December 29, 2015

Celebrating Ten Years!

I can hardly believe it but this is my 500th post since joining the Blogosphere in January 2006.  It seems impossible that what began almost as a lark has evolved and endured and infused itself into my life in a way I could never have imagined.  The self-imposed responsibility of finding and reporting on fifty topics a year for the past ten years has become a part of my psyche - often challenging, sometimes frustrating, but always rewarding especially when someone I meet says, "Oh, I read your blog"!

So in celebration of an anniversary that I am proud to have achieved, I took a look back at a decade's worth of trips, art fairs, exhibitions, books, events and miscellaneous commentary to try to choose one highlight from each year.  Part stroll down memory lane, part refresher course in art history, I tried to select posts that resonated personally or that I felt were especially memorable though not necessarily the most exotic.  And now, for your reviewing pleasure, I present my own, highly arbitrary, Top 10 "Georgina Kelman :: Works on Paper" Blog posts...

In May of 2006 I went to New Orleans to visit a lady who needed help with her art collection in the aftermath of the hurricane.  I had never been to The Big Easy and though I knew that the city had sustained major damage during the storm, I was unprepared for the devastation that was everywhere.  "Katrina 8 Months Later" documents my tour of the Lakeview district and is a tribute to the gutsy determination of the residents who chose to re-build rather than give up.

It was impossible to limit my 2007 choice to a single post as the centerpiece of my year was a crossing on board the marvelous Queen Mary II.  "Ahoy from the High Seas" was dispatched from the middle of the North Atlantic, while "New York, New York" is an ode to this majestic city and the emotional sight of the Statue of Liberty as we sailed into the harbor.

Regular readers know that I am a devoted Francophile and that I indulge this propensity several times a year.  I've posted many missives from Paris chronicling museum shows, historical tours, weather events and adventures in dining, but one of my favorites was written in June of 2008 when I visited Richard Serra's "Monumenta" installation at the Grand Palais.  It was an awe-inspiring art work in a magnificent space and one that has stayed with me ever since.

A very pleasant surprise was a short trip to Nashville, Tennessee, taken in September of 2009.  There was so much to see and do that it took two blogs to cover a three day visit and I invite you on a tour of "History and Art" and "The Music City" for a taste of its unique cultural scene.

Another three day whirlwind visit, this time to Scandinavia in May of 2010, provided material for "Stockholm Sojourn".  From the "Vasa", a 17th century imperial battleship raised from its watery grave, to the imposing Stockholm Cathedral, to the avant garde Moderna Museet, to the hustle and bustle of the Ostermalm Food Hall, there is a lot to see in this northern city and I did my best to cover it all!

"A Walk in the Footsteps of Antoni Gaudi" mixed architecture with sightseeing as I spent a lovely day in May 2011 visiting every structure still extant designed by the master of Catalan Modernism. From the grandiose Sagrada Familia to the fanciful Park Güell, Antoni Gaudi left an indelible mark on his native Barcelona and it was a wonderful way to explore this beautiful city.

One event that I look forward to every March is The European Fine Art Fair, an annual extravaganza featuring the finest and rarest art and antiques imaginable.  For ten days, collectors, dealers, museum curators and the simply curious, converge on the small Dutch city of Maastricht as it becomes the center of the universe for all things unique and beautiful.  It was my great pleasure to be present for the opening day of its silver anniversary edition in 2012.

The passing of the great Canadian artist Alex Colville in July of 2013 was poignant to me personally as he had been Chancellor of Acadia University when I was a student there in the 1980s.  I well remembered Mr. Colville on campus and even then I was aware that he was a unique and very important figure in the art world.  His reputation, and my admiration for his work, has only increased over the years.

A walk on the beach while in Florida to attend Art Basel Miami Beach in December of 2014, led to a rather unusual rescue mission!  My husband and I discovered a tiny Loggerhead turtle caught in a rough sea and unable to swim.  Recognizing that this little creature, an endangered species, was in distress, we were able to contact the "Turtle Truck" belonging to the Sea Turtle Conservation Program of Miami-Dade County, which arrived with lights flashing to take the little baby to safety.  We were anointed "Turtle Rangers" with a credited "save" and it was one of my proudest moments!

2015 is nearly over and I think I would have to choose my excursion in June to the ancient city of Angers as a singularly serendipitous experience.  Located in France's Loire Valley, Angers is famous for hydrangeas, Cointreau liquor, the massive 9th century fortress that dominates the town and especially the Apocalypse Tapestry housed within.  It started off as a day trip with some Parisian friends, and turned into a voyage of discovery and a very fun time.

