Monday, May 21, 2012
The Barnes Foundation in its new home
The Barnes Foundation, which opened in 1925 in a Philadelphia suburb, was known for offering art experts and novices alike a unique experience. Established by Albert Barnes in a mansion built especially to house his amazing collection, the museum was designed to provide a new way of looking at art. Combinations of paintings, many by masters like Renoir and Cezanne, with sculpture from Greece, Rome, and Africa, furniture and household objects, emphasized the commonalities among the pieces, and encouraged viewers to seek out themes and conversations.
Several years ago, after a complicated legal battle, the provisions of Barnes’ original plan were overturned, and the Foundation moved to new quarters in central Philadelphia. Although many feared that the move would change or dilute the Barnes experience, in fact the reality is different. The experience is much the same as before, but better: enhanced by the new setting, lighting, and accessiblity.
This article in the New York Times discusses highlights, and this interactive feature shows the rooms as they were in the old location—and as they still are in the new space. The Barnes experience is undiluted, and immensely satisfying.
Monday, February 27, 2012
A twenty-first century look at a fifteenth century masterpiece
Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s “Mystic Lamb”, better known as the Ghent Altarpiece, was created in 1432. As part of an emergency conservation project, the work has been photographed centimeter by centimeter at extremely high resolution. Now art lovers and technicians alike can study the work using this open-source approach. If you’re new to this kind of technology, I recommend the help page on the website as the best place to start.
Friday, February 10, 2012
Renoir as “fashionista”?
The current exhibition at the Frick Collection in New York, “Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting” belies Renoir’s designation as an Impressionist. Far from rapidly capturing the effect of light and color that we usually associate with Impressionism, these large-scale paintings are traditional and imposing in scale. In the style of painting, the brushstrokes and soft color that Renoir used here, we can see echoes of Impressionism; but he was more interested in using the full-length format to display the Belle Epoque attire that he saw around him. According to the exhibition catalog, Renoir came by his interest in fashion naturally: his mother was a seamstress and his father was a tailor. Whether or not we can pigeonhole the creator of these works, they are wonderfully pleasant to the eye and evocative of a lost era.
Friday, February 03, 2012
Van Gogh: An Eye for Detail
An exhibition currently on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, entitled “Van Gogh Up Close” offers a new way of looking at this artist’s revolutionary work. The forty-five works in this exhibition portray his ability—or more accurately his need—to focus closely on details in nature and find ways to replicate them on canvas. For him, it was a kind of centering, a way of calming some of his more explosive moods. The works on view show Van Gogh using a wide variety of styles, using long quick brush strokes in all directions, creating a feeling of fluidity, and often referencing the Japanese prints that he loved and collected. Click here for a slide show of some of the paintings in this exhibition.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Brain teasers for the eyes: the art of Jesus Soto
Jesus Soto, a Venezuelan artist who was active in Paris from 1950 on, was fascinated by the ways in which truth depends on perspective. Although he worked in an era when Abstract Expressionists were all about painting from their inner beings, Soto was more interested in heightening viewers’ awareness of the roles that eyes and bodies play in experiencing everything—not just art, but the world around us. That is, objects change radically depending on the viewer’s position, and another viewer’s perspective will be different again—producing layers upon layers of visions of reality. For example, Soto (1923-2005) created three-dimensional constructions consisting of compositions of stripes and geometric forms painted on sheets of plexiglass. These painted sheets were attached to similarly painted panels, leaving as much as ten inches of space between. The resulting visual experience changes as you shift back and forth to see the relationships from different angles.
Click here for more background information and examples of Soto’s work, which is currently on display at the Grey Art Gallery of New York University.
Friday, December 30, 2011
A year-end look at favorite objects in NY museums
In the December 30, 2011, edition of the New York Times, there’s a wonderful exploration of a selection of objects found in various New York museums. Three art critics chose their favorites and present them for our delight. Click here for the section, which also features a slide show of the objects, descriptions of what makes them attractive and interesting, and links to more information.
