During Denver’s Coldest Week, the Art Shows are Hot!

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Arghhhh! I got back from Washington, DC the other night to arrive in Denver on the coldest night of some 40 years…brrrr! I was tempted to stay in wait for it to warm up (like maybe another week), but then I ultimately felt the pull toward the galleries…so like a moth to the flame, I went in search of the light.

Luckily, the galleries are mostly warm – a couple of them have space heaters going, but for the most part, they provide a great opportunity to get in from the cold and enjoy some of the very best Denver has to offer.

They are all very different shows and so I have to point out that I am not listing these in any particular order because I thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

  • “Dimension & Symmetry” by Clark Rickert at Gildar Gallery  – Clark has long been one of the art stars of Denver art scene and yet his work always seems of the moment. I am enamored with the vibrant colors that he applies to advanced mathematic equations and theories.
  • “Structural Leanings” featuring Haze Diedrich & Lewis McInnis at Space Gallery – the strong architectural underpinnings of both of these artists’ works is very compelling. I have been a fan of both of these artists for years and am in love with these new works.
  • “Flos” by Mia Mulvey at Goodwin Fine Art – I love these sculptures based on Dutch still life imagery and conceived with the very latest technologies.  The juxtaposition of ceramic, felt and 3-D printing connects historical reference to current media.
  • “Altitude” by David Kimball Anderson at Robischon Gallery – I was blown away by these installed pieces that use cast bronze work alongside scrap materials to convey a story of journey and a profound sense of mindfulness.
  • From the “Mandala” and “Buddha” series by Bill Armstrong at Robischon Gallery – these photos are gorgeous! They complement the other shows in the gallery, but are worth a look on their own.  I find them to be contemplative and joyful. They strike me as a bit of a riddle – there is a sense of paradox with the vivid colors presented through a lense that is out of focus.
  • “Cosmic Ebb & Flow” featuring Barbara Groh at Sandra Phillips Gallery – Barbara’s abstractions convey a sense of space, evoking different locations: ranging from Sweden to India to the coast of Maine. This show strikes me as new and different, and yet obviously Groh’s.  The forceful, deliberate brushwork combines with delicate almost whimsical mark making – and the underpinning of vibrant colors restrained by material surface treatments are all signature elements.
  • “Mond:See” featuring Sabin Aell and Jonathan Hils at Walker Fine Art – I fell in love with Hils’ work about 10 years ago and have been a convert ever since. He continues his sculptural explorations of fractal elements and aggregation, in this show with new materials and the use of new technologies.  Sabin’s multi-layered imagery reaches new levels of sophistication – they are delicate and beautiful and the installation on the front wall is stunning.
  • Don Stinson at David B. Smith Gallery – this show about over, but if you get the chance to go down and check out the show, it is totally worth it to see his latest landscapes. Make sure you call ahead because the gallery will only be open by appointment during the holidays.
  • “Refashioned Fables: Icons and Tribes of the Disbanded West” featuring Bale Creek Allen & Tracy Stuckey at Visions West Gallery – another show that is about over; rush over and take a look. The bronze sculptures are really amazing – cast from tumbleweeds. The paintings are take a satirical look at the already re-imagined ideals of western culture.
  • “Fluid” by Frank Martinez at Plus Gallery – I am in love with the level of skill displayed in these predominately black and gray abstracts. The liquidity of the paints captured on panel belies their 2-dimensional restrictions. Looking at these, I get the sense that I can feel the viscosity of the liquids and dip into the visualized space.
  • Jeff Aeling, featuring John Davis and introducing Jivan Lee at William Havu Gallery – I went to check out Aeling’s atmospheric landscapes and wound up really taken with Davis’ sculptures. The three artists present well together.