Looking back over the past ten years, I am amazed at all the places and experiences I've reported on-line and even more amazed that so many of you were curious enough to share them with me.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and sincerely hope you will continue the journey with me in years to come.  May 2016 bring you and yours all the very best life has to offer and may it bring us together, at least virtually, soon again!

December 23, 2015

Christmas Sights

Mild temperatures notwithstanding, Christmas is coming and will be here in the blink of an eye.  So  whether you are ahead of the game with cards sent and packages wrapped, or madly dashing to finish up in time, I'd like to share a few photos I've snapped (do we still say that?) around town in the last few days.

I know I'm biased, but truly, New York does it up in style at Christmas.  Fifth Avenue department stores are famous for their themed window dressing like Lord and Taylor's old fashioned "...A Few of Our Favorite Things" where visions of sugarplums look good enough to eat...

And Bergdorf Goodman's Swarovski crystal fantasy puts real sparkle in the holidays...

Giant fir trees adorned with ornaments and lights grace public spaces like this one in front of Lincoln Center...

And more private ones brighten the courtyard of Tavern-on-the-Green in Central Park...

Some decorations have their own special twist, like the wreath-bedecked dinosaur in front of the American Museum of Natural History...

I hope Santa isn't trading in his reindeer for these polar bears in front of a town house on East 67th Street!

Angels herald this magical season...

And elegant wreaths are a welcoming sight on this front door...

I think it's safe to say that we will not be enjoying a White Christmas in the North East this year, but it really doesn't matter.  Whether you celebrate with family or friends, in the tropics or on the slopes, with sparkles or pine boughs, may the joy and blessings of this very special season be with you and grace you throughout the year.  Merry Christmas!


December 20, 2015

"Berlin Metropolis" at the Neue Galerie

The period between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the rise of the Third Reich saw Berlin, the capital of the Weimar Republic, become the world-wide capital of all that was chic, avant garde and risqué.  With a population of over four million inhabitants, the city was a cultural mecca and the epitome of modernism in all facets of the arts.

This autumn, the Neue Galerie presents a compact but comprehensive look at the phenomenal rise of the war-torn city into an international style setter and its impending decline with the election of the National Socialist Party.  "Berlin Metropolis:  1918-1933" examines this watershed period in five thematic groupings spread over two floors in the magnificent Beaux Arts mansion that houses the museum.

The exhibition begins in a small gallery, just off the room where the magnificent Klimt "Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer", popularly known as the "Woman in Gold", holds pride of place.  Passing through a velvet curtain, visitors arrive in "The Birth of the Republic", where German Expressionism meets the emerging Dada movement.  Both were reactionary, socially critical and challenged traditional ways of looking at art - new ideas for a new post-war era.  Collages, assemblages, posters, drawings and even some oil paintings (although of rather unorthodox subject matter) usher in the 1920s and the new modernity.

Upstairs on the third floor visitors are greeted with a replica of the first electric traffic light in Europe that flashed over Berlin's Potsdamer Platz starting in 1924.  A marvel of contemporary design and engineering, the curator now has it blinking yellow as a caution of what was to come - for as Berlin exploded onto the art and culture scene, it also became the center of German politics and a cauldron for the new Weimar policies.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  The exhibition continues with "A New Utopia", a look at Berlin's advances in architecture and film.  Faced with a housing shortage and a need for new public and commercial buildings, innovative architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius presented practical, elegant and thoroughly modern solutions that are masterpieces in urban design.  Drawings and designs for structures from apartment complexes to movie palaces hang on three walls while a 1927 film by Walther Ruttmann entitled "Berlin:  Symphony of a Metropolis" is projected against the fourth.

"The Neue Frau [New Woman]" is the theme of the next gallery.  The post war era saw a lot of social changes, perhaps none more remarkable than the new role of women.  As it became more acceptable for women to enter the work force, and as the concept of a "salaried worker" became more common, a new culture of consumerism and leisure activities developed.  The emancipation of women demanded a new fashion and the proliferation of film allowed many more people access to these new trends and styles.  Changing social morals made it suddenly more acceptable for a woman to smoke, go out to a restaurant or be more sexually liberated.

The role of photography as a medium for artistic expression is explored in "The Crisis of Modernity".  Beside its obvious uses for advertising and documentation, photography and the manipulation of photos became the expression of choice for artists from the Dadaists to the Surrealists with The Neue Sehen (New Look), a combination of Neue Sachlichtkeit (New Objectivity) and Constructivism, developing as a uniquely Berlin aesthetic.

