Friday, June 29, 2012

Van Gogh, Gobbledygook and Sardine Central

Sheer, sheer aggravation. I wrote for an hour and a half last night, felt pretty good about it and sat down to revisit it this morning, before a nice additional bout. It promised to be a long, substantial post. Maybe I should split it into a few? Happy. Of course, that was moments before I deleted the entire thing in one fell swoop. Aiiiiiiighhhhhh. The one dastardly aspect of automatic save. Back button! Back button! Back, back, back!....No.

So here we are. Where were we? It began with the book on your left. A thoughtful birthday present, which I have been savoring at odd moments around the edges of each day. The last time I was home, my family and I attended this exhibit in its last days at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Normally, the BIG ARTIST shows don't raise my excitement level much above that achieved by the museum visit itself (-- I love an outing! --), though I understand that these usually drive museum attendance and likely shop purchases/new memberships. To be fair, with the exception of a Renoir show last year focusing on his nudes, I usually come away with a deepened appreciation of the artist's mastery or new angle into their motivations, etc. With the Renoir show, though, we were just swimming in a fleshy sea of peaches-and-cream/ivory-and-rose...It goes without saying that Renoir's painting abilities vastly surpassed anything I could attempt. The nudes were fine, they were healthy and beautiful. But were any of them naughty or impatient, intriguing or irritating? Anything, anything other than pleasant? To touch off from that unfortunate presidential voting trend: I wouldn't want to drink a beer with any of them. I joined my father, resting on a bench in the second (or third or fourth) gallery. "She could be a Renoir," he gestured toward an unsuspecting shuffler. He gestured again. "That one, you'd need to fatten her up a bit."

I snorted and shushed him. He grinned and waggled an eyebrow.    

I expected to like this Van Gogh show about as much as I had a Cezanne landscape one from several years ago -- you know, not one of my burning favorites, but solid, rich, engaging. But IMHO, it was one of Philly's strongest exhibits in years! As you'd expect, being able to see those confident brush strokes and massively thick layers of oil paint on the canvasses themselves was alone worth the price of admission. But the variety of line, composition and palette was utterly amazing. One can fall into a false sense of understanding about those few artists' whose work is ubiquitous --yeah, I know, Starry Night, Sunflowers, unbalanced/tortured/ear -- but this wonderfully executed exhibit, bringing together famous and barely seen work, showed how keenly surprising Van Gogh's work still is.

And a good thing, too, as it was Sardine Central in there. It was difficult to go, get at, get to, get away; and while I am good at weaving through and sneaking about the edges, one had to strategically note shifting patterns and pounce upon empty spaces. Audible tours were in heavy use. Some of the deafer among us had their headphone output dialed to maximum; and the collective susurrations of learned curators and art critics sounded at repeated delays throughout the warm, over-peopled spaces. Some of the denser among us planted themselves front, center, and close, before paintings -- and then gazed *elsewhere* as their personal critics intoned observations into their ears. Others of us craned our necks resentfully, biding our time.

The critics were in danger of being swept away in undercurrents of their own making. While I especially appreciated the high horizons of several of Van Gogh's paintings only after they had first pointed them out, and I bought that they both tilted to unusual degrees and that they functioned to "keep you in that world," it was less convincing that due to the strong and lively angles involved in roofs and hills, the painter was conveying "the dragon underneath," also preying upon his psyche. Maybe. Maybe not. An ancient woman with small, bright blue eyes in a wheel chair was being read the placard text by a slightly less ancient companion.

"They're reading something into it!" the elder sniffed.

"I know, it's gobbledygook," the second muttered.

"Undergrowth with Two Figures" hung a couple galleries over. It was riveting and aggravating. I loved how it was at once very dark and very light, that yellow blooms showed how the sun reached the wooded bed, but that before us the darkness lay heavier. Loved the violet trunks and heavy outlines. There was an undeniable weight to it and for me, the faceless couple doesn't dispel a certain loneliness. But the headphone critic took it further. After observing that it was painted in the last few months of his life, he said the piece was "all about despair, isolation and inevitability" and referenced "the trees that make it impossible to get into the canvas." Well, okay, it is a surprising choice to feature the nearest trunk almost bisecting the work. But on the flip side, the natural row to the left brings you in as far as you want to go. Which, clearly, if you walked straight down that path, you'd reach the darkness. But even so! Even within the wood, the light~~ Such free bursts of light!

