Category Archives: Museums

Inspiration in Washington, DC: A Captivating Art Tour

A five-day visit to our nation’s capital, with the unusual circumstance of time on my hands, means visiting exhibits and museums at a leisurely pace. What a treat to read each description, sit in front of work and dwell to my heart’s content, and circle back around to displays I want to reconsider. My first stop is the National Portrait Gallery. After a joyful reunion with my Rollins College Writing Center co-worker and friend, we periodically pause feverish talk of politics and focus our attention on the galleries.

Some highlights include one of my favorites by Cecilia Beaux. Look at that hand, so unfussy, so gestural, so perfect. And the controversial Richard Prince with his snarky sense of humor. I am intrigued by Mark Bradford’s “Amendment #8” because of my own use of text in layers of paint. The artist renders the words illegible and the only way we recognize the meaning is through the title of the work. The loss of meaning in language is something I have had on my mind lately, in listening to language used by politicians.

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“John” by Vincent Valdez

“American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis)” by Emily Prince

Later, I return to see The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now. One should not be rushed through this exhibit. The photographs are intimate and breathtaking. The tiny hand drawn portraits of fallen soldiers are too numerous to take in carefully, and it feels shameful not to look at each and every face, despite or because of the extreme volume of portraits. Vincent Valdez creates a haunting homage to his friend, who survived war but not his return home, in a multimedia display including photographs, film and painting.

NOTE: in reviewing this blog post, something is nagging at me about my woefully inadequate description of The Face of Battle exhibit. It deserves more than I provide in this brief summary of art museums visits. To read an insightful article about the artists and people they portray, please click HERE.

Next is a trip to the Hirshhorn Museum of Contemporary Art. The elevated annular building is a sight to behold. After circling around and underneath, admiring the surrounding sculpture gardens and the refreshing fountain in the center, I make my way inside to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit. Initially, I think I can waltz through, briskly taking in the large scale lego mats that present images of faces from around the world. But something makes me stop and read about each and every person. They are each considered political dissidents and live in places without freedom of speech. Many have disappeared, many are in jail indefinitely, many are dead or presumed dead, and few are free. In addition to wanting to learn about each person’s life and heroic actions, one might wonder, why legos? A conflict, or almost embarrassing tension, exists when learning about tragedy by viewing portraits made from a commonly known toy. It seems playful but is not. I try to imagine the installation as a large mat of photos instead of legos and how another medium would impact viewer perception. It is as if the legos keep the images from being “just another” news story and prompt viewers to think about the personal lives of the portrayed people. It is surprising how the common world wide use of legos somehow makes us feel more connected to each individual than, perhaps, photography would. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To watch a short video of the artist speaking about the ideas presented in the installation, the methods, and the materials used, please click HERE.

Moving right along, after a good night’s sleep, is the recently renovated National Gallery of Art East Building which holds a world renowned 500 piece collection of modern and contemporary art. For first time visitors, a tip: Be sure to pick up a map and guide at the Ground Level Information desk. The design of the building can lead to disorientation and it is easy to accidentally miss certain areas such as the multiple towers. It is also easy to feel so enamored with the building, you might forget which levels, towers and corridors you have already visited, and which you have missed.

I am startled by the number of pieces in the collection that were part of my art history studies at UA Little Rock. Below is a slideshow of pieces that we discussed during my graduate program and that continue to influence my ideas about art. It is a joy to see the work in person, especially in order to closely inspect the brushwork and color used by George Condo, Wayne Thiebaud, and Cecily Brown. Seeing, up close, the line work and materials used by William Kentridge and by Sigmar Polke is so much clearer than the prints I’ve studied.

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Finally, perhaps my favorite of all: the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This is my first visit and I wonder why I haven’t prioritized it before. The collection is much larger than I realized and, again, there is no rushing through….particularly in viewing the special exhibit, “Revival.”

My former professor and friend recently expressed ambivalent feelings about the NMWA. When I asked her to explain, she said she does not want to be known as a “female artist” and would prefer to be known as an “artist.” Her questioning the benefit of this museum made me consider whether celebrating women in a separate space does perpetuate the label, “female artist.” However, like many groups of people who band together in order to create a more powerful voice, one that often goes ignored individually, I believe the NMWA exists because it is needed. As stated in the museum’s brochure and along the entry foyer wall: “Gender bias is less overt today, but contemporary women artists still face obstacles and disparities. Art by women is persistently underrepresented in museum collections and exhibitions worldwide.” I recall work at the Tate Modern that addresses this exact issue and am grateful to the museum for providing additional recognition for women in the arts.