Enjoy—and happy new year!
Friday, November 11, 2011
Murals by Diego Rivera reunited at MoMA
The Museum of Modern Art in New York is about to open an exhibition of five murals created by Diego Rivera in 1931, reuniting these panels for the first time in 80 years. This link to the exhibition includes a very informative multimedia tour, complete with audio, of the paintings as well as background information on Rivera’s legendary mural for Rockefeller Center.
Rivera actually worked on the murals in an empty gallery at the museum; he kept the heat off because he didn’t want the paint to dry too quickly. Five of the murals he created depict events in Mexican history; three more captured scenes of Depression-era New York. In the years since their creation, the murals have scattered to private collections and other museums; only one remained at MoMA. One of the New York scenes is very relevant to today’s world: its three tiers show, from top, a skyline of skyscrapers, a pier sheltering the unemployed, and a bank vault where the wealthy count their money. Its title: “Frozen Assets.”
Friday, October 21, 2011
Exhibition of drawings provides a snapshot of Picasso’s career
The Frick Collection (look at their home page for a slide show of Picasso’s drawings) in New York is currently home to an exhibition titled “Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition.” Although exhibitions of Picasso’s works are not infrequent, this low-key offering takes a close look at one period—from youth to early middle age; and one medium—drawing. It begins with an awkward, cautious pencil rendering of a small statue, drawn when Picasso was 8 or 9 years old. Although he may have begun tentatively, it didn’t take long for him to begin to display his natural gifts, as the next drawings in the show illustrate.
From these early days, the show traces his development and the myriad influences that are evident in all phases of Picasso’s art. He constantly pushed the boundaries of his materials and his subjects, whether the human face and body, landscapes, or still life. In Paris in his twenties, he was exposed to drawings of all kinds, from classical to contemporary, and the exhibition is filled with examples of these influences. In one drawing, Picasso seems to be responding to the so-called primitives of the French and Italian Renaissance; in another, to Gauguin’s Tahitian subjects. There are hints of references to Iberian and African sculpture. The exhibition celebrates Picasso’s lifelong habit of looking at every kind of art available and taking from it the themes he would develop in his own unique way.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Lessons from a master: De Kooning at MoMA
A major retrospective exhibition of the works of Willem De Kooning is about to open at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. For aspiring artists, there’s a lot to be learned from a slow walk through this large show.
As a young teenager in his native Rotterdam, De Kooning worked in a commercial design firm, where he learned basic techniques of lettering, tracing, copying, and layering. This background in creating a whole from many disparate parts became the foundation of the art he would go on to produce. As a young artist, he studied and absorbed the work of many artists including Ingres, Rubens, Soutine, Picasso, and Gorky, as well as images from advertising and the Sunday comics. He strove to combine many elements to create something entirely new; every painting he made was a controlled experiment. According to an article in the New York Times, “typically, he would start with a drawing, add paint, draw on top of the paint, scrape the surface down, draw more images traced and transferred from elsewhere, add paint to them, and on and on.” This physical energy reaches out from each painting to grab the viewer’s attention.
For students of art, getting to know De Kooning feels like being given permission to try any crazy combination of elements that comes to mind. That’s what creativity is all about. De Kooning never stopped experimenting; neither should we.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
End of an era for the Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania, was a unique treasure house of Impressionist and early modernist painting and sculpture. The eccentric collector, Albert C. Barnes, not only amassed a huge collection of works by giants such as Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, and Seurat. He also intended these masterpieces to be seen in a particular way, so that viewers would learn from them how to look at and appreciate great art. So he arranged his collection so that the pieces would “speak” to each other, echoing colors and themes and shapes.
Sadly for the many art lovers who visited the Foundation over the years, its location in the suburbs of Philadelphia is now closed, and the collection will be moved to a new building in downtown Philadelphia. Though the works themselves will always reward the visitor, something of the magic of Barnes’s vision will certainly be lost in this move.
Click here to take a virtual tour of the collection in its original and intended home.