January 31, 2012

And now for something completely different...

I know I sometimes overload my readers with posts about art and exhibitions in museums and galleries.  But today I have a totally different kind of show to tell you about!  Intrigued by a recent review in The Wall Street Journal I headed down to Chelsea to see what, exactly, was going on at the Dillon Gallery on West 25th Street and their current exhibition "Phantosmia --All But the Smell"!

In an unusual, to say the least, take on the typical gallery show, the artist, Christophe Laudamiel, is actually a perfumer and the exhibit consists of seven "scent sculptures", each enclosed in a little tent, and meant to evoke different feelings or emotions.  Visitors are instructed to breath normally, not sniff or inhale too deeply, and to cleanse each scent from the nose by smelling one's skin before proceeding to the next tent. 

With museum style labels at the entrance to each "scent sculpture" we were advised of the title of the fragrance “At Your Own Risk,” “Fear,” “Fragile,” “The Last Virgin,” The Monkey and the Banana” and “The Whip and the Orchid”, what it comprised and how it might make us feel.  An overall scent, "Remembrance of Things Lost", inspired by the life Marlene Dietrich no less, covers the open space.

As far as I could tell, the "point" of the show was purely an olfactory experience and an effort to raise the science of scent to an art form.  Mr. Laudamiel does make the point that present day perfumers are much more restricted with the ingredients they can use compared to the industry of several years ago.  With global regulations and a new awareness of allergic reactions, modern day fragrances are composed of more synthetic and fewer true exotic oils as esters.  The result, according to the artist, is a less pure product and a change in the essence of the trade from art to business.  With this show Mr Laudamiel aims to raise our awareness of the fragrance industry and indeed the role of scent in our lives.  "Phantosmia - All But the Smell" is a fleeting exhibition, much like the aromas that surround us, but certainly worth poking one's nose into!

January 22, 2012

The 58th Annual Winter Antiques Show

We have not had a very severe winter here in New York City.  In fact, compared to last year this winter has been practically balmy.  But finally Mother Nature sat up, realized it was the middle of January, time for the Winter Antiques Show and certainly time for some snow!  So with a suitable flourish for this most prestigious event, the temperatures fell, the winds picked up and suddenly we were enveloped in a proper winter storm!  Perfect timing, I thought, as I put on my brand new and as yet untested snow boots, and headed off to to enjoy the warm and elegant cocoon of the rare and wonderful art, furniture and objects filling the booths of the 73 dealers from the U.S. and Europe exhibiting at this, the 58th Annual Edition of the Winter Antiques Show.

As usual the wares presented ranged from the sublime to the bizarre, the practical to the extravagant, and everything in between.  From rare books to Oriental rugs, Fabergé enamel frames to North West Coast carved masks, from Delft porcelain to Shaker boxes there was something for everyone.

This show has always had an emphasis on Americana, but this year there seemed to be more diversification in both nationality and era.  While the term "antique" always implied "over 100 years old", that definition has been stretched to include photography and furniture and design up to the 1950s.  While this may irk the purists among us, it does make for an interesting variety of material for the visitor to enjoy.

And enjoy I did!  Almost without exception, every booth offered something marvelous to behold.  Like the Thomas Jefferson Autograph Letter Signed dated 1809 and discussing religious freedom in the new United States of America, on the stand of Kenneth W. Rendell, New York.  Or the fantastic turn of the century Japanese silk scroll by Ogata Gekkô, depicting "The Hell Courtesan with her retinue as skeletons in autumn" hanging at Joan B. Mirviss, New York.  Or a beautiful 17th Century English beadwork dressing box with three dimensional figures of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza embroidered in colorful glass beads on display at Elliott & Grace Snyder, Massachusetts.

If I had to pick a favorite piece I would have a tough time deciding between three very different items.  I loved the diamond and enamel "eye" brooch designed by Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí - a surprising find at A la Vieille Russie, New York.  I was fascinated by the 1870 Mississippi African American Pictographic Plantation desk/secretary with its wonderfully carved relief of tools and instruments covering every plane featured on the stand of Tillou Gallery, Connecticut.

Maybe it's a result of my heritage, but I think my favorite object at this year's show would have to be the wood block wallpaper panel entitled "Canada" printed in 1855 by Zuber Manufacture, France, as part of the series "Zones Terrestres".  This panoramic mural of a ship navigating the treacherous icebergs of the Great North is one of only two known examples and can be found with antique wallpaper specialist Carolle Thibaut-Pomerantz, Paris.

Before I knew it several hours had passed.  I had been so absorbed in the worlds of portrait miniatures, grandfather clocks, stained glass lamps, suits of armor, sailors' valentines and myriad other collectibles that I totally lost track of time!  It was another magical visit to the Winter Antiques Show - an annual delight of treasures and wonders and the perfect way to spend a January afternoon!

January 15, 2012

Maurizio Cattelan "All" at the Guggenheim

When a good friend suggested, or rather insisted, that I go to see the Cattelan exhibition at The Guggenheim I must confess that at first I thought he meant a show of Catalan artists namely Dalí, Miró, Tàpies and maybe some Gaudi pieces as well.  So on this very brisk Saturday afternoon I walked over to Fifth Avenue and 89th Street and was met with a line of people waiting outside the museum to buy tickets.  Unfortunately I had procrastinated too long - I was having dinner with this friend on Wednesday and besides, the show was closing next weekend so I joined the queue and endured a rather awful street performer "entertaining" his captive audience while we waited.  But when I finally entered the rotunda all was forgiven - this was something worth standing in line for - a fabulously original installation in this singular space and it looked like a lot of fun too!

