Saturday, September 29, 2012

Day 20/60: Back to Philadelphia MoA

Wednesday, 9/26: 

Today's plan was to drive over to Princeton University to see their art museum, but we both slept poorly because of our colds and we were both miserable when we awoke. We hung around the motel for the morning working with our photos. Then we went back to the Philadelphia Museum of Art so I could see some stuff I had missed.

One of my personal objectives has been to continue my study of Sol Lewitt. In North Adams we will see a major retrospective of his works. Philadelphia Museum has a unique work that I missed the first day we visited there: a garden planned by Lewitt. I had been out to look at it the first day, but a couple of guys riding power mowers were hot-dogging around the park and the noise put me off. I thought I would check it out when the museum closed, but by then my load was dragging and I had to give up that plan. Today we went there first and I studied it in detail.

As you might expect, if you know Lewitt, he made instructions for four large plots; one with flowers planted in horizontal beds, one with flowers in vertical rows, one with flower beds in diagonal rows, one with the opposite diagonal. It was commissioned in 1981 and finally realized this year. It was all dilapidated by the recent rain; far past its prime. It consisted of wild flowers of different heights; some were brown, some had fallen, but some plants were still colorful and pretty. Summer was the good time, but this process of the artist's order being broken down by the chaos of nature was part of Lewitt's message.

Lines in Four Directions in Flowers by Sol Lewitt
Commissioned by the Fairmont Park Association in 1981
Realized in 2012; Jan's photo

Rows of yellow flowers parallel to border
Jan's photo
Rows of blue flowers diagonal to border
Jan's photo

The museum's main building is a remarkably successful imitation of a Greek temple, with fluted columns, Corinthian capitals and sculpted pediments. As appropriate for a temple, it is situated in a high rise in the midst of a landscaped park.

One wing of the Museum; Jan's photo

Close-up of the pediment; Jan's photo
The Greeks painted their decorative sculptures.

Under the portico; Jan's photo
Prometheus Strangling the Vulture, 1943 by Jacques Lipchitz
Jan's photo

View toward the city with the City Hall in Center background
Jan's photo

For lunch we went to the museum's excellent cafeteria. The atmosphere was ordinary, but the food was just as good as they serve in the restaurant, and the selection was much healthier.

Getting back to the subject of Sol Lewitt, the museum has another unusual example of his work in the form of the ceiling of one gallery. Here's a little video I made on my iPod Touch.

We spent a few hours roaming around together so that Dan could help me find some galleries that I had missed. By the end of the afternoon, we were both exhausted.

We caught a taxi back to the motel. After a short rest, we managed to drag ourselves up the hill to the Belgian Café. Dan had the tilapia dish he had tried the first evening; I had a salmon burger.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Day 19/60: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Wednesday, 9/26: Plus the Rodin Museum

This morning we took a taxi downtown to visit the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While we were hung up in traffic for a few moments, I had the good fortune to photograph one of Philadelphia's wonderful street murals.

Common Threads, 1998
by Meg Saligman (born 1965)
Jan's photo
PAFA is located right downtown, across the street from the Convention Center and about a block from Philly's iconic City Hall. The museum is housed in two buildings, and the lane between them has been turned into a friendly public area by a long, curving wood bench. The activity was so intense that we spent a long time taking photos and people-watching.

Philadelphia Convention Center
Dan's photo
Paint Torch, 2011
by Claes Oldenburg (born 1929)
Dan's photo
Philadelphia City Hall
Dan's photo
The museum's older building is a rare specimen of Victorian architecture by Frank Furness, an architect who lived from 1839 to 1912. Dating from 1876, it is characterized by eclectic borrowing from earlier periods and a mix of materials. Victorian architecture is not much in favor and many examples have been demolished, so it is quite a marvel to encounter it in a modern city. The interior decoration seems mismatched and overdone to the point of being quirky and endearing. With clear, white light overall, it is a fine home for American art.

Entrance to PAFA; Dan's photo
Victorian Interior; Dan's photo
Consisting of both an art school and a museum, the Pennsylvania Academy was founded in 1805, and it is the oldest institution of its type in the nation. Quite a distinction! Our third president, Thomas Jefferson was in office at the time.