Barbara Groh at Sandra Phillips Gallery

Barbara Groh at Sandra Phillips Gallery

BUDDHA 714 1of10, by Bill Armstrong at Robischon Gallery

BUDDHA 714 1of10, by Bill Armstrong at Robischon Gallery

Frank Martinez at Plus Gallery

Frank Martinez at Plus Gallery

Furrow by John Davis at William Havu Gallery

Furrow by John Davis at William Havu Gallery

David Kimball Anderson at Robischon Gallery

David Kimball Anderson at Robischon Gallery

Haze Diedrich at Space Gallery

Haze Diedrich at Space Gallery

Lewis McInnis at Space Gallery

Lewis McInnis at Space Gallery

Red Rocker Rider by Tracy Stuckey at Visions West Gallery

Red Rocker Rider by Tracy Stuckey at Visions West Gallery

Looked Back, Not Knowing by John Davis at William Havu Gallery

Looked Back, Not Knowing by John Davis at William Havu Gallery

Mia Mulvey at Goodwin Fine Art

Mia Mulvey at Goodwin Fine Art

Quantum Zone 2013 by Clark Richert at Gildar Gallery

Quantum Zone 2013 by Clark Richert at Gildar Gallery

The Spud Redux, 2013 by Don Stinson at David B. Smith Gallery

The Spud Redux, 2013 by Don Stinson at David B. Smith Gallery

Roland Bernier – Lifetime Artist

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“Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Who’s to say that a circle is more significant than a square or a triangle…shapes are shapes.  Letters are shapes too – if you can divorce the symbolic connotations from letters grouped together to form words and just begin to admire the individual letters for their shapes, you can begin to understand the world of Roland Bernier.  For Roland, words are compositions of form, worthy of admiration.

There are many text-based artists whose works are really focused on the meaning of words or phrases – I immediately think of Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, and Lawrence Weiner. Not all of Bernier’s work is devoid of reference, but that is not the main focus of his work.

It’s so rare to see anything truly new, but Bernier has been a pioneer; he started working with text-as-form some 50+ years ago. Since then, any number of artists have followed suit – consider Nancy Holt’s photograph “Concrete Poem” and Mel Bochner’s “Blah Blah Blah” paintings and even more recently of Thomas Müller’s ceramic forms in his show “Nothing Rhymes with Orange”, Fionna Banner’s “Concrete Poetry” and Jaume Plensa’s “Figurative Sculptures.”

I have visited Bernier’s studio a number of times to check out his archives (some is missing, but he has inventory dating back to 1965) and have seen eight or so shows at the Denver Art Museum, Spark Gallery and Walker Fine Art; I love his stacked words, the words on wheels, the cross words, his hysterical “What a Dump” series, “Talking in Circles” and his hands series.

My all-time favorite pieces are his more recent signature series.  After seeing some of his other shows, I went to see this body several years ago and initially tried to dismiss them. I found myself going back – the second time I saw his empty frames with nothing more than his signature, I recognized he was onto something. The third time I visited that show I understood: so much of art is about the signature – people rush up to look for the name.

Roland is now in his 80’s and for the past 5-6 years he has been acutely aware of his own mortality. His introspection leads him to explore the merger of art with artist. He now prefers the use of his own name in favor of more randomly selected text, covering literally anything and everything with his signature over and over and over …and over again, the latest pieces only with his last name. He is not morose, “This might be my last show, so I am only using my last name,” Roland says smiling, happy with his clever use of words.

Roland Bernier is represented by Walker Fine Art where “The Last Picture Show” is on view June 7-July 12. www.walkerfineart.com

Roland Bernier, "The Last Picture Show" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, “The Last Picture Show” at Walker Fine Art

Bernier at Denver Art Museum, 2007

Bernier at Denver Art Museum, 2007

Roland Bernier "Talking in Circles" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier “Talking in Circles” at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier's Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier’s Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, "What  A Dump" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, “What A Dump” at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier "HI" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier “HI” at Walker Fine Art

Some other artists using text as compositional form:

Nancy Holt Concrete Poem at CAG

Nancy Holt Concrete Poem at CAG

Mel Blochner Blah, Blah, Blah

Mel Bochner Blah, Blah, Blah

thomas-muller-at-project-4

thomas-muller-at-project-4

Fiona Banner at Frith Street Gallery

Fiona Banner at Frith Street Gallery

Some artists using messaging in text-based artwork:

Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn

Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn

Glenn Ligon at the Whitney

Glenn Ligon at the Whitney

Lawrence Weiner at the Guggenheim

Lawrence Weiner at the Guggenheim

Color/Pattern Studies

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This gallery contains 7 photos.