I'm going to keep you in suspense a little longer and give you some background on the artist.  Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960) is an Italian contemporary artist with a well deserved reputation as a joker if not a "bad boy".  Plagued with insecurities, phobias and foibles, Mr. Cattelan has alternately mocked the art world and conventional society with his sometimes morbid, often shocking and always unorthodox iconography.  Mr. Cattelan, an artist notorious for thwarting exhibitions to the point of bricking up the entrance to a gallery so the visitors could only glimpse the contents through a window, has declared this retrospective his swan song.  He will no longer torture himself with the burden of producing art and the possibility of failure, but wow, is he going out on a high note!

In effect "All" is a title to be taken quite literally.  Mr. Cattelan has assembled almost his entire output since 1989 comprising sculpture, paintings, photographs and drawings, and suspended it from a grid that covers the glass ceiling of Frank Lloyd Wright's magnificent "nautilus" interior.  This site-specific installation features 128 works of art that hang from cords at different heights so the visitor can see different works at each point in his progression up or down the spiral walkway. 

I opted to start at the top and took the elevator up to the sixth floor.  There I was at eye level with the steel beam structure from which the various pieces were hanging.  Despite the maze of ropes and slings visitors could clearly view the individual works but in an entirely different context from a traditional piece-by-piece museum presentation. The installation became an artwork in itself, profiting from this unique space and never to be repeated.

When you look at the photos you may think your eyes are playing tricks on you, but they aren't!  Yes, those are two policemen hanging upside down in "Frank and Jamie", 2002, and a lady in a refrigerator in "Betsy", 2002.  Yes, it is a real, stuffed donkey sitting on a platform "Untitled", 2004, and you guessed it, there really is a faux dinosaur skeleton suspended in "Felix", 2001.

The grey granite tombstone with the World Cup scores engraved "Untitled", 1999, is indeed hanging at the same height as Adolf Hitler kneeling "Him", 2001, and slightly higher than the super-sized foosball table "Stadium"1991.

Works range from the slightly macabre, to the anarchistic to the simply amusing like the taxidermied pigeons "Tourists", 1997, perched on beams and artworks throughout the installation.

Not a show for an animal rights activist for sure, "Love Saves Life", 1995, really is a stuffed rooster on top of a cat on top of a dog on top of a donkey, and the cow below "Untitled", 1997, has scooter handles implanted over its ears.

I wonder what Pablo Picasso suspended above like Superman "Untitled" 1997, is thinking but he certainly isn't bored!

I was almost sorry when I reached the bottom of the ramp and the end of the show.  I leave you with this photo taken from the foyer floor directly below the piece.  It was like the end of a really great carnival ride - exhilarating, breathtaking, thrilling, dizzying but you can't get that grin off your face!

P.S.  Check out the short video on the museum's website for a time-delayed recording of the installation of "All"!

January 07, 2012

"The Renaissance Portrait" at the Met

Happy New Year greetings to my wonderful readers!  To start the year off on a very bright note, I'd like to tell you about a marvelous exhibition that just opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York.  I've been longing to see this show but thought I'd wait until the out-of-town crowds thinned a little and today, with a spring-like temperature of 60 degrees, was the day to walk across Central Park and go.

I love Renaissance portraits having discovered their beauty quite by accident on a short visit to Bruges, Belgium, in November 1999.  It was unseasonably cold and my friends' recommendation to take a boat ride on the city's canals was entirely out of the question as they were completely frozen over.  In a desperate attempt to find something to do in a warm environment I persuaded my Dada-devotee husband to check out a special exhibition that had been advertised on banners all over town - "From Memling to Pourbus".  Not knowing anything about the Netherlandish Renaissance I rented an audio guide and started the tour.  After about 30 seconds my husband tapped me on the shoulder and wanted to share the headset.  Between the magical atmosphere inside a Gothic cathedral and the gentle but compelling beauty of the portraits, we were entranced and never since have missed an opportunity to see more of these painted "snapshots" of the Middle Ages.

What I discovered at this latest show at the Met, is that there is a distinct difference between the Northern and Southern European styles of portraiture at that time.  Both the Flemish and the Italian Renaissance masters sought the same objective of commemorating and/or glorifying the image of family members, heads of state and of the church but each achieved it in a slightly different way.  For example, the Italians preferred the profile as opposed to a three quarter or full face view of the sitter favored by the Belgians.  The Italians also adopted a sparer, more direct, view of the subject while in the North portraits were often enhanced with background scenery or objects that pertained to the situation of the sitter.  Both schools are magnificent in their attention to detail and ability to capture psychological traits with a few brushstrokes.

What I also learned is that the Italian Renaissance portrait artists, namely Veneziano, Donatello, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pisanello, Mantegna, Bellini and the master of all, Leonardo da Vinci, used many different media to capture their sitters' likeness'.  Beside the traditional oil painting, portraits were often executed as marble busts or relief sculptures, chalk drawings on paper, cameo pendants, illuminated manuscript paintings on parchment or quite frequently as bronze medallions.

The exhibition spans the period from approximately 1450-1530, the heyday of Renaissance portraiture and focus' on the major center of Florence under the influence of the mighty Medicis, the courts of Ferrara, Mantua, Bologna, Milan, Urbino, Napoli and Papal Rome, and finally Venice where the concept was late to take hold.  160 works, including some fabulous loans (two from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II), present a comprehensive and cohesive survey of why and how this genre developed and its considerable influence on contemporary culture and society.

A quote from Leonardo da Vinci graces the wall at the entry to the exhibition.  He explains "How to make a portrait in profile after seeing the subject only once:  You must commit to memory the variations of the four different features in profile, which would be the nose, the mouth, the chin, and the forehead.  Let us speak first of noses, of which there are three kinds..."  He makes it sound so simple!  "The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini" is on view until March 18, 2012.