All good things must come to an end and the meteoric rise of the metropolis began its slow descent into Hell with the emergence of Adolf Hitler on the scene.  Ten years after the new beginning of the Weimar Republic, things were starting to fall apart and the impending doom was foreseen by many of the same artists who had heralded the new era.  "Into the Abyss" showcases works that portend the horror that was to come, either subtly with veiled messages, or shockingly with horrible imagery.

"Berlin Metropolis" attempts to pack a lot of art and history into a very small space.  On some levels it is quite successful but it can also be somewhat confusing.  The wide variety of expression presented - fashion, film, collage, architecture, photomontage, poster arts - certainly makes the case for the artistic melting pot that existed at the time, but it is hard to keep everything in its proper perspective.  It certainly does make the case for Berlin being the most American of European cities during this extraordinary period of time.  "Berlin Metropolis" is on view until January 4, 2016.

December 13, 2015

A Visit to the New York Public Library

Among the fifteen million items housed in the majestic main branch of the New York Public Library are treasures ranging from medieval manuscripts to baseball cards.  Not only can researchers access over 100 special collections for indepth exploration of almost any topic imaginable, but the Library mounts scholarly exhibitions on a regular basis that are free and open to anyone who passes by.

On view this season are two exhibits that are typical of the breadth and scope of the Library's holdings.  Upstairs on the third floor we find "Printing Women:  Three Centuries of Female Printmakers", a topic close to my heart and a show I've been longing to visit.  Drawn from the collection of Henrietta Louisa Koenen (1830-1881), wife of the first director of the Rijksmuseum Print Room in Amsterdam and benefactor of the NYPL, this show presents 84 etchings, lithographs, engravings and woodcuts created by women printmakers between 1570 and 1900.

Printmaking, until recently, was generally viewed as a masculine endeavor, but there have always been a few women who bucked the trend and tackled this technically and physically challenging field.  On view are works by early practitioners some of whom came from artistic families, some were scholars in their own right, some were academicians and court artists, but all of them were women of a certain social class that allowed for artistic diversions of this sort.

Anna Maria Von Schurman 
"Self-Portrait, Age 33", 1640
The first female student at the University of Utrecht

Many of the images are rather standard portraits, landscapes and decorative floral motifs, but there were some real surprises.  In particular an engraving of "A Child Seated Blowing Bubbles", 1751 by Madame de Pompadour, the official chief mistress of King Louis XV, was charming in its fanciful nature.  I was also amazed to find two works, one etching and one lithograph, by Britain's Queen Victoria.  An accomplished printmaker, she drew on her own family for inspiration and often gifted these works to close friends and relatives.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901)
"Alfred.  January 30, 1846"

This is the first time since 1901 that the public has had a chance to see this important group of works by female printmakers and it is a long overdue look at the integral role that women have played in the print medium since its beginning.

Moving downstairs to the ground floor we come to "Public Eye" the first-ever retrospective of photography ever organized by the NYPL.  Drawing from their considerable holdings with examples dating back to the invention of the medium in 1839, the Library presents a comprehensive time line of the history and development of photography up to the present day.  What is unique about this exhibition is that it is framed in a contemporary perspective - one that is fully engaged in sharing imagery via social media.

A group of cartes de visite of various subjects

The sharing of images, be they paintings, prints or photographs, has been integral to the dissemination of information since the beginning of time.  Early daguerreotypes were carried as mementos of loved ones, cartes de visite were kept as souvenirs of travels and baby pictures were pasted into albums to be shown to grandparents and future generations.  Now, thanks to the digital age, images are created shared at an unprecedented rate without leaving any physical evidence.  What does this say about our culture and society?  How does this impact future generations?  Is our privacy and security at risk?  While the NYPL poses the questions, I am not sure that they have provided any sort of answers.  

What they have certainly done is present a very fine, well-curated history of photography with examples of portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, art photography, stereoscopes, publicity images, news shots and many other varieties of the genre by both unknown photographers and masters like Stieglitz, Curtis, Atget, Muybridge and Arbus to name just a few.  What they have also accomplished is to clearly make the case that photography is here to stay, whether in albums or on-line, humans love pictures!

I leave you with my own photograph of one of my favorite holiday traditions - a wreath bedecked "Fortitude" guarding the entrance of one of New York's most venerable institutions!

December 12, 2015

"The Boys in the Boat"

In this season of miracles and magic, I'd like to suggest a book that is both inspirational and a really good read.  It is the true story of the University of Washington rowing team who, against all odds, took the gold medal in the 1936 Olympic Games.