I am excited to share these two new series I began this the past year. They are hand-painted pyrographs on wood; the images on the longer strips are based on patterns I have created over the past 12 years and … Continue reading

Vancouver 2013

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We just got back from Vancouver; it really was a perfect week.  My partner was running the Marathon and I was up there to offer support and to enjoy spending time in one of our favorite cities. It was our fourth visit up there and we find ourselves loving it more each time.  This time we made our first visit to Victoria, which was a treat.  In Vancouver, we spent almost all of our time downtown managing to check out Mount Pleasant, Granville Island, Kits Beach, English Bay, Davie Street, Stanley Park, Yaletown, Gas Town and a little bit of China Town. Outside the city it makes sense to have a car, but downtown it is easy to use public transit and mostly to walk to just about anywhere.  Although the city is very cosmopolitan, it is compact: a population similar to Denver is crammed into less than a third of the space.

My sense is that there is real energy around the growing art scene – it was just announced that the museum just brokered a deal to build a new facility from the ground up, the area’s art schools are strong, nascent art districts are becoming more defined with galleries and studios and more & more public works dot the city.

I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery and saw a fun retrospective of Art Spiegelman’s comics, and to the Contemporary Art Gallery and saw a great Nancy Holt photo exhibit. I checked out the totem poles at the Royal BC Museum; there were more in Stanley Park (one of the most spectacular things we saw were the nests of the great blue herons). I found a lot of craft stores and design/home-furnishing stores were practically everywhere. There were not so many great galleries for contemporary art, but I found a few of them, with Jennifer Kostuik, Trench Gallery and Madrona (Victoria) being my favorites.

The tribal art of the Northwest really peaked my interest. Of course, The Bill Reid Gallery (check out his massive relief “Mythic Messengers”) is at the top of the heap; Coastal Peoples had “Haida Masterworks II” which showcased generational continuance of aboriginal art; the Douglas Reynolds Gallery has a gorgeous array of works including prints, masks, totem poles, bronze and stone sculptures, bentwood boxes and jewelry.  It was a treat to meet Elaine Monds over at the Alcheringa Gallery in Victoria; she was happy to talk me through some of history of First Nations art and basics of formline design and the significance of different spirit animals.

Public works are easy to find in Vancouver, thanks in large part to Vancouver Bienniale – it has established a unique program of installing works throughout the city every two years. Because the works stay up for 11-18 months or so, millions of people get to enjoy them. The foundation typically acquires a couple of the sculptures from each Bienniale, increasing the city’s inventory of public works.

My Top 10:

  1. “Traces of Time” by David Burdeny at Jennifer Kostuik Gallery
  2. “Stenten: The Resilience of Line, Locale and Intuition” at Trench Gallery
  3. “Selected Photo and Film Works” by Nancy Holt at Contemporary Art Gallery
  4. Galleries on South Granville, esp. Bau-Xi, Ian Tan & Marion Scott
  5. “Amazing Laughter” by Yue Minjun
  6. “The Drop” by Inges Idee
  7. Totem Poles at Thunderbird Park in Victoria
  8. “Walking Figures” by Magdalena Abakanowicz
  9. Norval Morriseau at Eagle Spirit Gallery
  10.  “Pictures” by Erin Shirreff at Contemporary Art Gallery