Another unexpected thought occurs to me while visiting the museum…collectively, how is art made by women different than art made by men? Or is it? I am intrigued by this observation and notice repeated themes, some overt, some quite subtle. Much of the art is directly about being female. Many pieces are about the female body and multiple catagories within the subject of the body (how we are perceived, how we are objectified, how we cover ourselves, how we judge each other by appearance, how we are strong, how we compare to elements in nature, how we decorate ourselves. etc.).

I’ll sign off with a few favorites below. Often, I gravitate toward paintings and drawings but this time it is the sculpture that stops me in my tracks and makes me stay awhile. As always, thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

 

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 3)

“Passage” by Dominique Simmons

In Part 2 of this series, I noticed a recurring theme while describing the various venues and exhibits we visited in Bentonville, Arkansas. It occurred to me again and again that art enables us to better understand the perspective of others. That theme continues as I make my way to the Fine Arts Building at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Regardless of your political persuasion, a visit to the exhibit, “Nasty Woman” certainly fulfills the purpose of experiencing various perspectives. It is often said that artists reflect the cultural pulse of society. Of course, no single person, or small group can speak for all. But the Nasty Woman exhibit, like it’s counterparts popping up around the globe, reveals the ways in which many female artists are responding to a political and social environment that feels oppressive for some.

This exhibit showcases multiple themes, materials, and concepts to present the overarching theme of gender inequality. Some of the artwork communicates protest, some celebrates women, some asks for recognition of unrecognized women. Some addresses the roles women hold in communities and families, some of the work addresses reproductive rights or our cultural focus on women’s body parts. Some of the pieces are nurturing, some are aggressive

“Mammary Ducts” by Mia Hall

As women strive to progress, and demand rights such as equal pay, there seems to be a backslide that has developed in the last two or three years. For example, what do we make of the recent shift in public response to breastfeeding? Why has it become “gross” and “inappropriate”? Women’s nipples don’t differ greatly from men’s, so why is the exposure of women’s nipples not acceptable? We even have a biological purpose for them, yet, in a strange reversal, breastfeeding has become an occupational hazard for many nursing mothers. Regardless of how you view breastfeeding, the issue of judging and legislating women’s bodies remains, and it is one that Mia Hall addresses in her installation, “Mammary Ducts.” Our culture places in inordinate amount of critique, shame and observation on women’s body parts. They are just nipples, see?

One of my favorite pieces is by the Curator of this exhibit, Margo Duvall. The small size, circular shape and material (grainy wood) makes each portrait precious, like little artifacts to be revered. They are clean and direct, and seem to ask for overdue recognition. They are beautifully crafted like the women they present and the disks simply ask to be seen.

Regarding my own entry in this exhibit, there is something nagging at me that, I believe, is worth discussing. While reading the exhibit statement at the gallery entry, I wonder, Did I live up to this ideal with my pieces? Dr. Emily Gerhold writes, “While ‘Nasty Woman’ is not meant to promote a specific ideological position, it is, by both necessity and design, a product of the historical and social movement in which we live. Its artists extend themselves beyond the banality of a headline or sound bite to engage, on a deeply personal level, the urgent, powerful experience of being a woman.” 

Actually, I leaned right into the banality of a soundbite. Yup, my work is crass, it is nasty. And I am not proud. But it is a reflection of what I am seeing in our culture today, starting with our highest office. Why are women’s bodies being talked about the way they are? And should we not be outraged? Would it be more proper to whisper our responses to the vitriol, or better yet, silently swallow our responses as if we think the words mean nothing? Or worse, justify it? As if lewd words, and catcalls, and discrimination, and sexual harassment, and being grabbed is all ok and we need to just suck it up and get over it. I admit, I made no effort to make my message pretty, or feminine, or demur. These nine pieces are part of a larger group that simply reflects what I am seeing and hearing about women’s roles, women’s bodies, women’s looks and women’s healthcare policy being discussed ad nauseam in our society and in our governing bodies. The work is meant to draw our attention to language, the meaning and consequences of using words, the deconstruction of words and how language shapes our reality.

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While direct language was not neccesarily prominent in the exhibit, I did find much of the work to be narrative. The slideshow above exemplifies how the exhibit provides insight into women’s lives and gives viewers ways of piecing together a story, a relationship, an action or an emotion.

Nasty Woman showcases the work of 36 female artists from across the nation and this post will get way too long if I respond here to all the thought-provoking work. The 36 artists included in the exhibition are: Zina Al-Shukri, Heather Beckwith, Darcie Beeman-Black, Megan Berner, Cynthia Buob, Beverly Buys, Susan Chambers, Melissa Cowper-Smith, Norwood Creech, Nancy Dunaway, Margo Duvall, Melissa Gill, Mia Hall, Louise Halsey, Diane Harper, Tammy Harrington, Heidi Hogden, Robyn Horn Erin House, Jeanie Hursley, Catherine Kim, Kimberly Kwee, Joli Livaudais, Angie Macri, Hannah May, Rosemary Meza-DesPlas, Catherine Siri Nugent Laura Raborn, Emily Rogers, Dina Ropele Santos, Dominique Simmons, Kasten Searles, Katherine Strause, Brittany Wilder, Kat Wilson, and Miranda Young-Rice.

