June 29, 2007

Ahoy from the High Seas!

The sunset from my balcony!

Ahoy from somewhere in the North Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary 2! This amazing ship was launched in 2004, at a cost of $800 Million, and boasts a long list of "Firsts" and "Bests". Here are some facts: The QM2 is 1,132' long (4 city blocks), 135' wide, weighs 151,400 tons, carries 2,620 passengers and a crew of 1,253. She features 10 restaurants, 4 swimming pools, a spa, gymnasium, 500 seat theater, a casino, ballroom, shops, bars, lounges, a library and a planetarium! She is fast, steady, commodious, luxurious and a thrill to be aboard.

We departed Southampton on Tuesday under sunny skies and calm seas and have enjoyed two beautiful days (if a little breezy) cruising westward toward New York. Yesterday in his noon address, the Captain announced an impending storm caused by a severe low pressure system. His forecast proved correct and starting last night the seas became rougher and the gentle rocking turned into a pronounced roll. By midnight this became a real pitch forward and back and this morning we cannot open the balcony door and the waves are big and angry. We are in the middle of an Atlantic gale with 60-80 knot winds and high seas! Fortunately I have a strong stomach and am rather enjoying the spectacular vista and the great adventure. Of course, I am snug in a very comfortable stateroom and have just finished breakfast in bed!

In this age of jet travel, the idea of taking 6 days to cross from Europe to America may seem like a waste of time and money. But it is far more than getting from one point to another. The peaceful pace, the civilized surroundings, the accommodating, almost coddling, staff and the elegance of formal dining continue to attract a particular traveler. The Golden Age of ocean liners may have passed, but the lure of a transatlantic crossing is very much alive.

This has long been a dream voyage of mine and Captain Rynd and his fabulous crew have fulfilled every fantasy. Signing off at 09:45 aboard the Queen Mary 2, "The Most Famous Ocean Liner in the World"!

The storm tossed Atlantic outside my balcony this morning

June 25, 2007

London Landmarks

The Mall lined with Union Jacks leading to Buckingham Palace

Arriving at Waterloo Station on the Eurostar from Paris last week was the first time I had been in London in 7 years! A lot has changed, but the magnificent buildings and monuments remain as imposing and familiar as ever. The most startling impression is one of enormous wealth - London is now the world leader in finance and the signs are everywhere. Posh stores, fancy cars, and expensive restaurants can be found in abundance. The number of foreign born people, either visiting or more often working in London, seems to dominate the native Brits. Everyone has come to either make a fortune, or spend one, as the dismal dollar makes one painfully aware with every purchase.

Fortunately it is still possible to enjoy some of the highlights of the city without breaking the bank. London is a walking town - armed with a good map and comfortable shoes, one can brave the streets and enjoy some local color while getting from point A to point B. The marvelous iconic structures and many of the great museums are free, and the theater is still a bargain compared with Broadway.

The National Gallery houses European art treasures from the 13th to the 20th Centuries. Located across from St-Martin-in-the-Fields and Nelson's Column, this huge museum holds such wonders as Vermeer's "A Young Woman Standing at a Virgil", Rembrandt's "Self Portrait at the Age of 34", Turner's "The Fighting Temeraire" and Vincent Van Gogh's "Sunflowers".

Contemporary art enthusiasts have the limited opportunity to see Damien Hirst's latest solo exhibition at White Cube. In the last few days, Damien Hirst has earned the title of highest priced living artist at auction, but for no charge, just a timed-entry reservation, the public can see his latest masterpiece. "For the Love of God" is a life-size cast of a human skull in platinum, covered entirely by 8,601 flawless pavé-set diamonds. This creation weights 1,106 carats and is installed in a dark room with a spotlight causing the diamonds to glitter like stars in the sky. Of course, all under heavy security!

Another great London institution is the Victoria and Albert Museum. Very close to Harrods and almost as large, this museum is dedicated to the applied arts and displays examples of items from textiles to statuary from ancient civilizations to modern times. The current special exhibition focus' on Surrealism and its practical applications. "Surreal Things::Surrealism and Design" does not dwell on the anarchistic writing and ideology of the movement, instead it presents the visitor with examples of how this artistic movement found its way into ballet, interior design, fashion and jewelry. It is a superbly curated show and a fresh and fascinating look at a subject that has been thoroughly explored in recent years.

If you've never visited the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery on the Strand, you've missed something fabulous. Founded in 1932 by Samuel Courtauld and some like-minded souls as an institution dedicated to training future professional art historians, this gallery also serves to present Mr Courtauld's superb collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in magnificent surroundings. Such masterpieces as Renoir's "La Loge", Van Gogh's "Self Portrait with a Bandaged Ear" and a group of Cézanne's that will knock your socks off, are all on display. A brand new special exhibition is "The Temptation in Eden" a group of prints, drawings and oil paintings by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553) and some of his contemporaries. The centerpiece is "Adam and Eve", painted in 1526 and as magnificent and pertinent today as the day it was created. It was hard to tear away from this stunning work of art.