Gabriel Dubois at Trench

Gabriel Dubois at Trench

November Sky - David Burdeny at Jennifer Kostuik

November Sky – David Burdeny at Jennifer Kostuik

Warren - running the Vancouver Marathon

Warren – running the Vancouver Marathon

Parliament in Victoria

Parliament in Victoria

Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Spring - Alan Chung Hung

Spring – Alan Chung Hung

White Raven (articulated dance mask) at Eagle Spirit Gallery

White Raven (articulated dance mask) by Jordon Seward at Eagle Spirit Gallery

Primary #9 - Mike Banwell

Primary #9 – Mike Banwell

The Drop - Inges Idee

The Drop – Inges Idee

Norval Morrisseau

Norval Morrisseau

Komagata Maru Monument

Komagata Maru Monument

Grand Hotel at Vancouver Art Gallery

Grand Hotel at Vancouver Art Gallery

Amazing Laughter  - Yue Minjun

Amazing Laughter – Yue Minjun

Vancouver - BC Stadium

Vancouver – BC Stadium

Top 10 in DC – Spring 2013

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I had the opportunity to go DC twice this Spring, and as a result my “Top 10” list is a little long this time around. It was great to get to go on back-to-back trips because some of the museums and galleries were installing shows during one trip or the other. I know I still missed a lot, but saw enough that my head is still spinning.  I tried to check out different parts of the city – Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Kalaroma, the H Street Corridor, Logan Circle, U Street, and of course the National Mall. It was a special treat to get to meet with Christine Neptune, who showed me about 2 dozen gorgeous Wolf Kahn monotypes; with Robert Brown, who showed me a portfolio of Per Kirkeby’s; and with  Andrea Marinkovich, who had a wonderful David Hockney.

Some of my favorites at the Museums:

  1. “Nam June Paik: Global Visionary” at Smithsonian American Art Museum
  2. “Ellsworth Kelly: Colored Paper Images” at the National Gallery
  3. “Albrecht Dürer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints from the Albertina” at the National Gallery
  4. “Nordic Cool” at the Kennedy Center
  5. “Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio & Dubuffet” at the Phillips Collection
  6. “Vanitas!” Jeanne Silverthorne at the Phillips Collection
  7. “Portraiture Now: Drawing on the Edge” at The National Portrait Gallery
  8. “Pump Me Up: DC Subculture of the 1980s” at the Corcoran
  9. “On Common Ground: Dominican Republic & Haiti” at American Museum of the Americas
  10. “Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848–1900” at National Gallery of Art

And at the Galleries:

  1. “Nothing Rhymes with Orange” at Project 4
  2. “Gordon Parks: An American Lens” at Adamson Gallery
  3. Robert Longo at Adamson Gallery
  4. Mel Bochner at Robert Brown Gallery
  5. “Gathering Space” by Timothy Thompson at Hamiltonian Gallery
  6. “Concrete Abstract” at Heiner Contemporary
  7. William Whitaker at DCAC
  8. “Narciso Maisterra – Recent Work” at Hillyer Art Space
  9. New Paintings by Kevin H. Adams at Gallery Plan B
  10. “Trash Talk” at the Torpedo Factory

Thomas Muller at Project 4

Thomas Muller at Project 4

Thinker on Rock 1997 Barry Flanagan

Thinker on Rock 1997 Barry Flanagan

Trashtalk by Alex Lockwood

Trashtalk by Alex Lockwood

Ellsworth Kelly colored paper

Ellsworth Kelly colored paper

Timothy Thompson Gathering Space

Timothy Thompson Gathering Space

El Maiz - Edgar Negret, 1996 at Organization of American States
El Maiz – Edgar Negret, 1996 at Organization of American States

Juha Pykäläinen - Elk Towers

Juha Pykäläinen – Elk Towers

She Who Must Be Obeyed - Tony Smith

She Who Must Be Obeyed – Tony Smith

Ai Wei Wei - Packing up the zodiac sculptures

Ai Wei Wei – Packing up the zodiac sculptures

Cool Disco Dan at Corcoran

Cool Disco Dan at Corcoran

Jeanne Silverthorne at Phillips Collection

Jeanne Silverthorne at Phillips Collection

David Hockney - An Imaginary Landscape 1967

David Hockney – An Imaginary Landscape 1967

Mel Bochner - From Floating World, 1990

Mel Bochner – From Floating World, 1990

American Museum of Western Art

I often write about the art I see during my travels, but the reality is there is a lot to see right here in Denver.  A couple months ago I went with an art historian to The American Museum of Western Art. It was a treat and really a must see in Denver’s growing art scene.

The museum is the showcase of the Anschutz Collection, arguably the best private collection of western art in the world.  It packs, salon style, as many pieces as it possibly can into the 4-story Italianate building from the 19th century (The building itself is worth checking out and has a storied past – read http://www.westword.com/2012-05-31/culture/museum-of-the-american-west-anschutz-collection/  for more information.) There are more than 600 pieces covering works spanning 150 years of artists’ engagement with the West.

The museum is generally planned according to movements and schools of art and while not exactly in chronological order moving from the oldest works on the lower level and up to the most recent on the upper levels.  It is useful to think about these schools and movements and you progress through the museum – there is so much to look at, it helps to organize the experience and see the works in relation to what other artists were up to at any given time.  Docents typically lead you through the floors, but I am told visitors are free to wander.

