As I wandered the West Building at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, a wispy web of white paint caught my eye. Andrew Wyeth's Wind from the Sea is essentially that, an image of the wind, captured in a painting of an open window. While in front of the work, I marveled at how he was able to capture the feeling of the movement of the curtain billowing from the wind. I pondered the process the artist must go through to translate an image in life to the two dimensional canvas. But, today, as I revisited the painting again, I began to ponder instead, why did I even notice it?
Nothing beats being in front of a work of art. Sometimes these works travel to you, in exhibits and to museums nearby. Other times, you've got to travel to the work itself, which is definitely the case when it comes to the work of Richard Serra. His over-sized works made of steel are often site-specific and their installation alone is labor intensive. These aren't works that travel and that's ok. Because, after all, it's a good excuse to get out there in the world and see it for yourself. Serra can give you an excuse to travel to Spain, the Hudson River Valley, Qatar, or, in this case, my latest Serra sighting was in Los Angeles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when I came face-to-face with Band (2006).
When you think of seeing art on a trip in the United States, it's easiest to gravitate towards the most well known museums in large cities. However, there are lots of opportunities to enjoy art in excellent musuems, in lesser-known places. One great place to look at art are at any of the American universities across the country. Universities have both the resources and benefactors to help foster an environment for collecting and displaying a significant collection of art. Further, the university setting puts an emphasis on learning from art, as well as about art. It makes for a unique museum experience. Almost every university has an art collection of some sorts, including these four university art museums of note in the United States.
When you head into an art museum, you probably tend to stop in front of the wall-sized works on canvas or the towering sculptures in the front lobby. But what about those dimly lit rooms with small works on paper? Old Master Prints, the common way to refer to printmaking efforts made prior to the 19th century, are often a large part of a museum’s collection. Despite their prevalence, they’re also often the most overlooked items in the collection. Why? It's because the destructive effect of light on paper means that works are rarely on display, or when they are, kept in dimly lit spaces or tucked out of the way of harsh daylight. They are the unsung hero of a museum’s collection, in my opinion, and one of my favorite areas of study. There’s something about the intimacy of paper that allows you a step closer into the mind of the artist.
In the postmodern era, it's easy to overlook the work of Mies van der Rohe. His walls of glass, rectangular forms, and open spaces look all too familiar. When we hear the name Mies van der Rohe, we don't instantly think of his architecture or his contribution to our landscape, but instead we think of an icon, a brand, or a chair at Design Within Reach. His ideals have become ingrained into our society and its visual vocabulary. "Less is more" is often said when referring to his work and this aesthetic has proliferated our landscape since the mid-20th century. Look at an iPhone or the Apple store itself to see how designers have reduced our objects to be only what is necessary. Or flip through the pages of Dwell to see how open floor plans, modern materials, and transparency are now commonplace in contemporary homes. Mies van der Rohe's philosophy of design surrounds us. So much so, that when you walk by one of his buildings in your travels, you might not even notice it. In order to avoid missing out, let me give you a crash course in who Mies van der Rohe was and some key elements to his buildings.
Beginning in 1971, with the opening of the Rothko Chapel, the de Menil family had big plans for this neighborhood in Houston, Texas. The Chapel is a structure designed to house the paintings of Abstract Expressionist artist, Mark Rothko and a place for reflection and spirituality, regardless of your god. It set the tone for what was to come. A few years later, in 1987, the Menil Collection opened its doors and over the years has become more than just the art collection of a family housed in a museum. While, it does refer to a building of such expression, it is just one of many in a campus of art, architecture, and sculpture collected by the de Menil family displayed in the Montrose neighborhood. In addition to the Rothko Chapel, there is outdoor sculpture, galleries dedicated to the work of Cy Twombly and Dan Flavin, and until this year a re-imagined Byzantine Chapel to house frescos saved from Cyprus. (After 15 years, the frescos were returned to Cyprus in March 2012. You can learn more and see video and photography of the former installation, at Byzantine Fresco Chapel website.) All-in-all, the Menil collection and its environs is a place to be inspired, to feel, and to interact with art in a way that’s uncommon in today’s wall-text driven art experience.
In 2012, we're all photographers. With cameras hiding in all of our devices, we rarely leave the house without one. When we encounter photography in a museum, however, we often understand what we're seeing, visually, but the process behind the photograph remains a mystery. Have you ever glanced at the wall text of a photograph and wondered what all those words actually meant? With digital photography becoming the mode of choice, we are losing a latent understanding of the photographic medium. Even with some background in film photography, I find myself blissfully unaware of photographic mediums, techniques and terminology. No more! The next time I'm in a museum I'm going to be better prepared to understand what technique I am seeing. Keep reading to learn about a few terms that you're likely to encounter in a photography exhibit.
Gustav Klimt has quite the 150th birthday celebration going on this year. You've probably seen the Austrian-born artist before, in art history textbooks or in your favorite museum's gift shop where his work above, The Kiss, likes to cover tote bags and notecards. Klimt is best well known for his gold, geometric-laden portraits of the wives of Austrian bourgeoisie around the turn of the 20th century, as well as his, at the time, controversial eroticism of the female form. His works are gorgeous, sumptuous studies of womanhood, expressed through color and pattern or the simple curved line. If you haven't seen his work in person, there's no time like the present with two unique exhibitions going on across the globe.
An artist that I keep bumping into, unwittingly, is Patrick Dougherty. Dougherty makes temporary sculptures comprised of twigs and sticks woven together to create towering, curvaceous forms. Most recently I encountered both his sculpture, and unknowingly at the time the artist himself, on a visit to Oahu. Early one morning, I was standing outside the Honolulu Museum of Art (waiting to visit Shangri La) when I came across a group of people assembling his latest sculpture, Footloose. Déjà vu. I still haven't placed it, but I'd been there before. I had seen this. Some memories float in quite clearly, for example, standing on the lawn of a university in the fall watching other assistants cut and place twigs under careful instruction. Other bits remain fuzzy, like where I was exactly and what year it might have been. The full memory hasn't returned to me, but having encountered Dougherty's work three times now, I can't shake the feeling that it wasn't just luck. Fate keeps bringing me back to his works in my travels. It just can't be by chance.
New York City's architecture can be overwhelming and with the hub and bub of the city passing you by, it can be hard to take in. After visiting New York recently, I realized that parks are the perfect homebase for doing an impromptu architectural tour. One of the finest is Madison Square Park, who not only gives you a front row seat to one of New York's most noted landmarks, the Flatiron Building (pictured above,) but a peek at architecture both old and new, and maybe even a milkshake.