If you are in the central Arkansas area please consider a visit to this important exhibit. Summer gallery hours: 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday. Gallery admission is free. There is a reception on Friday, Aug. 18th from 5:00-7:00 pm with a Curator Talk at 6:00 pm. See you there!
As always, thank you for reading. Next up: Art exploration in our nation’s capital city!
Laura

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 2)

I visit as often as I can, and have blogged about Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art several times.  As the museum continues to showcase visiting world renowned exhibits, and reorganize the permanent collection, there is always something new to see and more to say about this special place in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I get to visit this time with a dear childhood friend who has never been to the museum.  I try to give her space and not interrupt our outing with my own perspective and excitement about this place. What a treat it is to hear the amazement of a first time visitor who has seen countless museums elsewhere but can’t help to be impressed and delighted by this one.  It makes me proud all over again and deeply grateful to Alice Walton for providing this resource for her community, home state, and beyond.

We arrive during mid day summer heat and decide to start with the inside tour, postponing a visit through the expanded trail system and “Chihuly in the Forest” until the next morning. The collection is a world class wonder, and I am drawn to my favorites again and again: Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Robert Henri, Max Ferguson, Fairfield Porter, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Wayne Thiebaud, Alice Neel, Kara Walker…the list goes on and on.

One aspect of the museum experience I’ve been considering lately, is that of community outreach and education.  In other words, what good does it do to have all this great work here? So often, visitors wander through and don’t feel connected or informed by artwork. Crystal Bridges has established a strong education program for the community, reaching out to all types of visitors through targeted events and programming. Instead of wandering aimlessly, visitors really learn about the work, whether it be through the extremely friendly and informed attendants, through school visits, through guided tours, through accessible displays and explanations, or through the many interactive tablets mounted throughout the museum. What does this mean? To me, it means the museum can reveal to visitors the perspective of another person. What a powerful gift! And don’t we desperately need ways to see perspectives different from our own?

After walking through the main galleries, we enter the “Chihuly in the Gallery” exhibit. As usual, learning about the artist, his background, and his various influences made me appreciate the work more than I did before this visit. Perhaps because I am a 2D artist, one of the highlights are the sketches by the artist. While the glass blowing process sometimes alters from the original plan, usually the pieces were produced exactly as described in the sketches, which is impressive.

We then check into a nearby hotel and explore the town square. The food scene in Bentonville is bustling and picking a place for dinner is difficult because of the multiple options. After rave reviews from a friend (thank you, Terri!) we decide on the Italian restaurant, Tavola Trattoria, which is excellent and affordable. Before retiring after a big day, there is more art to see…the always provocative exhibit at 21c Hotel. I’m starting to think a famous artist is following me. OK, if not the man, his art. For those who have read this blog before, you’ll know I am ecstatic to find the work of, you got it, Hank Willis Thomas!

“Raise Up” by Hank Willis Thomas

His work is part of a group exhibit, “Seeing Now” of which Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator, states, “This multi-media selection of works by over two dozen artists explores what and how we see today, revealing the visible and hidden forces shaping both what the contemporary world looks like, and how we consume and interpret that information—how visual and psychological perception are evolving in the 21st-century.” 

While I want to believe tolerance, integration and acceptance is a growing part of this booming area, I know there is more progress to make to battle racism. Perhaps the work of this brilliant artist can open the minds of people who are still stuck in hate and fear. Willis Thomas is able to take simple-seeming images and allow viewers to understand another person’s perspective, to sense the consequences of our actions, to see how our beliefs can be problematic, and to grasp that ambivalence is actually negligence.

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For example, the two photos above are part of an interactive photography display. Using a phone, viewers can choose to snap pics with the flash on, which exposes details in the image, allowing us to look closely at what is really happening in the photos. Or, visitors can walk on by vaguely aware of the activities and pain occurring in the historic photographs. Brilliant. The artist, in such a simple way, evokes a powerful conclusion: racism will continue in this country if all “races” do not work together as the artist and viewer work together to see and acknowledge what is happening. If white people continue to look away, we will not heal or progress as a society….at least that’s my take-away from another thought-provoking display by Hank Willis Thomas.