The main groupings of works include:

The Expeditionary Artists (George Catlin, Seth Eastman, Alfred Jacob Miller, John Mix Stanley); these guys generally went along on expeditions and scouting adventures to record journeys though the west. Their paintings often showcase the interactions with various tribes and depict trappers as they developed the fur trade.

Hudson River and Rocky Mountain Schools ( Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Worthington Whittredge); these painters typically lived in New York City  and often are most known for their paintings of the Hudson River Valley and later, the Rocky Mountains. These landscapes are filled with light and convey a sense of splendor.

Narrative Artists (George DeForest, William De Leftwich Dodge);these guys were the basic story tellers and depicted what was actually happening as settlers took hold in the west.  They took inspiration from the Renaissance, focusing on playwrights and writers, and poets while telling stories of battles and the gold rush.

California Painters  (Charles Christian Nahl, George Henry Burgess, A.D.O. Browere); these guys came for the gold but went on to showcase early California, often celebrating its Spanish heritage.

Interpreters of the Old West (Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, Charles Schreyvogel); even as the West was quickly developing into a major hub of urbanization, the public embraced their depictions of heroic frontiersmen and the idealized landscapes that filled the pages of papers, magazines and dime-store novels.

Illustrators (NC Wyeth, Dean Cornwell, Herbert Dunton); these artists of the early 20th century were the favored illustrators for short stories, novels and magazines.  Because of the publications, theirs are the iconic images most recognized.

Taos and Santa Fe Schools (Ernest M. Hennings, Ernest Blumenschein, Walter Ufer); these guys were educated artists in search of subject matter. As they travelled west, they basically landed in northern New Mexico and stayed. They developed a style of Southwestern art that is immediately recognizable.

American Regionalist Painters (Thomas Hart Benton, John Stewart Curry) These guys painted America’s heartland in a pseudo-realistic style that gave emphasis to everyday life of small towns and farmlands.

New Deal Artists (Maynard Dixon, Victor Higgins, Frank Mechau,) In the 1930’s Federal programs including the Works Progress Administration and the Section of Painting and Sculpture employed artists to commission paintings for post offices, state capitols, and government buildings. Many of these paintings were murals that depicted the strength and resourcefulness of Americans and the bounty of the landscape.

Expressionists (Marsden Hartley, Birger Sandzén); these artists were modernists, they conveyed emotion through manipulations of color, surface, and form.

Cubism and Abstraction (John Marin, Georgia O’Keefe); it is at this point in the tour of the museum that I really began to notice how quickly styles of art were changing, not only in the West, but around the world. The museum speeds through different modernist styles.

The size of the museum belies the collection – it really is so extensive that you can go back to again and again and continue to see different things and learn more about the development of art of the West and how it relates to the history of our country. (http://www.anschutzcollection.org/)

The-Silenced-War-Whoop - Charles Schreyvogel

The-Silenced-War-Whoop – Charles Schreyvogel

The-Last-Race-Mandan-O-kee-pa-Ceremony George Catlin

The-Last-Race-Mandan-O-kee-pa-Ceremony George Catlin

Death of Minnehaha - William de Leftwich Dodge

Death of Minnehaha – William de Leftwich Dodge

Sunrise In The Vineyard Kim Douglas Wiggins

Sunrise In The Vineyard Kim Douglas Wiggins

Consider Building an Art Collection

I like to go on home & garden tours to get inspiration and to see how my place measures up, and to see art (of course, since it’s what I do). There are the decorated homes – the ones where the artwork just matches each room so perfectly, the size and colors. Those certainly are beautiful homes. Some of the homes have an eclectic vibe which I guess I relate to because that is most often how I describe my own home. Then there are the homes where the owners have so much stuff: posters, paintings, photographs, odd farm-equipment sculptures, wind chimes, glass-eyed porcelain dolls in the guestroom, bric-a-brac.

Every once in a while, a home just makes so much sense – those are the ones where there is such obvious thought behind every decision. The artwork seems to take on a different purpose – each choice is made in the context of the others. Whether the homes have American folk art, impressionist paintings or black & white photography, those are the tours I really love.

