CELEBRATING THE GLORIOUS GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM

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Black Lines, 1913  Vasily Kandinsky

Ascending the iconic Guggenheim spiral I was startled by  Vasily Kandinsky’s  BLACK LINES  (1913) pictured above.  The popping  jewel luster anemone-like  shapes leaped out from Kandinsky’s canvas awash with a pristine and complete abstraction.

Considered to be among the first of Kandinsky’s non-objective paintings, BLACK LINES is appropriately placed as the very first painting of the note-perfect  VISIONARIES:  CREATING A MODERN GUGGENHEIM show.

Celebrating the exquisite taste, passion and dedication of Solomon Guggenheim and his fellow collectors, there is a homecoming feel to see these sacred paintings displayed so lovingly in the very space that helped to make them great.

Solomon Guggenheim along with friend/collaborator Hilla Rebay’s radical and experimental shared vision became the guiding philosophy for the foundation of the Guggenheim Museum in 1937.  Their mutual quest was to amass a collection of art defined by non-objectivity and spirituality. It is of interest to note that the forerunner to the Guggenheim Museum was called The Museum of Non-Objective Painting.

Continuing the upward climb of Frank Lloyd Wright’s stellar Guggenheim building, the brilliant  work just kept unfolding – Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso…every few steps up the great Guggenheim is another well-loved painting or sculpture – oh, THAT one!  The show is a Who’s Who list of the marvels of early 20th Century Art.

This exhibit is much like stumbling upon an “Oldies” radio station, hearing those well-worn favorites, and suddenly recalling the  moxie,  rebelliousness and danger the music held upon first hearing.  Visionaries:  Creating A Modern Guggenheim is a must-see and a fresh glance at some of the most momentous  Art from any century.

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THE NYMPH OF SPRING

 

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NYMPH OF SPRING by  Lucas Cranach The Younger, c. 1545-50

Diminutive in size (6″ x 8″) ;  yet utterly captivating in spirit, Lucas Cranach the Younger’s Nymph of Spring is a stand out amongst all the splendid art in The Robert Lehman collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This Springtime nymph comes with a warning label, inscribed in first-person Latin on the upper right hand side of the canvas is “I, Nymph of the sacred Spring am resting, do not disturb my sleep.”  Languid, beckoning, and lounging in a head to toe transparent veil, this Nymph of Spring is clearly sending mixed messages.

Born and died  during the Renaissance in Wittenberg, Germany (1515-1586), Lucas Cranach The Younger honed his painting skills as an apprentice in his Father’s workshop.  Following Lucas Cranach The Elder’s death in 1553, Lucas Cranach The Younger was appointed head of his Father’s highly prestigious studios. Like his Father, Cranach The Younger’s reputation was built on his portraits, as well as his mythical and allegorical paintings. The Nymph of Spring is one of the finest examples of his work.

Last week I was fortunate to at last enjoy a tour of the Robert Lehman collection given by the brilliant tour guide Jill.  The Robert Lehman Galleries are unique in the way they recreate the interiors of The Lehman family’s 54th Street townhouse within the setting of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It genuinely feels as though you have left the Museum and have been transported to the luxurious quarters of the Lehman family home.

Over the years I have been a frequent visitor to the Robert Lehman Galleries, many times the sole purpose was to visit the tiny painting pictured above. On my recent tour, we were informed of the countless art works collected by Robert Lehman.  It was very uplifting to learn that although Robert Lehman was extremely knowledgable; and known for his great “eye” and superb taste, he also purchased many works of art simply because they appealed to him…he just liked them.

When traveling to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I strongly suggest taking the tour of The Robert Lehman Galleries, and  while there please remember to visit Cranach the Younger’s fabulous Nymph of Spring.

 

Lou Reed At The New Second Avenue Subway

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Hey Boy, What You Doing Uptown? Lou Reed by Chuck Close at The 86th  Street 2nd Avenue Subway Station 2017

Nearly one hundred years in the making, the Second Avenue subway fittingly debuted on New Year’s Day 2017.  A fanfare was most unquestionably in order.  Bantered about since the 1920’s, the idea of constructing the crucial train line was first derailed by the Great Depression, then subsequently discarded decade after decade due to the enormous expense of the project.