Boris Nzebo paintings at The Pressroom in Bentonville

Boris Nzebo painting in the Manchester Art Gallery

Wiped out from long walks and art overload (is that even possible?), we get to sleep early and are ready the next day to hit the trails. First, we visit The Pressroom for breakfast. In addition to the excellent food, I am delighted to spot these three paintings by Nigerian artist, Boris Nzebo. The graphic lines are quite recognizable and I was surprised to see the work in the small Arkansas town – I wrote last summer about admiring his work in a museum exhibit in Manchester, England! It is so strange how, once one pays close attention and develops a a list of  art elements to admire, the world becomes small and repeat finds happen often. Seeing a piece of art by artists we deeply admire feels like seeing an old friend or famous figure. I never tire from the excitement of exploring for this reason.

One could spend hours on the trails around Crystal Bridges but we have to head home soon so we don’t venture far. We enjoy a walk through the exhibit “Chihuly in the Forest,” peek at the Frank Lloyd Wright house, and head for the car. It is helpful to move around before the three hour drive back to Little Rock. Admittedly, the hours fly by as we chat endlessly about art, the ability to incite change through art, and how we can each apply to our own jobs and projects what we learned during our quick adventure. As I drive toward home, my mind is a whirl of ideas and thoughts for upcoming days in the studio. And I think of Chihuly who stated, “I don’t think much about the past. I think more about the future. I prefer to be thinking about what I want to be doing tomorrow.” I completely understand.

Up next, Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 3) which will focus on the current “Nasty Woman” exhibit at UA Little Rock. Thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

 

Seeking (and Finding) Provocative Art in Central Florida

Last summer, I filled three posts with observations about art here in central Florida, as well as thoughts on returning to a place from my past. While my visit this time still evokes bittersweet nostalgia as I stroll the tree lined streets around Winter Park and Rollins College, my need to write about memory and the past was fulfilled during last year’s visit. Today, I’ll stick with the art. Once again, the art rich area does not disappoint.

“Then They Came For Me” by Patrick Martinez

Like last year, I’m noticing artist statements about political turmoil and displacement. I’ll start with my Sunday afternoon visit to Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College. In his solo exhibit, “American Memorial” Los Angeles artist, Patrick Martinez uses several mediums and strategies to communicate ideas of unrest and fear.

As he states in the exhibit brochure, Martinez uses neon due to its common use in Los Angeles and across America.  It often has a base appeal, an urgent neediness, and a desperate element. In contrast, the words he chooses are associated with deep fear and a dark time in history. The words, “then they came for me” are attributed to Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller who spoke out against Germans during the rise of Nazi power.

In his series, “25 and still alive”, the artist creates birthday cake sculptures with portraits painted on the surface of the cakes. What strikes me about these pieces, in addition to the richly painted portraits and inviting faux confections, are the titles. We initially sense a celebratory message which is quickly replaced with the idea that for some people, reaching the youthful age of 25 is a feat. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In another section of the museum, I am delighted to see what feels like an old friend, a collection of Paul Signac drawings and paintings on loan from my own beloved Arkansas Arts Center. Seeing the pieces far from home made me proud of the renowned AAC collection and grateful to the Dyke family for their generosity.

Next up, via the affordable, convenient and comfortable SunRail train system, I visit the Loch Haven Park area, home of the Orlando Science Center, Orlando Fire Museum, Orlando Reperatory Theatre, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Museum of Art, and Mennello Museum of American Art. Lakeside views and trails abound and aside from the heat, walking around this area is a treat.

This tree was here during the signing of the U.S. Constitution!

Approaching the Mennello Museum, I am drawn to the surroundings. Formerly a private residence, the intimate building is ensconsed by trails, gardens, a lakeside view, old trees (such as the one here on the right) and sculptures by American sculptor and installation artist, Alice Aycock.

My timing is off for this museum visit as I arrive just after a Bo Bartlett exhibit and just before a William Eggleston exhibit. I am able to see a Bartlett painting that, I’m told, is being purchased by the museum. And I get to peek at the Eggleston photographs propped against the baseboards ready to be hung. The Bartlett painting reminds me of one of his at Crystal Bridges Museum of Amercian Art due to the seemingly simple composition, the lonley yet brazen position of the figure, the brushwork, and the enormous canvas size.

“Untitled (Veronica)” 2015, oil on canvas

After a short walk from the Mennello Museum, I arrive in the cool comfort of the Orlando Museum of Art. I’m lucky to visit again this summer during the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art, which showcases 10 progressive Florida artists. Though the three dimensional structures, photography and video installations are engaging and provocative, my favorite works are the paintings of Chase Westfall. I’m sure I’m drawn to these because of my own penchant for paint on a two dimensional surface but it is his extreme combination, and therefore, contrast between abstraction and figurative representation that I absolutely adore.  It is jarring and slightly disturbing to see the sharply painted geometric patterns imbedded in a tense push and pull with various body parts.  I typically don’t find geometric and heavily patterned paintings very engaging but Westfall’s use of rigid line against loosely painted forms sets up an energetic contrast that is confusing in a good way.