Set in the Pacific Northwest during the depths of the Great Depression, "The Boys in the Boat" tells the almost unbelievable tale of the nine member team and their quest for victory.  Although rowing has always been considered a sport of the upper classes, these boys came from proletariat backgrounds - the sons of loggers, farmers and stevedores fighting just to survive during the economic collapse of the 1930s.  It is a story of sheer grit and determination as they first try for a seat on the rowing team, then compete in national championships before the ultimate contest, the Berlin Olympics with Adolf Hitler himself in the viewing stands.

Based on extensive research and interviews, the author, Daniel James Brown, imbues the story with all the thrills and spills of an action film without ever having to resort to fiction.  The reader is taken on an emotional roller coaster as this rag tag group work together to become the greatest rowing team in the world while the impending horror of Nazi Germany lurks like a shadow throughout.

The characters are unforgettable - Al Ulbrickson the relentlessly demanding coach, George Yeoman Pocock the British-born builder of exquisite racing shells, Don Hume the stroker, Bobby Moch the coxswain, and especially Joe Rantz who overcame a heartbreakingly sad childhood into a quest for self-redemption and proved a teammate of extraordinary fortitude.

Some critics have called "The Boys in the Boat" "Chariots of Fire with oars".  I call it one of the most exhilarating and heartening reads in recent memory.

The nine member University of Washington team
Winners of the 1936 Olympic Gold Medal in Rowing

December 11, 2015

What's On At MoMA

It seems like ages since I last visited the Museum of Modern Art so the other day I devoted a couple of hours to at least cover the special exhibitions before they go away.  First on the list was the star of the fall season - "Picasso Sculpture" a survey of this prolific artist's three dimensional works that covers the entire fourth floor exhibition space.

Although Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was trained as a painter, his sculptural work comprises a major component of his artistic output.  He approached the creation of sculpture with almost an amateur's enthusiasm unencumbered by the restraints of formal instruction and technique.  As a result, the works are completely original and are characterized by a certain freedom and joy that is uniquely Picasso's.

"Woman in the Garden, Paris", 1929-30
Welded and painted iron

As is typical of Picasso's paintings, his sculptures passed through many periods and there were often long gaps between works.  This exhibition brings together over 100 sculptures and is divided into eleven galleries each devoted to a specific time in his career allowing the visitor to easily follow the evolution of his expression.  One exceptional installation is a group of six different "Glass of Absinthe" sculptures like the one shown below.  Created in 1914, these works are made of painted bronze, each with an absinthe spoon, in the Cubist style.

Fifteen years later, in the Boisgeloup Sculpture Studio, Picasso's works became more massive and abstract like the plaster "Bust of a Woman", 1931, seen below.

We pass through the years of World War II when his work was dark and often made of bronze and the post war period in Vallauris when he began to incorporate ceramics and found objects into "assemblages" like this whimsical group of "Bathers", below, to his final sheet metal sculptures created in the 1950s.

Interestingly, Picasso kept most of his sculptures for himself and lived with them almost like members of his household.  Whether made of metal, or wood, or clay, or sand, these objects were truly personal creations, almost alter-egos, and it is a remarkable opportunity to be able to see so many examples brought together in this show.

Moving upstairs we come to an exhibition of another Spanish artist, albeit a South American one.  "Joaquin Torres-Garcia:  The Arcadian Modern" is a complete survey of the work of this Modernist painter and illustrator who is not so well known here in the United States but was an important contributor to various avant-garde movements in the early 20th century.

Early works in Torres-Garcia's career, like "Urban Landscape, Barcelona", painted in 1918 (above) and "Hoy (Today)", 1919 (below), show clear signs of the geometric Modernist style he is most famous for.  Themes such as clocks and telegraph lines are already evident and are repeated throughout his lifetime.
Typical of the Modernist artists confronted with the social, technological, environmental and political changes of the post World War I era, Torres-Garcia strove to capture the energy and dynamism of this new machine age while recognizing the conflict and disquiet that this evolution evinced.  After living in Spain and Paris he moved briefly to New York before returning to a more pastoral lifestyle in Europe.  But the march of Abstraction and Modernism continued and was reflected in his work.  By 1929, Torres-Garcia had developed the "Cercle et carré (Circle and square)" theory of form and color structure, that became his signature style.

"Estructura en color", 1930

Torres-Garcia (1874-1949) eventually returned to his native Uruguay and continued to experiment with abstract forms.  Though his work is unquestionably modern, it holds a certain reverence for the past thereby earning him the moniker an "Arcadian Modern".