Four stellar artists provide the work for the “underground museum” adorning each station.  A decidedly positive note was struck – the work is a celebration of the ethnic mosaic of New York City.

The 96th St. station is awash with Prussian Blue in Sarah Sze’s “Blueprint For Landscapes,” while the 86th St. Station is embellished by artist Chuck Close. His twelve imposing 10 ft. mosaic and ceramic tile portraits include: two self images, nine art world luminaries, and one of the late (great) musician Lou Reed.

The 72nd St. station is populated by mosaics of the gloriously diverse subway passengers of artist Vik Muniz, while “Elevated” by Jean Shin  at the 63rd St. station is an ambitious historical mosaic monument to the tracks and subway riders of the long demolished Second and Third Avenue elevated lines.

The brand new Second Avenue Subway is pure New York at its finest, complete with gorgeous art work and of course desperately needed transit. The thread of similarity running throughout the art is the theme of cultural diversity, a reference to Aristotle’s truth “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

I urge you to go take a train ride and explore the temporarily glistening Second Avenue subway. Worth the century long wait,  the pride in New York’s identity as the melting pot of all nations could not be more passionate and timely.

FRANCIS PICABIA – “Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction” @ MOMA

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Woman And Face  (1935-38)  oil and enamel on wood

The current retrospective of the  work of avant-garde artist Francis Picabia at The Museum of Modern Art is a dramatic and carnivalesque affair.  The show is enormous, with room after room revealing Picabia’s fascination with a certain style, then another, then another…and so on. This is no surprise coming from the artist who once famously quipped, “If you want to have clean ideas, change them as often as your shirt.”

Described as a flashy adventurer and dubbed “Papa Dada” and the “Playboy Prankster of Modernism”, Picabia’s wild, irreverent canvases are perfect reflections of the artist. They are an outpouring and overflow of his humor and beliefs. His unorthodox shifting of styles was done at a time when his contemporaries remained committed to a singular artistic approach.

The bold colors, decadent beauty and circus-like atmosphere  of these paintings enshroud Picabia’s attacks on such serious topics as law, religion and morality.  He used his art to convey his outrage at the wars (both WWI & WWII).  Delighting  in controversy, his disrespect for societal conventions extended to the accepted rules of conduct for the Art world. A rebel heart was decidedly at work here.

Impressionism? Pointalism? Cubism? Dada? Surrealism? Abstraction?  Picabia’s experimentation and drawing from elements of various movements created a body of work that defied category. He was unique in the way he contributed to both Cubism AND Dada.

Pictured above is Woman and Face.  A painting from his Transparency series, it appears the artist has graffitied across the surface of his own work.  The more realistic woman in the painting looks straight from a mid 1960’s portrait studio while the “Face” painted on top (sporting a Medieval chainmail coif?) undulates with a 1980’s neon glow.

Picabia’s work predates PopArt, Neo-Expressionism and Appropriation Art.  An artist considered perhaps too slippery and divergent, it was not until 1954 when The Museum Of Modern Art first acquired a  Picabia.  His experimentation with many mediums and styles resulted in his own audacious gumbo of art, and he proved to be an enormous influence on future generations of artists.

Francis Picabia was born in his Parisian family home on January 22, 1879, and died in that very home on November 30, 1953. His friend (and sometime adversary) Andre Breton eulogized him by saying, “Only a very great aristocrat of the spirit could dare what you have dared.”

The Many Magdalenes of Georges de La Tour

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The Repentant Magdalene With A Document  (Private Collection) and The Penitent Magdalene (The Metropolitan Museum Of Art) by Georges de La Tour, 1640

A shining  jewel in the collection of  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Georges de LaTour’s “The Penitent Magdalene” is one in a series  of highly similar paintings completed by the artist.