Other favorites at the museum include two pieces by Robert Rauschenberg, a chandelier sculpture by Petah Coyne, and a painting by Lavar Munroe.  Munroe uses found objects and discard in his cut canvases, making the pieces a hybrid between painting and sculpture.

Ravenous after miles of walking, I find a superb Cuban restaurant near the SunRail Station before heading back to the Alfond Inn for more art exploration. I incorrectly thought I was thorough last summer when searching the hotel hallways for art. But this time I find corridors and conference rooms I was unable to access during my last visit. As I’ve stated many times, the work of Hank Willis Thomas is a powerful influence on my own work. After hearing him speak at the Arkansas Arts Center two years ago, I basically idolize his ideas and techniques. And seeing the work in person is so exciting. I also stumble upon these three Terry Winters paintings in a dimly lit conference room.  I hope those meeting in this room when the lights are on appreciate this trio of printmaking masterpieces!

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As I write about art highlights during this central Florida visit, my daughter is in her final day of tennis camp at Rollins College.  I’ve passed my time with long walks, with a couple of movies, and of course, finding as much art as I can each day. But these idle hands are meant for making. I itch to return to my studio invigorated and inspired by the work of so many thought-provoking artists and the collections that thankfully share the work with the public.  Great art makes us think and I have plenty to consider during our travels home. Thank you for reading!

Returning to Winter Park, Florida Among Memories and Art: Part 1

DSC_0114In researching summer tennis programs for my daughter, I found myself repeatedly clicking on the Nike Tennis Camp at my alma mater, Rollins College. Perhaps I was just looking for an excuse to return to blissful Winter Park, Florida, but I legitimately kept finding fabulous reviews about the camp and its director, Rita Gladstone. With Southwest Airline points tucked away, the only major cost would be accommodations. We would walk everywhere and need very little transportation. I thought, visiting the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and the Orlando Arts Museum could be important parts of my work as an artist, right? Come to think of it, staying at the Alfond Inn with its’ esteemed contemporary art collection would be a wise choice, right? Yes and Yes! This 3-part series will highlight my response to returning to the area, and of course, the numerous high quality art exhibits.

DSC_0089Regarding the development of my paintings, everywhere I go, I consider what I see and how it relates to the art I make. I am guilty of having too many bodies of work going in my studio and cohesion has been, at times, elusive. But there is one theme that returns again and again: the idea of time passing and of memory. So as I explore areas such as Winter Park, I do study the work of other artists at every opportunity but I am also constantly coDSC_0049nsidering how what I see will make its’ way into my work. While my daughter was on the tennis court each day, I walked the campus and felt an acute longing, stronger than nostalgia but milder than anxiety. I wondered, Where did it all go? That experience does not exist anymore, it is only in our memories. What is this place that does not include me anymore? It is someone else’s now. As I walked through the shaded pathways of the campus, I feel awe mingled with despair. What am I mourning…my youth?

DSC_0069Is it my irrelevance in a place that makes me feel such longing? Upon returning, how can one see clouds building over Lake Virginia, see endless archways, see weeping willows spilling toward earth, smell the musty mixture of watery reeds and moss, feel the breeze that carries smell and memory, sense the rain when an uncharacteristic coolness brushes the skin and not think time has ceased to exist? How can this feel like my place, and concurrently feel like a mystery, like a place I am forcing myself upon?

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Nothing is True by Hector Arce-Espasas and Josue Pellot

Eventually I had to snap out of my nostalgic wanderings. The Cornell Fine Arts Museum was just the place to redirect my attention to the present. The current exhibit, “Displacement,” required another mode of thinking…of getting out of my own perspective and developing a clearer understanding of someone else’s perspective. Isn’t it cool how art can open our eyes to something beyond ourselves?

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Church Banners by Andrea Bowers

The artists included in the exhibit are from all over the world and use a variety of mediums to make clear statements about the condition of human displacement. The exhibit is not a plea, or an aggressively persuasive presentation. The power in the artwork comes from a calm and earnest approach. Language is often combined with visuals to help clearly communicate. This is not political, it is observation and presentation of a human condition. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” “Finders. Keepers.” “Nothing is true.” In Thousands are Sailing 1, the artist uses a garish pink where green should be seen in the photograph. While beautiful, the pink is also bizarre and striking which encourages viewers to stay and look more closely. It is as if the artist is saying, “don’t ignore these displaced people, stay and look closely and consider them.”