The art collections that get me going are really focused; I love the idea that someone develops a set of ground rules and then uses those parameters to actually choose their art. If you want to take a more deliberate approach to getting artwork – try to at least consider it in terms of how it might work in your “collection”.  Most of us wind up finding something we like here and something we like there and then just kind of throw it all together, wondering why it doesn’t necessarily work. The result is that trove of abandoned treasures under the beds, in the closets, basements, attics, or out in the garage.

Of course, you could hire a consultant like me – but even if you don’t, give your choices some thought.  Whether you just discuss your ideas with someone or you chart it out or put it into a spreadsheet, try to establish some guidelines. If you can articulate a framework for the artwork you choose, you can begin to build a collection.

For more information on how I can help you acquire art and/or care for what you already have, see the about tab on my blog.  I’d love to help.

Picture3_edited

Laura Letinsky at the Denver Art Museum

Laura Letinsky: Still Life Photographs, 1997–2012, is on view through March 24, 2013 at the Denver Art Museum.

Laura Letinsky is one of those smart ones – you know the type that makes you wish you had really focused on your homework.

Letinsky is well-versed in art history and it shows; her gorgeous still-life images are immediately accessible to the viewer because of their familiarity. The influence is obvious and yet… there is something more…or less. These aren’t the luscious depictions of the lavishly abundant Dutch tables of the 17th Century. Hers are barely-there pieces of fruit on white linens with white backdrops. There are none of the skulls of the vanitas, and yet there is the melancholic reminder that her stories are of moments passed.

Letinsky is a philosopher. We generally obsess with that fleeting moment of perfection when a peach is at its very juiciest firm-fleshed fullest or a lily is sweetly fragrant. Letinsky’s focus is more on the reality this is the penultimate state of dying. In her photos the fruit has that juicy-sticky quality that makes us want just to clean it up before the flies begin choke on the decay. The perfume is beginning to remind us of the stench of fetid water.

Letinsky is a technician – she uses film and she knows all those things that photographers seem to know about cameras and lenses and lighting. I heard her talk and for all I know, when it came to the technical “stuff” she could have been describing how to build spaceships.

Letinksy is a photographer – Of course she knows that the images engage viewers to connect the dots to history and confront mortality and philosophize about perceived meaning, but above all else she is a photographer. I once asked a painter about some of her recent works – the symbolism or meaning of the recurrent imagery; she laughed and told me “It’s paint on a canvas.” It’s funny because I didn’t quite get it then; I mean, it seemed like an idea I could get behind when looking at Abstract Expressionism, but her paintings were figurative. I do get it now – Letinsky’s work sets it out there: there is decaying fruit, spilt wine, paper cups and wrappers; but ultimately they are photographs. She is in the business of taking light and color and composition and capturing that with her camera in a way that allows her to share her “paint on a canvas.”

"Untitled #54" from the series "Hardly More Than Ever," 2002, by Laura Letinsky. (Photo provided by the Yancey Richardson Gallery)

“Untitled #54” from the series “Hardly More Than Ever,” 2002

ArtLook-Art-Look-Laura-Letinsky

Untitled, #5 2005 To Say It Isn’t So

 

 

Untitled #2 from the series "The Dog and the Wolf," 2008

Untitled #2 from the series “The Dog and the Wolf,” 2008

Untitled #1 31x40 from the series "The Dog & The Wolf"

Untitled #1 31×40 from the series “The Dog and the Wolf” 2008

New York, January 2013

We just got back from New York – it was a wonderful week  for us to spend time with close friends and, of course, for me to check out the art.  The highlight was the blockbuster (just closed) Picasso Black & White exhibit at the Guggenheim. After that it was a week-long frenzy of galleries and museums. I raced through The Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,  MoMA, The Museum of Art and Design,The New Museum, the Noguchi Museum, PS1, and The Whitney. I spent a couple of days roaming in and out of doors down in SoHo and Chelsea. I squeezed in a few galleries up on Madison Avenue and Bedford Avenue over in Williamsburg.