It was founded by a group of artists and businessmen that included Charles Willson Peale, one of America's most important cultural leaders in his period. Like Jefferson, he was a "man of letters"—an all-round scholar, educator, and self-promotor. Nowadays we think of him mainly as an artist, best known for his portrait paintings of leading figures of the American Revolution. Fittingly, PAFA has an important group of his work.

George Washington at Princeton, 1779 
by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)
Dan's photo
Further perpetuating his legacy, Peale had ten children; all were named for famous artists, and all of them became respectable painters themselves, though most of them had other professions. His younger brother James was also a noted painter.  PAFA has a significant group by the Peale family.

Self-Portrait, c. 1845
by Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860)
Jan's photo
Charles Willson Peale's more famous contemporaries, John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West, both fled the Revolutionary War to live England, but they are both well represented at PAFA. Copley developed a reputation as a portraitist before he left.

Robert 'King' Hooper , 1767
by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
 Dan's photo

Though he was American born, Benjamin West became the second president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London (after Joshua Reynolds). Yet his work is in every collection of American art. He was a very talented painter, and his small scale works are often charming. His contemporaries thought his most important work was his monumental historical and mythological paintings. These seem comically over-theatrical nowadays, and they occupy a lot of space, so they are mostly in storage. PAFA has a few of these on display; they look like the spaces where they hang were designed for them.

Death on the Pale Horse, 1817
by Benjamin West (1738-1820)
Dan's photo
In a calmer mood and more reasonable size, West depicted an important event in American history.

Penn's Treaty with the Indians, 1771-72
by Benjamin West (1738-1820)
Dan's Photo
One of PAFA's most famous teachers was Thomas Eakins, so it is fitting that they now own what may be his greatest painting, The Gross Clinic. This painting was long owned by Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia; we had seen it there several years back, but photography was not allowed. Financial considerations and the desire to make the painting available to art lovers finally brought the painting to a proper museum.

Detail of The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins, 1875
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (owned in conjunction with Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Dan's photo
The influential painter Robert Henri was educated at the Academy; he was a protege of Thomas Eakins. He went on to become an important teacher at the New York School of Art.

Ruth St. Denis in the Peacock Dance, 1919
by Robert Henri (1865-1929)
Dan's photo

Much to its credit, PAFA has a history of promoting women artists and art educators. When we were there they had several wonderful works by women who were unknown to me.

A Motion Picture (Self-Portrait), 1912
by Margaret Foster Richardson (1881- c. 1945)
Jan's photo
Self-Portrait, 1937
by Priscilla Roberts (1916-2001)
Jan's photo
They also had paintings by moderately well-known American women.

Young Woman, 1937
by Isabel Bishop (1902-1988)
Jan's photo
Picnic at Bedford Hills, 1918
by Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944)
Dan's photo

Midi et Demi (Half-Past Noon), 1956-57
by Dorthea Tanning (1910-2012)
Dan's photo

One of the big stars of American painting, Georgia O'Keeffe, is represented by a gorgeous example from her flower series.

Red Canna, 1923
by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986
Jan's photo

The museum was showing a very interesting group of social realist works depicting large groups of people in public events.

Mine Disaster, 1933
by Philip Evergood (1901-1973)
Dan's photo

Lucky Daredevils (The Thrill of Death), 1931
by Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
Dan's photo

John Brown Going to His Hanging, 1942
by Horace Pippin (1888-1946)
Dan's photo

A prominent feature of American art in the Victorian era was neoclassical figure sculpture, especially in marble. PAFA's collection includes most of the big names.

19th Century gallery; Jan's photo
Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii, 1859
by Randolph Rogers (1825-1892)
Jan's photo

Hypathia, 1873
by Howard Roberts (1843-1900)
Jan's photo

It was pleasant to see the students from the Academy's art school copying the masterpieces in a long-honored tradition.

Dan's photo
Jan's photo

Jan's photo
My only complaint about our visit to PAFA is that the old building was very cold; every minute I felt the congestion building in my head. We had lunch at their small cafe: both of us had a mound of tuna on a slice of tomato with a bunch of greens.

