Saturday, October 6, 2012

Day 26/60: Long Island Museums

It was hard to leave New York City, but it was time to move on. After a trip to the supermarket, we got on the road about 10:00. The sky was dull; humidity was high; the temperature was in the low 70s. Our objective was to tour various art sights on Long Island. As urbanization dwindled and roads narrowed, we enjoyed the change of scene.

In less than 45 minutes we were in the little town of Huntington, where we checked out the Heckscher Museum of Art. The Heckscher was founded by August Hecksher to house his art collection, which consisted originally of 185 works. It is now run by a board of trustees, and its collection has expanded to over 2000 works of art. Over the years, it has received strong support from local art collectors, including artists who lived in the area, such as Arthur Dove and George Grosz.

The Heckscher Museum of Art
Dan's photo
Grosz had been the leader of the Berlin Dada movement in the 1920s. He moved to the United States in 1933 and lived in Huntington from 1947 until shortly before his death in 1959. The Huntington Township Art League sponsored him in teaching art at The Heckshsher, and he was influential in getting the museum opened full time after World War II.

Dan is a big fan of Grosz, and the main reason we stopped there was to see his famous painting called Eclipse of the Sun. The museum estimated it was worth $19 million, when it considered auctioning it off to gain funds to expand the museum in 2006. The outcry was such that the museum backed down and contented itself with a renovation. The painting is a scathing critique of the military industrial complex. His reference was Germany in the 1920s, a period known as the Weimar Republic, but the symbols are easily understood in the modern context. (If you click on the photo it will expand so you can study the details.) In the upper left, we see the sun being literally eclipsed by the almighty dollar. Below it, the headless suits represent "mindless" bureaucrats absently attending the corrupt exchange between a corpulent industrialist bearing arms for sale and the President of the Republic, Paul von Hindenburg. The ass wearing blinders represents ordinary businessmen, gobbling up the profits without noticing the skull in plain sight, a reminder that scenes like this lead to violence and death. In the lower right corner, behind a grate or fence, is a youthful face, the face of a fearful future. The convoluted perspective underscores the instability of Weimar Germany; it also guides your eye from money to corruption, on to greed, and finally to death.

Eclipse of the Sun, 1921
George Grosz (American, b. Germany, 1893-1959)
Dan's photo
Portrait of Paul von Hindenburg, President of the Reich
Internet grab
About a dozen works from the original Heckscher collection were exhibited. There were both American and European works from the 1500s forward. Generally the works were medium to small, but good quality. It looked to me like a man of taste went hunting for bargains.

La Chanteuse, c. 1880
Jean Leon Gérome (French, 1824-1904)
Dan's photo
Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, 1911
Thomas Moran (American, b. England, 1837-1926)
Dan's photo 
In the 19th century several women sculptors worked in marble, but most of them were in the neoclassical style with nudes and nymphs and characters from fables. The museum had two works by Emma Stebbins which I especially liked because they are naturalistic depictions of laborers, both skillful and sympathetic.

Commerce, 1860
Emma Stebbins (American, 1815-1882)
Heckscher Museum of Art
Jan's photo
As an indication of the size of the museum's reserve, they were able to mount quite an interesting show on color theory, with examples from various styles of art, using works from their own collection, called "Absorbed by Color: Art in the 20th Century."

Temple of Ochre, 1982
Richard Anuszkiewicz (American, b. 1930)
Dan's photo

Another forty minutes of interesting driving on winding two-lane roads took us to the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages which is located in Stony Brook. This is a collection of six or so historical buildings in a park-like setting.

One-room School House
Long Island Museum
Dan's photo

The Art Museum
Long Island Museum
Dan's photo
The Art Museum building had about 20 paintings on exhibit by William Sydney Mount who was a famous local artist. No photos of the Mount collection were allowed, but Dan stole one. Dan is a big fan of Mount, a rather sentimental genre painter from the early to mid 1800s. We enjoyed these works quite a bit. That was it for important art, but there were some historical displays about everyday life in mid 20th century Long Island that Dan was allowed to photograph.

California News, 1850
William Sidney Mount (American, 1807-1868)
Dan's photo

Kitchen Setting, c. 1955
Dan's Photo

The carriages are housed in a large, new air-conditioned building. They were in top-notch condition; one belonged to a Vanderbilt. Plaques explained the uses of different types of horse-drawn vehicles. It was moderately interesting, if you worked at it.

One Example from the Carriage Museum, c. 1890
Long Island Museum
Dan's photo

Even with seeing two museums, we got to the Hilton Garden Inn in Stony Brook and were installed in our room by 4 p.m. After a nap, I washed and ironed five pairs of pants for myself while Dan worked on his photos. Then he washed socks and underwear while I worked on the blog.

Then it was time to eat, but there were no restaurants handy, so Dan purchased a boxed salad from the hotel snack bar and drank a little bottle of wine that happened to be nestled in the food box.

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