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Thousands are Sailing 1 by Richard Mosse

The Cornell Fine Arts Museum is also home to a permanent collection divided into three categories: American Art, European Art and The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art. Only a fraction of the collection can be on display at any given time and guests at the nearby Alfond Inn get to reside with some of the outstanding contemporary art collection

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The Hermit XI by Jaume Plensa on display at the Alfond Inn

during their stay. I was delighted to see two pieces by Hank Willis Thomas – one at the Alfond Inn and one at CFAM. Since hearing him speak during the “30 Americans” exhiit at the Arkansas Arts Center, I have been mesmerized by his visionary approach in using commonplace images from mainstream American media to show just how misinformed we are by persuasive, persistent and egregious advertising images. During his career, Thomas has methodically tackled gender issues and race issues with what seems like simple technique, but really reveals the brillian finesse of a great mind of our time. If I ever meet him, it will certainly be one of those embarrassing freak out moments where I invade his personal space with a gregarious hug. At any rate, this jewel of a museum on the east side of campus overlooking Lake Virginia should not be missed by visitors to the area.

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Walk Like A Man by Hank Willis Thomas

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Behind Every Great Man… by Hank Willis Thomas

Between kayaking on the lakes, visiting the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and studying the collection at the Alfond Inn, my heart was full as well as my sketchpad. Walking around the beautiful Rollins College campus and the surrounding areas during the quiet summer was a gift. It prompted memories to resurface and new discoveries to be made. And it gave more than I bargained for in terms of the inescapable painting theme of memory and the passage of time. On my last day, I entered the cool air of Knowles Chapel, and wondered if I read this poem during my years as a student and had since then forgotten, or if this was my first time to see words that only now in my life could hold such poignant weight.DSC_0087

As usual, thank you for reading. Next up: Blown Away at the Orlando Museum of Art

 

 

Spring Break in NYC: Art Nirvana

In a time when art is more loosely defined than ever, where there are no limits to what materials artists use, where anything imaginable can qualify as art, and where idea sometimes trumps craftsmanship, I return home from a trip to New York City electrified and inspired. Only in David Zwirner did I wonder, “What the?” Having said that, I know my personal lack of understanding an art installation does not reflect poorly on the art; perhaps it is my limited exposure to certain materials or styles that leaves me perplexed. My own education or perspective could be the problem.

While visiting roughly twelve galleries and four museums during my daughters’ spring break, I was repeatedly delighted by the quality, talent, and thoughtful presentation. For this trip, I focused on painting exhibits and found that representational painting, much of which was figurative, dominated the walls. One reason I paint representationally is because I believe art is most powerful when the highest number of people can glean some understanding, some insight, some information about a subject presented. Art made for an exclusive few seems to deny itself the chance to speak clearly about culture, about society, about life and about issues in a way that can eventually serve as documentation of our time. But maybe art does not have to represent anything specific. Maybe odd installations tell of a need for something real, three dimensional, touchable, formidable in a world inundated with visual imagery. Yet I can hardly resist the allure of a two dimensional painting or drawing that serves as a magical window to an idea. Yes, two dimensional work is an imitation of something, it is a copy. But the flat plane can reach our minds, our emotions, our thoughts. A great painting or drawing feeds, informs, opens, provokes, teaches, records and delights us.

Following are a few highlights from our visit:

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Alyssa Monks, Become, 2015, oil on linen, 50 x 80 inches

Alyssa Monks at Forum Gallery. I expected to feel disappointment over her departure from water paintings. However, the current body of work, “Resolution,” is stunning and exquisitely painted. The artist merges the human form with forest and plant environments. While the figures embody large swaths of canvas, they do not dominate the space. Instead, towering trees and foliage promote the idea of humans as secondary to earthly growth. The paintings allow us to see the intertwined existence of all living things. Combining human features with elements from nature is difficult and looking closely at the paintings shows how the artist chose certain brush marks and colors. The Forum Gallery website allows viewers to zoom in on the brushstrokes which is helpful and revealing.

 

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Claudio Bravo, Morocco Triptych, 2009, oil on canvas

Claudio Bravo at Marlborough Gallery. For years I have tried to figure out what exactly draws me to the entrancing work of Bravo. He is able to arrange material in a way that encourages the viewer to imagine how the material folds and feels. He is a master of value, creating shadows, highlights and folds that become almost linguistic. The contrasting colors he often uses prompt the viewer to repeatedly return to the work. Though it is often the human figure that draws me to a painting, Claudio Bravo’s still lifes reveal a vision and skill that is always worth studying in person when given the opportunity.