Then we went across the lane to the other building. On the exterior, it seemed to be a converted department store, unnoticeable. The bottom floor was the museum's exhibition space. We surmise that classrooms occupy the rest of the building. They had a large an impressive Eric Fischl exhibit; no photography allowed; I grabbed a shot from the Internet just to give you an idea.

 Scenes of Late Paradise – The Welcome, 2007 by Eric Fischl
Internet grab 
Fischl's main subject is nudity and blunt sensuality. He takes photos compulsively. He especially likes beaches of Europe where nudity and partial nudity are accepted. He wants to see naked bodies interacting in normal ways instead of painting nudes in classical poses. He makes collages of his photos and then paints the collages.

By the time we were finished, we were both dragging. But we revived a little during the taxi ride, and spontaneously got the driver to stop when he arrived at the Rodin Museum, which was only a block from our motel. This museum had been closed for a few years for renovation, but I didn't notice any changes since our previous visit. The garden and pavilion have an elegant, Parisian atmosphere. The collection of Rodin is about the same size as the one at Stanford; at Stanford more work is displayed outside. Anyway, there is a lot of Rodin around so not much is new to us. (You can only mourn for the Burghers of Calais so many times.)

The Rodin Museum, 1929
Dan's photo

The Age of Bronze
 by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Modeled in clay 1875-77
cast in bronze 1925
Dan's photo
By the time we got back to the motel, I was too exhausted to eat and went straight to bed. Dan managed to walk up to the Belgian Café for dinner; there wasn't really any alternative in the neighborhood.

Day 18/60: The Barnes

Wednesday, 9/26

Finally the big day arrived: our visit to the Barnes Foundation. It was the opening of this museum that had started Dan's trip planning. Fortunately, his cold was better, and he felt up for the experience. The museum was only a block from our motel, so we were ready and waiting when the doors opened at 10 o'clock.

The Barnes Foundation; Entrance on the Right
Dan's photo

Entrance to the Galleries
Dan's photo

The big question was how could the architects, Billie Tsien and Todd Williams (a married couple) "replicate the original museum" within a modern, minimalist building. The answer is ingenious. The galleries are exactly the same size and shape as those in the original building, but the floor plan is exploded to place other types of spaces between them—a garden or a reading room. One advantage is that this gives viewers space to circulate; the other is that it gives them a visual rest from galleries that are packed floor to ceiling with art and crafts from many eras and regions.

In fact, it was marvelous how well they re-created the old galleries, which we recalled from our visit to the original museum in Merion, a nearby community. The materials and colors are the same; the lighting has a similar tone but subtly brightened. Most importantly, all the objects are placed exactly the same, as specified in the will of the museum's founder, Dr. Albert C. Barnes.

Barnes was a medical doctor who discovered and marketed a highly effective drug for the prevention of infant blindness in the early 1900s. As his fortune grew, so did his interest in art. He was widely read and began to develop a lot of theories about art and education, and he created the Barnes Foundation to propagate them. One of his theories was that craft should be honored alongside art. He was particularly fond of certain types of metal-craft and wooden chests, but he also like African masks and American folk crafts, among other things. Another of his theories was that art and craft could be displayed together in a way that enhanced their aesthetic commonalities. Thus, he was obsessive about the way he arranged his ever-growing collections.

I imagine him sitting up late at night with a glass of whiskey and a cigar arranging and re-arranging his beautiful stuff, then making up arcane explanations for his "wall ensembles." His favorite thing was to have a large antique chest on the floor, above it a row of fairly large paintings, above them smaller paintings, above and around all of them, decorative metal-work. Much attention was given to symmetry of sizes and subjects as well as to shapes. Some of his explanations are reasonable; some are comical, late-night ideas.

Since no photography is allowed in the galleries, I'm going to crib a few shots from the web to give you an idea what it is like. With masterpieces by Cézanne and Seurat, the wall below was one of the most intense. In this case the largest painting is sensibly placed above the medium-sized painting, which is flanked by pairs of smaller paintings, and the whole is given flourish by a symmetrical arrangement of metal decorations.

Internet grab
On the wall shown below, a hand-decorated chest is the center-piece, flanked by two antique chairs of different eras. Above them is a row of medium-size paintings, and the small paintings are in the highest rank. Barnes had an annoying habit of placing little gems well above eye level, more enamored of his arrangement than of showing off the paintings.