Canvases attributed to Georges de La Tour include: “La Madelein a la Flamme  Filante” at The Louvre,  “Madeleine with Smoking Flame” at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art,  “The Repentant Magdalen” at the National Gallery in DC, and “The Repentant Magdalene With A Document” from an undisclosed private collection. Perhaps there are more in existence waiting to be re- discovered.

Although I have long considered the Met Museum’s version to be the finest, I feel the other versions are of the same caliber with the exception of the privately owned “The Repentant Magdalene With A Document” (pictured above) which is quite frankly much inferior to the other paintings. I boldly assert it cannot be a true Georges de La Tour.

Born in 1593 in Vic-sur-Seille, in northeastern France, early history of  the Baroque painter Georges de La Tour is somewhat unclear. Art historians have long cited de La Tour’s indebtedness to the great Carravaggio (1571-1610). Both artists made use of Chiaroscuro (Renaissance painting technique using strong tonal contrasts between light and dark) and Tenebism (highly pronounced Chiarioscuro) where in the play between light and dark, darkness becomes the dominate feature of the work.

To place  in a contemporary light, George de La Tour’s Penitent Magdalene series came about at the right place and time.  The 17th Century Catholics were quite enamored with the devotion of reformed sinner Mary Magdalene. There was also a heightened interest in mysticism, meditation, and asceticism during this time; making the enchanting Magdalene portraits of Georges de La Tour all the more popular, and providing a solid reason for the great artist and his studio to complete a few of them.

The profound beauty and spirituality of The Penitent Magdalene in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has mesmerized me for many years. With her face illuminated by candlelight (enlightenment), fallen baubles on the floor (discarded material possessions),  a skull (representing mortality) resting on her lap, and a large ornate mirror (vanity) the objects symbolize Mary Magdalene’s inner turmoil as she decides to renounce her decadent lifestyle to follow the path of Christ.

I have sought out the tranquility of this painting many a time, often citing it as “my favorite painting in the Met collection”.  Quickly visiting Gallery 621 to visit the magnificent Magdalene  today, my feelings were once again confirmed.

RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW

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LAST EVENING OF THE YEAR – OSCAR BLUEMNER, 1929

Throughout his painting career, Oscar Bluemner  (1867-1938) explored the emotional impact of pure color. Deceptively humble,  the vivid pigment makes “Last Evening Of The Year”  a quietly affecting work.

Bluemner’s initial career as an architect and his fascination with the writings of Sigmund Freud informed his canvases  of blocky cubist buildings and abstract landscape motifs. Bluemner once explained that he felt the purpose of art was to uncover the truth beneath what appears.  The  somber, melancholy reflection on the passing year is no doubt felt by the viewer. The setting sun elegantly serves as a symbol for the setting year.

Last Evening of The Year”  was first shown in 1929 at the Whitney Studio Galleries, where it was quickly purchased by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney for her personal collection. Today it can be found on view at The Whitney Museum. I chanced upon it last year while touring The Whitney’s (then new) location in the Meatpacking District. I loved the way the title referenced a specific day, and a very sentimental one at that.

Years ago I listened to a morning classic rock hits radio show where the disc jockey, “Morning Mayor Harry Harrison” reminded his listeners to “Remember to unwrap each day as a precious gift”….This New Year’s Day I have decided to follow his advice for the upcoming year. I will keep you posted as to how it all works out.

In the meantime, a very Happy New Year to all.

“Ring out the old, ring in the new, ring happy bells, across the snowy snow:  The year is going, let him go;  Ring out the false, ring in the true.”        – Alfred Tennyson

“DESTINATION EXTRAORDINARY” Holiday Windows at Bergdorf Goodman 2016

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We Take Our Frivolity Seriously” – David Hoey

How do department store windows qualify for an entry into an art blog? Why? Because the extraordinary Bergdorf windows are artistic beauty for the sake of artistic beauty. For a thrilling (and free) experience, the corner of 5th Avenue and 58th Street is the place to be.

The annual holiday windows belong in their own creative category somewhere along  with museums, theaters, or gallery installations. David Hoey (Senior Director of  Visual Presentation at Bergdorfs and personal idol of mine) cited the paintings of Henri Rousseau and trips to The Museum of Natural History as inspiration for this year’s windows. Every year a different color dominates, and this year that color is green.