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Rimi Yang, Big Black Hat After Gainsborough, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

Rimi Yang at Stricoff Fine Art. I first fell in love with her fantastic layered work while studying my aunt’s fine art collection several  years ago. Since then, I have found Yang exhibited on the east coast, the west coast and in between in Austin, TX. Rounding the corner of 11th and 25th in Chelsea, my eye landed on this painting (here on the left) and I immediately knew I’d once again found one of my favorite artist’s work. As I struggle, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding, to paint the figure in an abstracted space, I think often of Yang’s  ability to create mysterious settings that allude to history, time, and things being covered, or painted over or washed away. I LOVE her precision used only sparingly and how it contrasts with loose brush marks and drips. I LOVE the exquisite details that contrast undefined areas. She makes it look so easy and it certainly is not. I was grateful this painting caught my attention because it turns out Stricoff Fine Art also carries many artists I admire such as Carol O’Malia and Joshua Bronaugh. We hit the jackpot! As a bonus, I got to meet gallery director, Michel Vandenplas, who was very kind even though my girls were basically sprawled out napping on a couch toward the back and I’d taken a photo of a Yang painting which I learned was not permitted. Despite all this, he was completely welcoming and gracious. Sometimes, when the details of a busy trip fade into the past, it is the kindness of strangers that stays with us. Speaking of a welcoming and kind stranger, next up…

Garvey Simon Art Access. When submitting work for the Delta Exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center, I read about this year’s juror, Elizabeth Garvey and was excited about the possibility of meeting her and seeing her gallery. Though we had no appointment and just stopped by to say hello, we were warmly welcomed. Liz graciously guided us into her office to show the work of many of the artists she represents. What first struck me in glancing at the walls was the pattern created by the wide variety of artists and their meticulous high quality use of materials.

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David Morrison, Stick Series No. 12, 2015, Colored pencil on paper, 14 5/8 x 21 3/4 inches

Much of the work on display was abstract forms from nature. Much of the work took something recognizable from the world and zoomed in for a hyper close view which helps viewers let go of the meaning of the things presented and see things in a new light. Ever since hearing Hank Willis Thomas speak about his work,  I deeply appreciate art that helps a viewer let go of a preconceived notion and see something in a new way. I was particularly drawn to the work by Julia Randall who shows us a view of life, of the human mark, of the fragile moment, in ways we surely have not considered. Her close look at various subjects – dead flowers, billowing empty plastic bags, chewed bubble gum – each involve air in one way or another. Not air that gives life, but air that is used and old. Whether the human form appears or not, the idea of a person involved with the item is ever present.

 

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Time, 2006 Oil on Panel, 36″ x 36″

Gallery Henoch. Finally, I was delighted to find Gallery Henoch, which has been in business for 50 years representing realist artists such as David Kassan, Burt Silverman, Daniel Greene, and Max Ferguson. For four years, I’ve regularly visited Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and never tire of the painting, “Time” by Max Ferguson. Though I did not get to see Ferguson’s work during our visit, the majority of the work on display was by Gary Ruddell. He creates a space for the figures that presents the idea of fantasy, or memory, or the world of youthful imagination. The looming deep shadows contribute to a slightly eerie or dangerous atmosphere though the figures seem content in frozen playful gestures. With backs turned away and eyes cast downward, there is something unreachable about the worlds in which the figures exist. I am grateful to have found another artist to admire who can create evocative compositions using semi-realistic spaces for figurative work.

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Gary Ruddell, Small Journeys, Oil on Panel, 54″ x 54″

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Gary Ruddell, Pinball Cha Cha, Oil on Panel, 60″ x 60″

There were so many more inspiring exhibits but this post is getting long…below are photos from our wanderings at the MOMA and the Met. Thank you for reading!

Laura

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Robert Motherwell

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Takashi Murakami

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Cy Twombly

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Jim Dine

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George Condo

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Robert Rauschenberg

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Francisco de Goya

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Philip Guston

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

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Jasper Johns

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Joan Mitchell

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Ferdinand Hodler

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Willem de Kooning

 

 

Miami Art: For Regular Folks Like Us

DSC_0325This time of year, everywhere I turn, news about Art Basel in Miami flashes before my eyes. But what about a family visit to Miami during a time of year when Art Basel is NOT in full swing? Well, the art in Miami is omnipresent year round, even during Thanksgiving week. Between the numerous galleries, the multiple museums, the public sculpture, various estates and gardens, and murals radiating throughout the city from the mural epicenter of Wynwood, Miami is a visual feast. Art and design and color are everywhere, communicating the mood and personality of Miami and informing our perception of the place.

Driving up from laid back Duck’s Key, we first stopped at the Lowe Art Museum on the University of Miami campus, to see a portrait exhibit I’d read about when planning the trip. The museum was easy to find with parking galore due to the Thanksgiving holiday. En route to the special exhibit, I was delighted to find pieces in the permanent collection by some of my favorite artists such as the masterful Hung Liu, transformative Cindy Sherman, and provocative Sally Mann.