Internet grab

As for the painting collection, Barnes was obsessed with Renoir; 181 nudes, portraits, landscapes and genre scenes by this artist are exhibited. Some are breath-taking and unique, others are fuzzy and over-ripe, like fruit that's past it's prime. Humorously, he frequently paired a romantic Renoir with a cerebral Cézanne—of the same size, of course. His 69 works by Cézanne provide a refreshing balance to those by Renoir.

Another pair who interested him is Picasso and Matisse. The collection includes 46 works by Picasso, including one very large depiction of some peasants with a horse that holds pride of place in one of the galleries. Among the 59 paintings by Matisse is a marvelous mural. You've heard of the "Music of the Spheres"? This could be called the "Dance of Eternity."

Internet grab

Some of his favorites are easy to like; some are challenging. For instance, there are 7 beauties by van Gogh, and 21 messy, tortured paintings by Chaim Soutine. It is amazing that he could collect 18 primitive paintings by Henri Rousseau, whose output was rather small. He also scored 16 paintings by Modigliani. Some lesser artists who interested him were Utrillo, Prendergast, and the American artist William Glackens, who was his friend from high school days. Glackens advised Barnes on his collection, and Barnes purchased his friend's best paintings, arranging them in a line together in one of his ensembles.

Another of Barnes theories was that the viewer should enjoy the art for itself, without knowing the name of the artist, so no wall labels are provided; anyway, they would be impossible to read at some heights, and they would wreck the harmony of the ensemble. The galleries have stands with "wall maps" that identify each work. The viewer stands around trying to figure out what is what.

We had lunch at The Garden Restaurant in the museum. Seating was on tall stools at long rows of tables, but the food was gourmet standard. After lunch, we couldn't return to the galleries right away because there is a limit on the number of attendees; we waited in the Great Hall for awhile. About an hour after we got back in, I started to feel queasy. Since the motel was nearby, I decided to take a break. After telling Dan, I walked quickly back. After an Alka-Seltzer and a brief nap, I was back on my feet. I swung by Starbucks, which was conveniently located on the corner opposite the Barnes, before I returned to viewing. I still had time to see the rest of collection. I ran into Dan, but we continued to tour separately, meeting up in the gift shop when the museum closed.

I stayed in for the evening. Dan walked back to the Belgian Café for a bowl of seafood chowder and two on-tap beers, then he packed it in as well. He had enjoyed the day, but his cold was still sapping his energy.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day 17/60: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Tuesday, 9/25

By the time we awoke this morning, there was no denying that Dan had a cold; a bad cough sapped his energy all day. Even though the Philadelphia Museum of Art is near our motel, he decided we should take a taxi so that he didn't have to deal with the car. The weather was gray and damp.

The Philadelphia Art Museum is a big time art museum. What that means in practical terms is that it is overwhelming; there is way more to see than we could cover in the one day we allowed in our itinerary. We had been there twice before, so we thought we could just skim the highlights this time. We dashed about separately with our cameras, trying to find our old favorites, watching for changes and additions to the collection.

The museum has some of the most important paintings in art history. It is pretty hard to top van Gogh's Sunflowers.

Sunflowers, 1888-89
 by Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890)
Dan's photo
A common theme in painting has long been "bathers," figures of nude and semi-clad women or men on the banks of a stream. Renoir's interpretation shows three female figures; they are monumental in size, yet uniquely spontaneous and playful. Cézanne depicted a larger mixed group at a greater remove, so that their expressions and even their gender are insignificant and vague; he uses them to create an all-over structured pattern in a highly restrained palette.

The Large Bathers, 1884-87
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919)
Dan's photo
The Large Bathers, 1906
by Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906)
Dan's photo
The museum's collection of works by Marcel Duchamp is unparalleled. His name may not be as well known as some, but it would be hard to overstate his influence on other artists. His Nude Descending a Staircase is an effort to capture movement in a static painting.