Of course the impact is greater in person**[see below]. I circled it a few times, visited other paintings and eventually planted myself on a bench. My sister wandered over eventually, gazed at the painting in question for a bit.

She joined me on the bench. She leaned in."You know, the critic was talking about this painting and saying all this stuff about isolation and everything was all doom and I'm looking at it like,'Well, *I* kind of *like* it!'" She threw up her hand as if to say, "What's the problem here?"

"I *know*, totally! Me, too~~"

A guy sitting with his back to us swiveled around, "I *completely* agree!!!" The lenses in his glasses were large and thick and made his eyes huge. They fit nicely with his friendly and emphatic manner. We engaged in a volley about the painting, before his attention wandered to his favorite museums in Amsterdam and Paris.

A highly interactive show visit, this! And the creators of all the supporting materials for the exhibit did a great job, even if their interpretations were sometimes maddening. The obligatory biographical details and supporting artwork from other artists were also especially pleasing. The audio/placards informed attendees that Van Gogh eventually amassed a collection of 500 Japanese prints; a selection lining one wall included the following by master printmaker Utagawa Hiroshige:

The Ten Thousand Tsubo Plain at Susaki in Fukugawa
Haneda Ferry and Benten Shrine
We also learned these sweet facts:
  • Upon leaving an apartment he shared with his brother Theo, Vincent rehung prints everywhere, to remind his brother of him.
  • One painting he had created mainly because fellow painter Paul Gauguin was coming for a visit (who um, incidentally may or may not have been the one to cut off Van Gogh's ear ).
  • And best of all~~! This happiest of Van Gogh paintings was painted towards the end of his life, while in the asylum, on the occasion of Theo's newborn son, named Vincent! 
Truly, he painted "Almond Blossom" for the nursery! 
Can you imagine growing up, always seeing that? Knowing that your Uncle painted it for you?

**[below] Compatriot and I have talked about the phenomenon of artwork proximity. Despite all the digital advances in the world, there's still no substitute for being before the artwork itself, right? To wit, Comp brought up "A Bar at the Folies-Bergere" by Edouard Manet (1882):
"You know that one, it's always used as a grand symbol of the good life? But when you're standing in front of it, it's so.sad. You can tell she doesn't want to be there, it's been a long day. You *know* her feet hurt."

Well, thanks ever so for stopping by. It appears I have talked your ear off. If you care for a more official take on the exhibit, check out the one from The New York Times.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grimm Tales, Posh Grounds

What a chill, pleasant Sunday.

Before coffee this morning I ran through my newly received yoga video -- the same one that I had been repeatedly renewing from the library -- with the extremely calm narrative guidance of Marc Lewis, who tends to offer too many choices when the work out is at its most trying:

"Now. If this is good now, keep it right here. If you'd like make it...a bit more challenging, extend to the tips of your feet."

I stay where I am and continue trembling.

"If you'd like to...take it down a little...Bring your right knee to the floor."

I refrain from bending my right knee. One could say the trembling is closer to shuddering. I try to clear my head, which doesn't clear. Readers, you know I'm cluttery.

"Now," he opines, almost as if he were proffering a small gift -- if only his voice carried that much emotion -- and he throws in another gravity defying variation in movement. I attempt it before collapsing onto the floor, like some fool who has played past his Twister ability. I snort derisively and glower at the carpet.

This is pretty much how it goes. I usually boycott minutes 56-58, before he returns to sensibility and some delicious stretches.  Ultimately, I feel good about it. Ideally, I'll alternate this with running and work an actual yoga class back into the mix. I'm surprised to say that I miss the group chants at the end of prior classes, and the OMs. Marc Lewis at the end invites the viewer to OM three times to finalize the practice. Somehow doing this in a group is especially satisfying; sitting alone in your living room? Not so much. One even feels a bit nutty. I wondered if the Jehovah's Witness who banged on the door also heard my OMing. But what matter? Takes a nut to know one, or so they say.

(Cashew Nut. Macadamia Nut. Pine nut.)

In any case, a good start. I padded into the kitchen, set the water to boil for coffee and turned on a burner for a few strips of bacon, tossed some cherries into a bowl. I finished reading The Monsters of Templeton outside, settled on a few recipes for the day (broccoli and potatoes with curry leaves, amchoor powder; rice noodles with cauliflower; sweet potato salad with tamarind). The sky feels heavy and I'm hoping there will be a summer rain when I start cooking later, with front and back door open to feel the breeze...