Finally, we move back downstairs to the second floor where a small but impressive exhibition is dedicated to the master of abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollock.  Culled entirely from MoMA's own holdings, "Jackson Pollock:  A Collection Survey" tracks the development of Pollock's signature "drip" paintings from 1934-1954.  

Beginning with rarely seen silk screen prints and pen and ink drawings, and continuing with early oils like "The Flame" 1934-38 (above) we see a clear trajectory from a traditional painting, i.e. strokes applied with a brush, to the revolutionary method he is so famous for today.

By 1945, Pollock was experimenting with different types of paint (household and automotive for example) and different methods of application.  The painting above, entitled "There Were Seven in Eight", is one of the first indicators of what was to come.  Painted in layers with an all-over composition veiling the figurative images beneath, it is almost a transition piece before he created the first "drip" painting, "Full Fathom Five", below, complete with keys, nails, buttons, coins and various other objects that he incorporated into the mix.

By 1947 Pollock was working with the canvas on the floor rather than on an easel, and was actively pouring, spraying, dabbing and dripping the paint in a sort of choreographed performance.  For a few years he was a super-star in the art world, but he was also tortured by self-doubt, alcoholism and depression.  In 1952 he tried to move beyond the "drip" painting but was so blocked that he only produced ten paintings in the three years before he was killed in an automobile accident in 1956.

"Number 1A, 1948", 1948

It is a testament to the vast holdings of New York's Museum of Modern Art that they can put together a retrospective of this importance without a single outside loan!  And it is one of the great joys of living in a city like this where one can visit three major exhibitions under one roof on a quiet Thursday afternoon!

December 03, 2015

"Ancient Egypt Transformed" @ The Met

It's funny how things go in cycles, and art exhibitions seem to follow that pattern as well.  For example, last month I wrote a blog about "The Underwater Treasures of Osiris", a fascinating show that is still on view at the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris, but not within my usual range of topics.  Back in New York, one of the major presentations of the season is "Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom" on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  While I have often passed through the Met's wonderful galleries of ancient Egyptian art and artifacts, not to mention the impressive Temple of Dendur, it is not a department that I am very familiar with.

Nevertheless, this is a major international exhibition and it promised to be the perfect destination for a post-Thanksgiving field trip so while the stores were flooded with Black Friday shoppers, I headed across Central Park to the museum.

"Ancient Egypt Transformed" is indeed a major exhibition with over 200 objects ranging from massive stone sculptures like "Statue of the Pharaoh Senwosret III as a Sphinx", dating to the Twelfth Dynasty, circa 1878-1840 B.C....
to this tiny, carved, "Heart Scarab" that belonged to a Noblewoman called Nefruptah during the mid- to late Middle Kingdom, circa 1900-1700 B.C.

Many of these objects come from the Metropolitan's own comprehensive collection like this wooden model of a procession of offering bearers dating the early reign of Amenemhat I (1981-1975 B.C.)...

and this exquisite pectorial of Princess Sithathoryunet featuring two falcons protecting the cartouche of King Senwosret II depicted in gold inlaid with turquoise, lapis lazuli, carnelian and garnet.  The necklace is made of gold, lapis lazuli, carnelian, feldspar, amethyst and turquoise and it dates to the Twelfth Dynasty, circa 1887-1878 B.C...

and this elegant limestone "Statue of the Steward Sehetepibreankh Seated" carved circa 1919-1878 B.C.

In addition there are loans from thirty seven other sources in Europe and North American including this stone sculpture of "Khaneferre Sebekhotep IV, Seated" dating from the Thirteenth Dynasty (circa 1732-1720 B.C) from the collection of The Louvre in Paris...

This beautiful "Fish Pendant" is made of gold over a core of an unknown material and represents an "upside down catfish", a type of fish that swims on its back and therefore seems to be dead.  To the Ancient Egyptians, this type of catfish was associated with powers of resurrection as it seems to come back to life.  This example was found in a child's coffin along with several other fish pendants and was lent by the National Museums of Scotland, in Edinburgh...

This painted limestone stela portrays a funerary scene in which Khety and his wife, Henet, receive food offerings from their son.  It is one of the earliest examples extant of an early Middle Kingdom stela and is on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

This exhibition, filled with fascinating objects, beautifully illustrates the renaissance of Egypt during the Middle Kingdom (mid-Dynasty 11 to Dynasty 13, approximately 2030-1650 B.C.) that followed the country's reunification under Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II.  It was a time of great progress culturally, artistically, politically and religiously, and the artifacts presented here are testament to a brilliant civilization.  "Ancient Egypt Transformed" is on view at The Met until January 24, 2016.