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Hung Liu, Customs, 1995, oil on canvas

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The temporary exhibit, “Portrait Transformed: Drawings & Oil Sketches from Jacques-Louis David to Lucian Freud” has big names in the title though lesser known artists are included as well. The visual breadth provides viewers with  a more complete understanding of the evolution of portraiture during the last two and a half centuries. As a figurative artist, I found the written introduction to the exhibit to be particularly informative and a bit surprising. While the description helps viewers understand the purpose of the collection, the writer does not talk above us with lofty art language. Instead, Curator Robert Flynn Johnson writes as though he sharing insights with a personal friend. His refreshing honesty creates enthusiasm and curiosity for the work on display. For example, he states with aplomb, “Portraiture can be numbingly boring…the endless limpid depictions of prior generations of relatives that no family member wants to inherit.”

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Jacques-Louis David, France, 1748-1825, A Turbaned Man In Distress, black chalk

Such candor makes me want to hug this unpretentious curator. He continues, “However, portraits are also capable of being the most transformative, emotionally sublime, and deeply moving images in all art….Apparently even the art market concurs with this assessment – eight of the ten most expensive works ever sold are some form of portraiture.” In a world of abstraction, avant-garde images, conceptual installations and alternative material use, it is music to my ears to hear an appreciation for the drawn human figure.

After a quick walk around the UM campus and a Cuban sandwich at Versailles in Little Havana, we headed to the beautiful waterfront estate: Vizcaya. Built by Chicago agricultural tycoon, James Deering in the early 1900s, Vizcaya is a paradise of art, architecture, European furniture and sculpture, and gardens. Even during renovations, there is plenty to see. After a home tour and leisurely strolls in the gardens, wDSC_0250e drove a few minutes up the road to the Perez Art Museum.

Like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the facility and grounds of the Perez are an architectural wonder. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, the space uses multiple platforms and containers to bring natural elements into the environment. prez_art_museum_miami_hanging_gardens_photo_world_red_eye_webThe scale of the greenery, the expansive windows and the layered views infuse in our minds elements of plants, water, and light while walls and floors recede from our awareness. Walking around the grounds and inside the building is like a dream as the lines between interior and exterior disappear. Yet amongst this dreamscape the art assertively demands our attention. DSC_0288

While the conceptual sculptural pieces were incredible (one was made out of a tanning bed!), it was the work of Firelei Báez that took my breath away. Using vibrant color and multiple layers, the artist alludes to human form by combining human shapes with other natural elements to startle, delight, and dismay the viewer. I’ve been working with stencils made from my figure drawings to combine the figure with pattern, shapes and layers exposed within the figurative form. My goal is to emphasize what came before, or a certain emptiness, or the idea of disappearing. Báez uses a similar technique in – I must admit – a superior manner.

Walking through the “Firelei Báez: Bloodlines” exhibit, my mind was swirling with body ornamentation, pattern, decoration, and how these elaborate embellishments of the human form conversely connect us with each other as well as distinguish (or even separate) groups of people within a larger community. The layers she builds to define the human form and the details within the layers creates a disconcerting feeling. Perhaps the discomfort is caused by the high volume of pattern and decoration which defines, fills, and takes over the human form.IMG_0330

My thoughts were interrupted when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a familiar sight. Like an old friend calling me over, a large work by Robert Rauschenberg awaited. Though this piece was new to me, I recognized the skillful layering of commercial imagery. He has a way with repurposing and combining images – a method that seems simple but leaves other artists lagging behind. Rauschenberg produced multiple distinct bodies of work using an enormous variety of materials throughout his career and somehow, his work remains unmatched even with similar approaches and materials. Leaving the museum, we found easy access to the A1A bridge over to Miami Beach, checked into the Palms Resort and Spa and relaxed after a full day of sight-seeing.

Though most galleries and museums were closed on Thanksgiving Day, we found plenty to see on Day 2 in Miami. Starting with brunch at the illustrious Biltmore Hotel (and some entertaining gawking at homes in Coral Gables), we fueled up for the winding fairytale walks though Fairfield Botanical Gardens.

The gardens were much larger and more elaborate than we expected but we managed to reserve enough energy for one final stop of the day: Wynwood Walls. Describing the area as a bunch of murals on the sides of old buildings is a gross understatement. The ceaseless onslaught of images, the fantastical designs, the skilled representation, the pattern, the text, the variety, the overt and subtle messages, the social component, and the color was overwhelming. I suppose what struck me as most impressive was the quality of the work – such high quality and creative effort in a provisional setting.

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As a grand finale, we found a mural perfectly tailored to fit our Thanksgiving Day visit: GRATITUDE. Though the trip was abbreviated allowing a visit to only a fraction of Miami’s artful sights, we departed the vibrant city feeling grateful, indeed.

Thank you for coming along on a short art tour of Miami. Next up, taking all this artistic inspiration into the classroom at the Arkansas Arts Center.

A peaceful and happy holiday to you all,
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