Yesterday Stone Bridge and I drove out to the Edsel and Eleanor Ford house to submit my woodblock triptych to the Grimmly Inspired exhibit.

This was the coloring I decided on:

The White Snake: A Nutritive Triptych: One

The White Snake: A Nutritive Triptych:Two

The White Snake: A Nutritive Triptych: Three

Story refresher in case you need it.

I haven't pulled enough to make editions of any one yet, but will add them to my Etsy shop after more studio time.

After encountering numerous slow-downs, ramp closings etc., we were starving by the time we inhaled the posh air of Grosse Pointe Shores. Since this exhibit had grown huge in my mind, I anticipated a long line of fidgeting artists, hefting artwork of various dimensions. I regretted my unusual lack of snacks. But no, when we arrived at the appointed place, we were greeted by a single juror and her assistant. A cool oil painting lay to one side on the padded display tables. A cool book artist -- a shoe-in for the exhibit if there ever was one, as she has a long-standing project of imagining Red Riding Hood at all ages of her life -- reported significantly more activity when she dropped off her submission(s?) on Friday.

Both women were very pleasant and called over to let the soon-to-be-closing restaurant know or our imminent arrival. Not bad! Lunch was delicious and while we were not intending to dawdle, we talked about the role of art in our respective families, growing up; and wound up missing the last house tour by 8 minutes.

"Well ladies! What did we have for lunch?" inquired the gift shop woman. We told her and asked about tour tickets. "Oh, noooo, "she murmured, "The last one just left. You certainly took your time for lunch! I guess they didn't close at 2:30." She beamed at us. We smiled back, thanked her. It's hard not to appreciate the myriad ways bitchiness can be conveyed. Impressive, isn't it?

It was fine. We were both content to wander the grounds, snapping photos of architectural details.
The ivy was lovin on the house.

We lacked the magic key.

Photographer/artist who takes much better photos on her iphone than I do on my camera.
As we turned this way and that, a sparky five year old raised his hand in greeting. "I want to be at MY house now."

Valid. "Oh, I bet you'll leave soon." He considered this.

"Why are we still heeerrrrrreee?" He jutted his chin at his parents. He did not whine, but elongated his words. They seemed unconcerned. They wandered around one corner of the building.

Complicated by summer dresses and purses.

At this point, the five year old run happily past us. He announced triumphantly: "I need to catch the bus! We're going to take the bus." 

"Oh good, where's your Mom and Dad?"

He halted. "They're in the other direction!"

"Well maybe you better wait for them." He paused, but was clearly dismayed at this interruption. Luckily they rounded the corner. We wandered on.

The spout figures (technical term) were disturbingly servile.
What IS he?
Also mysterious. But he looks like a mensch.

The formal gardens and carefully laid out vistas reminded me of Edith Wharton's  Mount
This was her summer home, in Lenox, MA. First job out of college: tour guide.

Just beyond the gate, where we were also parked.
The restored models faced the front gate, but were separated from us by two lanes of traffic. I had to wait for current cars to stop streaming past and, closer still, pedestrians to stop shuffling through. An older person wearing fuchsia pants proved to be quite the lens louse*.

"Do you like Model A's?" inquired a voice to my right.

Oh yes, I said. "They're mine," replied the woman. She and her husband have been restoring them for some 40 years. They drove them up from Hershey, Pennsylvania! The above pictured are models from 1929/30/31 and are Tudors and Fordors. Fuchsia pants was one of their party.

*Favorite term of my Dad who would rather not photograph people in front of his trains/trolleys/model cars. Also used by my sister, when she is foiled by straggling people, when she is in the zone. Many years ago when she was traveling, Kevin Kostner, then prominent for his Dances with Wolves film, managed to ruin several otherwise good shots. Lens louse.

So, it was a lovely day! We did wind up going into the "playhouse" -- an actual house, built at little girl scale, with diminutive everything. The adult tourists lumbered through in our ungainly fashion, bumping into ceilings* and rounding our shoulders to take up less space.
We were both tuckered by the end, well fed, well wandered and stimulated. A fine way to spend a Saturday!