Nude Descending a Staircase (No.2), 1912
by Marcel Duchamp (American, born France, 1887-1968)
Dan's photo

Duchamp was scornful of traditional art forms; his favorite thing was to shock the art community, not to mention the general public. He was the first to adopt existing objects like bicycle wheels and urinals as "found" works of art.

A group of sculptures by Marcel Duchamp
Jan's photo
Lest we think he was merely a glib commentator on modern life, he left us a glass sculpture that is sure to puzzle the most advanced thinkers. I can't figure it out, but I can tell you that when it was broken in transit to the U.S., he spent years gluing the shards back together, so it must have meant a lot to him.

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even
by Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968

Pablo Picasso was working at the same time as Duchamp and in a similar spirit of turning convention upside down. The museum has his cubist depiction of three musicians playing jazz. This is one of the few subjects that Picasso portrayed twice in a similar manner; the other version is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Three Musicians, 1921
by Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Dan's photo

Born in 1887, the same year as Duchamp, Marc Chagall is often associated with floating fantasies of romance or depictions of Russian folk ways, but I'm especially fond of his painting of a poet after a long night's quest for inspiration.

Half-Past Three (The Poet), 1911
by Marc Chagall (French, born Russia, 1887-1985)
Jan's photo
Although Vassily Kandinsky comes from an earlier generation, his pioneering abstractions still feel radical and fresh, while retaining all the aesthetic harmonies.

Little Painting with Yellow (Improvisation), 1914
by Vasily Kandinsky (French, born Russia, 1866-1944)
Dan's photo
As for the big names that everyone loves in Impressionism and post-Impressionism, PMA is well endowed. Here are some less familiar examples.

Under the Pines, Evening, 1888
by Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926)
Jan's photo
The Battle of the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama, 1864
by Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883)
Dan's photo
Le Bon Bock, 1873
by Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883)
Dan's photo
Pont Neuf, Paris: Afternoon Sunshine, 1901
by Camille Pissarro (French, 1830-1903)
Jan's photo

Two Girls, c. 1892
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919)
Dan's photo
The Ballet Class, 1880
by Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dan's photo

To be considered a really important museum, a good collection of European Old Masters is required; PMA has got the goods.

The Mocking of Christ, Early 16th century
Attributed to Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, fd. 1474-1516)
Dan's photo
Francis I, King of France, c. 1532-33
by Joos van Cleve (Netherlandish, fd. 1511-1540/41)
Dan's photo

The Annunciation, 1650
by Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1588-1664)
Dan's photo
Madame Du Barry, 1781
by Louise Vigée-Lebrun (French, 1755-1842)
Dan's photo

As befits an American museum, PMA also has a collection of important American paintings.

Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin (Sarah Morris), 1773
by John Singleton Copley (American, 1738-1815)
Dan's photo

Noah's Ark, 1846
by Edward Hicks (American, 1780-1849)
Dan's photo
Platte River, Nebraska, 1863
by Albert Bierstadt (American, born Germany, 1830-1902)
Dan's photo

A Huntsman and Dogs, 1891
by Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910)
Dan's photo

Between Rounds, 1898-99
by Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Dan's photo

The White Way, c.1926
By John Sloan (1871-1951)
Dan's photo

In the middle of the 20th century, abstraction was all the rage in America.

Painting with Two Balls, 1960
by Jasper Johns (American, born 1930)
Dan's photo

Untitled, c. 1960
by Joan Mitchell (American, 1925-1992)
Dan's photo

Though richly satisfying, the day was long and tiring, especially for Dan because of his cold. The museum building is huge and it has a confusing layout, that requires a lot of stair-climbing and retracing of steps. We had a nice lunch break at Granite Hill, "the museum’s pinnacle eatery." We both had fancy hamburgers with ultra-thin and crispy French fries.

When the museum guards shooed us out prior to closing, we easily snagged a cab for the return ride. When we got in, Dan went straight to bed, and he was out for the night. I napped for awhile. Then I went out and got some new cold medicine at a nearby store, which I administered to Dan when I returned. It suppressed his cough so he could sleep.

After dark, when I was about to return to sleep mode, I noticed a strange phenomenon: a large array of searchlights was playing about the sky, creating patterns of beams. I tried to photograph the sight, but the windows were streaked by a light rain. I wondered what the source or reason for the searchlights might be.