Each of the five windows has an imagined destination. “The Book Club” pictured above was chosen as the favorite of mine because I simply cannot resist highly decorated monkeys constructed out of plant material and beads.  And who better to keep them company than a Rita Hayworth-era mannequin?

According to a recent article in  Architectural Digest, the windows are an impressive nine months in the making;  with a team of specially commissioned artists  who painstakingly create the highly embellished set pieces and hand-painted backdrops. The desired and achieved effect is to deliver opulence,  glamour, wit and wildness to upper 5th Avenue.

Salvator Dali created his own brand of flamboyant windows in the late 1930’s for the  Bonwit Teller Store.  Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and James Rosenquist  designed window displays for Bonwit Teller in the mid to late 1950’s, and Andy Warhol graced their windows with his Pop-Art in 1961.

As I was reading up on the connection between famous artists and department store window design, I came across an interesting story. Bonwit Teller, built in 1929  and located at 5th Avenue and 56th Street closed its doors in 1979.

Sadly, against the wishes of many New Yorkers, the iconic building was acquired by Donald Trump in 1980 and readied for demolition to make way for his “Flagship” Trump Tower. At the time of purchase  Trump promised to remove the limestone sculptures of dancing women from the front of the  beloved building and donate them to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. His crew instead jack-hammered the reliefs to bits.

In response to the public outrage that followed, the Trump Organization defended their actions and declared the two-ton panels to be “without artistic merit”…..reminding me of another leader who drew similar conclusions.

While viewing the Bergdorf windows during the last days of November a nearby chant  “HAVE NO FEAR, REFUGEES ARE WELCOME HERE” filled the air.  Across Fifth Avenue police barricades corralled the protesters outside the “Flagship” Trump Tower/former Bonwit Teller site…what a world we live in.  It’s so nice to find refuge with glitzy green glamour monkeys and their associates.

Kerry James Marshall – MASTRY @ The Met Breuer (okay, I have TWO favorite shows of 2016)

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School of Beauty, School of Culture, 2012  (Acrylic and glitter on canvas)

There is a feeling upon entering that you are in the presence of greatness, and it is happening right now.  I have wondered what it would  be like to view an exhibit of a master artist when they were current (say Rembrandt around 1650 or Van Gogh somewhere in the 1880’s), and now I know.  Kerry James Marshall’s Mastry  show now on display at The Met Breuer is monumental and historic.

My closest memory to compare would be the very first time I listened to Stevie Wonder’s  Innervisions  album.  The Temptations, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Smokey Robinson, The Isley Brothers and more all come to mind – sometimes referenced by Marshall,  and sometimes not, but always present in in his work.  Kerry James Marshall does to canvas what Motown did to vinyl.

The mural sized work and punched up  Kodachrome color immediately command attention. Across the sprawling canvases, African Americans engage in all sorts of activities, appearing  regal and dreamlike. The struggle, history and  vibrant life of the Black experience in the U.S. are the reoccurring themes throughout.  Losing myself in the sheer beauty of the canvases, I unthinkingly said aloud,”Oh my God” ..as a woman next to me replied,”I know, I feel exactly the same…”

Born October 17, 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama, Marshall’s formative years were spent in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.  He has resided in Chicago since 1987. Where Kerry James Marshall has lived and when he has lived there inform his work, as does his scholarly historical study and his obvious respect and virtuosic knowledge of art.

The featured painting pictured above, School of Beauty, School of Culture is of a  South Side salon  not far from Marshall’s  Chicago studio. I have read the Disney Princess anamorphic head  (front center) is not only a comment on imposed ideals of beauty, but also a  brilliant reference to the distorted skull from Hans Holbein’s  The Ambassador’s  (1533).

School of Beauty, School of Culture strikes a deeply sentimental chord for me, reminding me of the many hours and many years I spent as an observer in  similar salons in Brooklyn and Harlem waiting for my little girl’s hair to be done.

Ives Klein Blue @ The Museum of Modern Art

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ANTHROPOMETRY: PRINCESS HELENA  (1960, oil on paper on wood)

Heading towards the escalator at MOMA I saw it at the far end of the corridor..Yves Klein’s “Anthropometry: Princess Helena”…all aglow with that certain blue.  Azure?  Cobalt? Cerulean? Royal? Indigo? Sapphire?  Close, yet not quite. It is officially “International Klein Blue” or IKB-79. Trademarked by Klein in 1957, his unique azure is perhaps his greatest gift to us all.  It is a faith-restoring moment to feel transformed by an artwork such as this…

His passion for this color was as pure as the pigment itself. Klein believed the color to be the closest to actual space, and reckoned “its value was far beyond what could be seen or touched.”  His goal was to create an experience more than simply an objet d’art.  Klein once explained, “At first there is nothing, then there is a profound nothingness, and after that is a blue profundity.”

Painting with IKB-79 allowed Klein to express his sui generis spirituality outside the confines of representational art. His trademark blue boldly spoke for the engaging artist, while referencing his Catholic upbringing where the color blue symbolized godliness and eternity.  His immersion in Judo (from Japanese “ju” meaning gentleness or softness) added a meditative aspect to his blue work. He was above all deeply fascinated with the idea of the blue infinite of sky and sea.

In 1957 Klein exhibited a show of seemingly identical blue paintings. He placed a different selling price on each painting.  Klein explained the varying prices by saying, “Each blue world of each blue painting – although it is the same blue, it is not treated in the same way!” He added that each painting had a completely different atmosphere. The fascinating result of the exhibition was the response of the public, who chose among the paintings and willingly paid the varying requested prices. I personally think they were great paintings but also part of early performance art..

And then there is the much debated question: Yves Klein, Shaman or Showman?  My belief is he was likely a little of both…and I remain absolutely enthralled with him.

My Favorite Show of 2016: MAX BECKMANN IN NEW YORK

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Fame and acclaim came early in the career of Max Beckmann.  While only in his 20’s, his provocative, color-saturated and intellectually stimulating paintings were collected throughout Europe and the U.S. The intensity of his early (and highly popular)  work was said to be inspired in part by the horrors he witnessed as a medical assistant during WWI.

Success can be fleeting, particularly in the art world.  Although the virtuosity of Beckmann’s luminous  self-portraits has  been compared to those of Rembrandt’s,  Adolf Hitler was inclined to disagree. The Nazi’s declared his work “degenerate”and seized it from the collections of prestigious German museums and galleries.  Once declared “the greatest living artist”, the accolades and achievements bestowed upon him during the Weimar Republic were cruelly stripped from him. In fact, over 500 of his works were removed and/or destroyed.  In 1937, a rightfully disillusioned Beckmann fled Germany with his wife Quappi and relocated to Amsterdam.

Beckmann declined career offers to return to Germany at the conclusion of WWII. Following a temporary teaching position in St. Louis, he declared  his self-imposed exile at an end and relocated in 1949 to New York City. The current Max Beckmann exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a celebration of this fact and of  his entire career.

The City re-energized the fabulous artist. He commented that Manhattan was “a pre-war  Berlin multiplied a hundredfold!”   The New York paintings reveal a Beckmann returned to his favored  position as a mingler in high and low society and as a brilliant artist at the top of his game. As always. his wildly colorful canvases conveyed his attitudes towards the social, political, and cultural landscape surrounding him.

Above is featured Beckmann’s ultra-suave “Self-Portrait with A Cigarette” from 1947.  This incomparable work was sold by The Met in 1971.. a scandal at the time it was sold and   an unfortunate occurrence  to this day.

On December 27, 1950, Max Beckmann suffered a fatal heart attack on his way to to The Met Museum. He was going to see  his work included in the exhibit “American Painting Today 1950”.

The current exhibit is a fitting tribute to a major talent whose unique vision could not be silenced and whose work defies category or interpretation.  This is one of the most extraordinary shows I have ever been fortunate enough to see.