Monday, October 1, 2012

Day 22/60: The Metropolitan MoA

Sunday, 9/30: New York City

Like yesterday, today combined the joy of art with the pleasure of good company. The scene of both was the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This was our first day to use public transportation to get from our hotel in Queens into Manhattan, and to be frank, the process of climbing the stairs to the train in Queens, transferring to another line at Grand Central Terminal, climbing the stairs back to the street at our destination, walking a half-dozen blocks to the museum, climbing the impressive front steps, buying tickets, and stowing our stuff was strenuous enough to leave us rather puffed. We reacted differently. Setting his teeth with determination, Dan charged into the new American wing, which was our chief objective. I lolled around in the lovely sky-lighted sculpture court until the espresso stand opened at 11:00, then I had a latte.

Cleopatra by William Wetmore Story
Photo by Jan
After that, I quickly caught up with Dan in the American wing. He was urgently absorbed in photographing his old favorites. I followed him around for about an hour.

Then we rushed off to the Petrie Court restaurant, arriving just on time at 12:30; our friends Kelly and Frank were waiting for us. We first met them in 2007 at the Museum of Modern Art when we were sitting near them at a long, shared table in the cafeteria. Our mutual interest in art led to a lively conversation. The next day we ran into them again at The Met, where we were all viewing a special exhibit called "The Clark Brothers Collect." That coincidence caused us to exchange e-mail addresses, and I had been corresponding with them ever since. It was a treat to see them in person; the conversation was wide-ranging and high-quality. The food was exceptional, and they picked up the tab. I was tempted to hang out with them all afternoon, but Dan said, "Come on. We have work to do."

Frank King and Kelly Karavites,
Petrie Court Restaurant, The Met
Photo by Dan L. Smith
The more you know about art, and the more you care, the more you appreciate The Met. It is just astounding that they could have collected so many masterpieces in one place. If you just look at the monetary value alone—assuming you could place a value on priceless artifacts of history—walking through these galleries is like walking through Fort Knox and admiring the piles of bullion.

The American Wing opens with a bang with a monumental patriotic work by Emmanuel Leutze.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851
by Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868)
Dan's photo

When the United States was a newly formed nation on a vast, unexplored continent, landscape became an important subject. Not far behind the explorers and pioneers, landscape artists presented information about faraway places as well as expressing a sort of pride of ownership that counts as patriotism. On top of this, advanced thinkers of the time were looking at nature as a divine force. Artists expressed this idea by creating monumental perspectives with rare and transcendent light effects.

The Beeches, 1845
by Asher B. Durand (1796-1886)
Dan's photo

View from Mount Holyoke, Northhampton, MA after a Thunderstorm-The Oxbow, 1836
by Thomas Cole (1801-1848)
Dan's photo

Heart of the Andes, 1859
by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)
Dan's photo

Similarly, painting served to document typical activities in a spread-out nation before photography became available on a wide scale.

Cider Making, 1840-41
by William Sidney Mount (1807-1868)
Dan's photo

Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, 1845
by George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879)
Dan's photo

Snap the Whip, 1872
by Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Dan's photo

The Gulf Stream, 1899
by Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Dan's photo

The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull), 1871
by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)
Dan's photo

Some of America's greatest talents have felt more comfortable in Europe and spent most of their careers there. Their work is more reflective of European trends. It was particularly difficult for women to achieve stature in the arts or to live a cultivated life in which they freely associated with the most innovative men painters of the time. Mary Cassatt originally went to France during the American Civil War, but she soon induced her family to make their home there. Cassatt's genius was that she could take the soft subjects of women and children in their natural environments and treat them with an intellectual rigor and artistic innovation that won the regard of the severest critics.

Young Mother Sewing, 1900
by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
Dan's photo

Another American who felt more at home on the continent was John Singer Sargent. The Met is blessed with a breathtaking collection of his life-size portraits of wealthy and fashionable women. Personally, I'm enchanted by his very loose Impressionist scenes, smaller in scale, which seem to be painted more for his own satisfaction than for a particular clientele.

The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant, 1899
by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
Dan's photo

Bringing Down Marble from the Quarries to Carrara, 1911
by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
Dan's photo

In the twentieth century, many painters turned their attention to city life.

The Lafayette, 1927
by John Sloan (1871-1951)
Dan's photo

Tables for Ladies, 1930
by Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Jan's photo

A terrific crash came into American art with the craze for abstract art. Abstraction first appeared in the 1800s, but for a few decades in the mid-twentieth century it was about the only type of art to get any respect from critics.

Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950
by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Dan's photo
Easter Monday, 1955-56
by Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Dan's photo
Untitled, 1971
by Clyfford Still (1904-1980)
Dan's photo
Late in the afternoon we took a break from the American classics to attend a special exhibit called "Regarding Warhol" about Andy Warhol and his influence. My opinion of Warhol was mixed and I had read a snooty review of this show, but the show raised my opinion of this artist and helped me understand his innovations. I had been blinded by his use of pop imagery so that I didn't notice his formal qualities. Photography was not allowed in the special exhibit, but here's a photo I took in their regular collection. Before the exhibit, I saw this painting as just a way of pandering to a wealthy socialite. After the exhibit, I saw that it was part of the pre-occupation with color relationships that characterized the work of many other painters.

by Andy Warhol
Jan's photo
The exhibit made the case that Warhol's contemporaries were keeping an eye on his work. The painter Chuck Close, who also favors a grid composition and shares a preoccupation with color, was quoted as saying about some aspect of his style, "I did it that way because that's the way Andy was doing it."

Unidentified painting by Chuck Close
Internet grab
When the guards booted us out at closing, we limped a block to the Nectar Café on Madison Avenue, which we remembered from past visits. We got a table right away. The atmosphere was cozy. Service was quick and friendly. We both had dynamite minestrone, and shared a piece of pumpkin pie.

We caught a cab right outside the restaurant. $20 to our motel. No way I could have done the subway. We were asleep, clothes in a pile, by 7:30.

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