The theater scene is thriving in the West End, and tonight's tickets are for "The Lord of the Rings". It has just opened to rather mixed reviews, but should be very entertaining if nothing else. Then it's on to new adventures on the high seas! The Queen Mary 2 leaves Southampton tomorrow afternoon and I plan to be aboard! Next stop, New York Harbor, with 6 days Transatlantic in between! Anchors away!

June 21, 2007

Bonjour from Paris!

The view from my window, looking West

Today is the longest day of the year, the beginning of summer, and in Paris this is celebrated with "La Fête de la Musique". All over the city, small stages are being set up for outdoor concerts and informal bands are gathering on street corners to begin an all-night festival of music and light.

What an appropriate way to spend our last night in this beautiful city! The time has flown by, perhaps because it was just a few days instead of the usual extended visit, so one was obliged to pack a lot into a short time. But having just been here in March meant that I had already seen many of the museum exhibitions and could concentrate on visiting some of my favorite galleries to search for new material for my website and upcoming catalogue.

I did take the opportunity, however, to finally visit the Musée Nissim de Camondo situated in a magnificent mansion in the 8th Arrondisement, overlooking the Parc Monceau. Although off the beaten path this museum is well worth the deviation for anyone interested in either 18th century art and antiques or 20th century history.

Moïse de Camondo was born in Constantinople to an important Sephardic Jewish family who had founded one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire. The family emigrated to Paris in the late 1800's and Moïse was married to Irene, the daughter of another prominent Jewish banking family. Although the match was ideal on paper, and produced a son and a daughter, it did not survive as Madame de Camondo fell in love with an Italian race horse owner and left her husband and children to live with him. In 1910, Moïse inherited his parents' property on the Parc Monceau and soon after demolished the existing structures to build his dream house.

Moïse de Camondo was infatuated with the 18th Century and used his considerable resources to commission a modern mansion, reminiscent of the Petit Trianon at Versailles, to showcase his substantial collection of art and furniture. No detail was too small and no obstacle too large to deter The Comte de Camondo from his ideal and the results are stunning. This beautiful home recreates the finest salon from the time of the Louis'. The Goeblins tapestries, the Savonerie rugs, the gilded boisseries, the Sèvres porcelains, the fabulous paintings, settees, fauteuils, sculptures and clocks all harmonize to transport the visitor back to the Golden Age of another time.

Moïse de Camondo created a masterpiece, but the story does not have a happy ending. His only son, Nissim, to whom the entire project had been dedicated, died in air combat in World War I. His devastated father retreated into isolation and died in 1935 after having bequeathed the house and all its contents to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The Camondos' other child, Béatrice, married and had 2 children, Fanny and Bertrand. They were deported to Auschwitz and died in the camps in 1943. The family line had come to an end.

I don't want to end on a sad note, as a visit to the Musée de Nissim de Camondo is a truly inspirational experience and leaves the visitor in awe of the beauty that man can create when genius is put to positive use.

Tonight the sun will not set until 11 o'clock and the music will go on much later as Parisians celebrate life and joy and beauty on this, the longest day of the year! A votre santé!

June 17, 2007

Sorties in Switzerland

I am writing while aboard the TGV from Lausanne to Paris, a 3 1/2 hour ride that will arrive in the City of Light in time to pick up the key, unpack and go out for a nice dinner!

Thinking back over the last few days in Switzerland, I am amazed at how much there was to see and do in addition to the high profile Art Basel Fair. The city itself features several very fine museums and this was a great opportunity to see some special exhibitions.

On view at the always fabulous Fondation Beyeler was a retrospective of the work of the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Offering a superb overview of his paintings, drawings and prints, this show presented the sometimes melancholy work with a fresh perspective.

The Kunstmuseum Basel profiled the American pre-Pop pioneer Jasper Johns. Focusing on the first 10 years of his creative life, 1955-65, this collection of 70 works, many from the artist's private collection, was tightly edited to pack a huge artistic punch. Starting with his ready-made images (targets and flags) and continuing through the circular scraping concept, the triads of primary colors stenciled on canvas and later imprints of his face and hands, this exhibition successfully makes the point that Jasper Johns was and remains a seminal influence on the world of Pop Art and other major artistic innovations of the 20th Century.

Also fascinating was a marvelous exhibition at the Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig (Basel Museum of Antiquity and Ludwig Collection) entitled "Das Gold Der Thraker" - Thracian treasures from 700 BC - AD 46. This ancient civilization lived in what is now Bulgaria and produced some of the finest works of gold and silver you can imagine. Intricately detailed, exquisitely worked jewelry, medals, vessels and rhytons excavated from burial tombs testify not only to their wealth and glory but their advanced artistic creativity and craftsmanship. Truly, these objects were a wonder to behold.

Then it was on to Bern, the capitol of Switzerland founded in 1191. Legend has it that the city derived its name from a bear killed in a hunt in the 15th Century at the "knee of the River Aare". True or not, its citizens pay homage to its ursine roots and its patron saint, St. Vincent, with equal ardor.