The reality is that no matter how I wear myself out, there is no way for me to really do more than take a cursory glance – I got to about 40 galleries this time around, but that is hardly a dent when you consider how much there is to see. As I reflect back on the week, it is already beginning to blur together but here are my top 10:

1) Picasso Black & White at The Guggenheim

This was the big blockbuster show – I love retrospectives in general, but really liked taking in a subset of works that spanned his entire career. Of course, the central atrium of the museum helps – there is such wonderful natural light and the spiral up the circumference allows for viewing from different vantage points. I loved being able to see works like “La Cuisine” close up and then check them out from across the rotunda.

2) George Bellows at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

It was a treat to see this retrospective of arguably one of the greatest  American painters of the early 20th Century – a member of “The Eight,” he was a realist, and often focused his works on the daily realities of urban living. His works captured the essence of NYC as it expanded during the turn of the century.  Many of the paintings were familiar: fighters in boxing rings, prostitutes, the excavation of Penn Station, etc. Ones that I especially liked were taken outside of the city up in Woodstock or off the coast of Maine.

3) Judith Bernstein “Hard” at The New Museum

What can I say? I mean her work just fits so perfectly in the Bowery…I was glad to see the museum showcasing her. I think I’d love to see her confrontational imagery in a more rarified setting; maybe on the Upper East?

4) Mickalene Thomas at Brooklyn Museum

It was fun to see this show which got my head spinning in so many directions. She happened to be checking out her own show the day that I was there and so that somehow added inexplicable relevance. I am beginning to explore concepts of popular imagery put into compositions based in historical reference. That is nothing really new, but right now it is especially hot in the art world.  I was particularly moved by her candid and touching portrayal of the relationship she had with her mother who passed away this past Fall.

5) Noguchi Museum

It takes a while to get yourself out there, but it is totally worth it. If you can manage it on a nice day, combine it with Socrates Park.

6) Daniel Buren at Bortolami

It was funny because when I entered the gallery all of the printed materials by the door were for Jillian Clark (whose installation was on display in the back of the gallery). I immediately looked at the stripes on the wall with recognition, but then questioned myself because of the literature. Once I got past the momentary disconnect, I really enjoyed the show.

7) Seth Casteel “Underwater Dogs” at Dillon Gallery

This guy’s photos are just so fun – it was a great burst of energy to see this show in the middle of a long, cold day of gallery hopping.

8) Yayoi Kusama “Narcissus Garden” at Robert Miller Gallery

These are the same polished steel marbles that the gallery took down to Art Basel; an installation that illustrates the role of context in art.

9) David LaChapelle “Still Life” at Paul Kasmin Gallery

These celebrity portraits force the viewer to look twice; they are broken busts taken from a wax museum.  They are sumptuously colorful photographs that challenge notions of permanence and mortality.

10 ) Henry Moore “Late Large Forms” at Gagosian

I’ve seen a lot of his work through the city in London and in museums everywhere – last year the Denver Botanic Gardens. These large scale pieces make an impact at the gallery – WOW!

Picasso La Cuisine at the Guggenheim

Picasso La Cuisine at the Guggenheim

Noguchi Museum

Noguchi Museum

Mickalene Thomas at Brooklyn Museum

Mickalene Thomas at Brooklyn Museum

Yayoi Kusama Nacissus Garden

Yayoi Kusama Narcissus Garden

Seth Casteel at Dillon Gallery

Seth Casteel at Dillon Gallery

George Bellow Winter Afternoon at the Met

George Bellow Winter Afternoon at the Met

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The Menil Collection – art in context

It means so much – collection…collection of art; collection of antiquities; collection of museums; collection of philanthropic causes; marks made on the world; lives well-lived. John and Dominique de Menil were key figures responsible for propelling Houston to the top of the list of truly great art cities. They developed the art department at the University of St. Thomas and later the Institute for the Arts at Rice University. They had a long and storied history of support to the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, to which they brought major exhibitions and gave important works. They engaged architects from around the world to bring the first modernist, international style buildings to the state. They amassed a collection of more than 17,000 pieces of art: paintings, sculptures, decorative objects, prints, drawings, photographs and rare books. The museum campus opened in 1987 with later buildings opening in the 90’s which house the Cy Twombly Gallery, the Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall, the Bysantine Fresco Chapel. The Rothko Chapel (ca. 1971), the Loretto Park with Tony Smith and Mark di Suvero sculptures and the network of offices housed in bungalows and walkways tucked throughout the neighborhood complete the campus.

