on the early career of Peter Voulkos, whose radical methods and ideas during this period opened up the possibilities for clay in ways that are still being felt today.”

A chance encounter with the work of an artist I had never heard of before – highly popular in this part of the world, less so in Europe it seems. Following a quick research, I now know that he was an American of Greek descent (as his name suggests), whose parents had migrated to Bozeman, Montana where he was born. He served in the U.S. Army during WWII and studied painting and printmaking in Montana State University where he was also introduced to ceramics. He died in 2002 doing what he loved best: demonstrating his skill to a live audience.

“Commissions for large-scale works in bronze occupied a good deal of Voulkos’ time in the early 1960s, but he continued to work in clay energetically and innovatively. Many of his ceramic works of this period were made in public demonstrations. Voulkos was a natural performer who loved working in front of a crowd. One observer who saw him make Josephine at Greenwich House Pottery in New York, remembers how ”he worked with total abandon and total focus all at the same time”, first pounding the piece as it rose on the wheel then slicing it in half, then welding it together with wet clay as he worked it with his fists from the inside, and finally splashing its surface with slip and glaze.

Voulkos’ demonstrations were great theater, and even the ceramic works that he was making in the studio at this time, such as a series of cracked and fissured plates, capture this sense of immediacy. They can be compared with contemporary Abstract Expressionist paintings, many of which project a similar, stereotypically masculine combination of authority and aggression. Yet Voulkos’ improvisations also relate to his interest in jazz and Spanish flamenco, which he played proficiently on the guitar. ”I think that working in the form of pottery is a very demanding thing” he said. ”The minute you touch a piece of clay it responds, it’s like music – you have to know all the structure and know how to make sound before you can come up with anything”.”

Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years was on show until March 15th, 2017 at 

The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)
2, Columbus Circle
New York City

March 12th, 2017

Philadelphia – The Steps, The Men, The Tune

How many times I heard the tune, I couldn’t possibly tell – I lost count halfway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It had been in my head all along and seemingly everyone – myself included – got in synch as soon as The Steps appeared on the far end of the long stretch between Logan Square and The Oval.

Everyone, except Washington that is, seeing how he faces away, his back turned to the steps.

The rest of the world goes the Rocky wayLike this Donut Man
Or this Reenactor Or the Man himself

And, finally, The Tune:

The Rocky Steps, Philadelphia
February 22nd, 2017

Philadelphia – The Skywalkers

Inside the ”Winter Garden” aka main lobby of the Comcast Center. Two show-stopping public art installations.

The Comcast Experience, a 25.4ft tall, 83.3 feet, 2,000sf high-definition LED screen with incredibly clear, almost 3-D moving images, ranging from the clock wheels pictured here, to monumental natural landscapes to Betty Boop dancing.

And the permanent installation ”Humanity in Motion” by Jonathan Borofsky – 12 realistically painted life-size figures of stainless steel, walking on horizontal poles and two figures standing at ground level. Guess which ones?

Philadelphia,
February 22nd, 2017

Philadelphia – another short walk

Through Thomas Paine Plaza, the city’s urban garden across from the City Hall.

Finding the Comcast Center Building, the tallest one in the city – at least until the other Comcast highrise, the one you see coming up on the left side, is complete. The Comcast Technology Center’s ambition is to become one of the tallest buildings in the U.S. Getting some New York vibes of steel and glass verticality? 

There’s something going on here but I’m not sure I want to find out exactly what! 

Philadelphia
February 22nd, 2017

Philadelphia City Hall – The Building

Philadelphians are proud of their history and heritage, and one way to show it is by signing up as volunteer guides. Go to any site of historical or cultural interest and you can be sure to find a tour lead by a ranger or a knowledgeable docent.

Like the City Hall Interior tour we took, which includes a visit to the Tower for a panoramic view of the city. Actually, the tour starts outside, across from the Wanamaker Building, where John Wanamaker’s bronze statue commemorates him simply as ”Citizen”; then on to the inner courtyard before entering the vast City Hall – the largest municipal building in the world – and its seemingly endless corridors and offices.

See that small feature on top of the tower? This is a 27-ton, 37ft bronze statue of the city’s founder, William Penn. Created by Alexander Milne Calder, it is the tallest statue atop any building in the world.

Biggest, oldest, tallest… superlatives seem to characterize Philadelphia – and very suitably so, I might add.

Philadelphia
February 22nd, 2017

Crazy electric hair

Of all the glass sculptures in this exhibition, Neon 206 stands out as the craziest. Installed specifically to reflect on the Conservatory windows and the pool outside, it must be seen in the dark or else it would look just like a bundle of bent tubes (which is what it is). But at night it transforms into an explosion of light, the perfect backdrop for those playful shadowy portraits; snapshots of electric dreams.

With this neon light craziness, we bid farewell to the Botanical Garden and the magical world of Dale Chihuly. Next stop, Philadelphia…

Neon 206 (2017)

Chihuly Nights, New York Botanical Garden

October 14th, 2017