The main reason for this side trip was to attend the annual art auction at Galerie Kornfeld. Presided over for more than 50 years by Herr Kornfeld himself, this is the antithesis to a modern, "money is everything", event at Sotheby's or Christies. The Kornfeld sales are legendary, not only for the fine works offered (primarily Swiss and German art) but for the genuine family atmosphere that prevails. Visiting art collectors are treated like royalty, culminating in a farewell dinner for all at a posh hotel. It was an extraordinary experience and we were honored to attend.

The view from my hotel window with
the River Aare and the Alps in the background

Of course, one of the first stops in Bern was the Kunstmuseum (art museum)! Their special exhibition was a look at the artists Kirchner, Bauknecht, Wiegers and the "Rot-Blau" Group in "Expressionismus aus den Bergen (Expressionism from the Mountains)". In the early 1920's Ernst Kirchner came to Davos, Switzerland, to benefit from the clean mountain air and a more relaxed pace. Several colleagues joined him in this retreat and the group created a large oeuvre of work which is presented here. I cannot say that this was one of my favorite shows ever - neither the installation nor the works themselves were particularly sympathetic.

A rainy morning provided the perfect excuse to walk across the Kirchfeld Bridge to Bern's Historical Museum to see "Einstein's Museum", a high-tech, multi-media ode to Albert Einstein. It was in Bern in 1905 that he created his famous formula E-mc2 and with this theory revolutionized our conception of space and time. This show seeks to not only explain the physics in a clear and meaningful way, but to recreate the cultural and social climate at the time in an effort to put the circumstances in perspective for a younger generation.

After all this traveling, New York seems very far away! The language has now changed from Swiss Deutsch to French and with that evolution comes a new set of adventures. So please come back and read what Paris has in store later in the week!

June 13, 2007

Art Basel 38

Hello from beautiful Basel, Switzerland, where the premier art event of the year is now in full swing! Art Basel 38 opened yesterday to the usual frenzy of collectors and dealers in 20th and 21st Century art. Almost 300 stands in the main exhibition halls, plus several off-site locations, were teeming with people eager to have first crack at acquiring an important piece of Modern or Contemporary art. It is quite a spectacle - just the fashions alone are worth checking out!

The main floor features more traditional art - Picasso, Magritte, Rauschenberg, Warhol, to name just a few - while the galleries upstairs are more contemporary and offer many works less than a year old. Beside the classic oil on canvas, other mediums such as photography, prints, sculptures, and drawings were well represented. Probably the most unusual was a band of 5 male dwarfs in Tyrolean costume roaming the fair pushing a small shopping cart with a sign reading "The Midget Gallery". I couldn't quite figure out the meaning of all this, but maybe some things just don't have a meaning!

As always, there were many fabulous works for sale, and many pieces did find new homes despite very hefty price tags. The headline in today's Art Newspaper however reported a significant shift in buyers from 80% American to 80% European. It seems that the sad state of the dollar has finally caught up with the art market here, or else the American buyers were spent out after the latest round of huge auctions in New York in May.

For me, the most fun was at "Art Unlimited", an enormous exhibition space adjacent to the main fair and used for mega-installation pieces. These are often site-specific, unique works done in a large scale. Some are out of doors, like Anish Kapoor's "Sun Disk". Some are big enough to enter, like "Merry-go-round (2)" by Hans Op de Beek, a Belgian artist who created a life size sculptural installation of a winter night at an abandoned playground with a carousel. It was fun to see, but kind of creepy.

There was also a BMW car filled with water - the sunroof open so one could look inside - by William Hunt, entitled "Put Your Foot Down". This work was accompanied by a video of Mr Hunt singing a specially composed piece of music from the seat of the car filled with water. I'm not quite sure of the meaning of all this either.

A conceptual art piece done in 1979 by Jeffrey Vallance called "Cultural Ties" was amusing and very clever. Mr Vallance mailed a necktie and a letter to heads of state around the world asking them to send a necktie of theirs back to him in California. Many did, and the collection of framed ties with their accompanying letters from sitting Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governor Generals and other dignitaries is fascinating.

Some works were just beautiful. Like Katarina Grosse's colorful "Atomballoons", Daniel Buren's painted escalator stairs "Passage de la Couleur, 26 seconds et 14 centièmes", and Allan McCollum's 3600 black-and-white framed laser printed shapes in "The Shapes Project".

All in all, Art Basel is fun and fabulous and a totally wonderful time! I can't wait till next year!

June 10, 2007

Heading off to Europe!

It's June already and that means one thing in the Kelman household - Art Basel! So this evening we board the flight to Switzerland and tomorrow morning, the good Lord willing, we'll be there! The actual opening is Tuesday, but there is a lot to do and see in Basel in connection with the art fair. The City of Basel is full of great art museums that outdo themselves with special exhibitions at this time of year. Plus there are about 60,000 visitors expected so there's a good chance of running into some people you know!

Then it's on to Berne, Paris and London, so, loyal readers, please check back for blog reports of all the fun and interesting sights and events along the way! Auf Wiedersehen! Au revoir! See you soon!