Last month, we got the chance to spend a nearly perfect day walking around the Menil Collection.

What a suprise! We started at the Rothko Chapel, fully prepared to wait with the crowds that would surely be lined around the block. Instead, we parked at the entrance, we walked though the garden to view Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk” standing in the reflection pool out front and then we walked in.

I must admit I had brief concerns that we might be trespassing – “6 million people in Houston must know that you are not supposed to actually go the Rothko Chapel, right?” After I was convinced that it was open and we should check it out, we did.. and we loved it.

The austere space is an octagonal room constructed of brick and covered in gray stucco and capped with a baffled skylight. It is tranquil – actually , National Geographic Society named it “One of the world’s most peaceful and powerful destinations.” On the walls are 14 site-specific canvases painted by Mark Rothko. At first glance, they look like windows – a series of big blank black canvases. We walked around the room, looking at the canvases from different angles and taking in the effect of each from across the room. Then we moved in closer. We walked up to a canvas until we reached that point at which the painting completely filled our fields of vision. I expected to realize some sort of calming meditative state – you know, staring into an abyss.

What happed was amazing! It was the most unusual experience: the clouds outside passed over the skylight and it was as if the canvas came to life. We had been patient and open to what the works had to offer and, in turn they began to breathe…slowly at first “did you see that?” and then with a steadiness that allowed us to see the colors and strokes and patterns. We saw the purples and reds, the horizontal and vertical lines, compositions on display that had been mostly overlooked. We began to move from canvas to canvas, slowly and then more quickly as the paintings gave us the keys to unlock their treasures.

I have to tell you, I probably could have ended the day at this point and been fully satisfied with our discovery – but that is just not me; I almost always have to keep going. I am compulsive when it comes to looking at art and knowing one of the world’s great collections was just a block away…of course, we checked it out.

We walked through the Montrose neighborhood of modest little bungalows; down tree-lined streets and little gardens and walkways and then Loretto Park with Tony Smith and Jim Love sculptures up to the museum. We crossed over Michael Heizer’s negative spaces, rifts in the lawn and into the main pavillion.

I was delighted to be greeted with Yves Klein’s luscious blue paintings – I think I have said it in previous posts, but his paintings make me feel like I could just dive right into that pure saturated color. We toured the main museum building and were impressed with the collections. We saw the Claes Oldenberg “Strange Eggs”; we checked out the galleries of works by Ernst, Johns, Léger, Martin, Matisse, Picasso,Raushcenberg,Tanguy, Warhol. We saw indigenous art from Africa and the Pacific Islands; we got to see the Cycladic and Greco-Roman collections.

We kept it moving though – there was even more to see. We walked outside the main building and continued through the campus, ducking between bungalows to find Richmond Hall, an old neighborhood grocery turned dance hall. Dominique de Menil acquired it in the 80’s and had since converted the space to house site-specific light installations by Dan Flavin. It’s truly like stepping into another world: the grey concrete space is lined on either side with flourescent sequences of yellow, green, blue and red…vertical columns, one after another after another repeating through the entire space. It was pure joy.

Finally, we made our way to the Cy Twombly Gallery. He is one of my favorite artists (I know, I know I have a lot of them) – coincidentally, I went to school in his hometown of Lexington, VA. His work is hard to categorize – not exactly AbEx, not quite Minimalism not Pop, but all of those. If you explore his seemingly crazy, energetic scribbles, you find traces of poetry – references to history and mythology and always scrict adherence to composition. The marks are set, then erased and then brought back. The colors melt like the fading of memories of stories being told. This time around, my favorites were the green paintings. The gallery is a gorgeous, light-filled space (again baffled skylights) that avails itself from one space to the next. The design of the space combines with the work, much like the other buildings on the Menil campus.

The effect thoughout the collection is to elevate the experience and to interact with the artwork. For me, it made me look at artwork that I thought should be familiar and consider the power of context.

Barnett Newman "Broken Obelisk" at Rothko Chapel

Barnett Newman “Broken Obelisk” at Rothko Chapel

Michael Heizer at Menil Collection

Michael Heizer at Menil Collection

Rothko Chapel

Rothko Chapel

Cy Twombly Gallery

Cy Twombly Gallery

Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall

Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall