art museums

Washington Art Debut

Most countries have their emblematic art museum, the best in the nation, in their capital city. We suspect that will never be the case in the US, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Washington DC’s art museums are bad. Quite the opposite, in fact; the National Gallery of Art is quite a decent museum, with a very good collection. Plus, it’s free, which makes it even better (I recently visited Philadelphia’s Art Museum, of Rocky staircase fame, and had to pay… so free is good).

I was there in June 2019 (while exploring Washington on occasion of my visit to the International Space development Conference), and while I usually pay more attention to the 19th century landscape artists and impressionists and post-impressionists than anything else, this time we’re going to be focusing on Flemish and Dutch painters.

Why? Because, on that visit, I happened to grab a booklet entitled The Dutch and Flemish Cabinet Galleries, which I read recently. I generally try to read these booklets eventually, because I enjoy remembering what I saw there, and also learning from curators.

If you have a layman’s understanding of art, the general information about how Flemish and Dutch art developed in the 17th century alongside the newly prosperous merchant bourgeoisie might not be necessary, but I always find the curator’s view of what makes a specific painting interesting to be pure gold. As a layman, I look at paintings and I either like them or don’t, they either generate a specific emotional response or they don’t, etc. But experts can look past that and point out exactly what makes a given piece different from the rest.

And that exercise is hugely worthwhile. As you know, I read a bunch of thick books, where often the pleasure comes in discovering what happens to each of the characters, and how the problems get resolved. So taking half an hour to stare at a selection of 20 pictures that I might not have given a second glance at in a museum (must move over this section quickly, where are the Van Goghs?) is a relaxing exercise. Not quite as good as being in the museum itself, but very good all the same.

One of the things I look forward to most about the end of the pandemic is that museums should reopen fully. The world is so much poorer when these places aren’t running at full capacity.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His erotic thriller Timeless really takes flight after his protagonist has a long think in the Frick Gallery in New York. Art lovers and people who like to be excited in all senses of the world would do well to check it out here.

Kandinsky? Design? Yeah, I Guess so.

Yesterday (I’m writing this on September 1st, you’ll likely se it later), I responded to a tweet about Picasso’s African influences in which I said that people who ignore the African roots of some of what the great Spaniard did was due mainly to ignorance as opposed to a willful attempt to erase it.

Demiselled d'Avignon.jpg

That kind of stuck in my head.  For most of my life, I enjoyed art as a reasonably educated layman might.  I was aware of the more popular painters, enjoyed art museums, and even knew the difference between a Flemish Grand Master and an Impressionist (albeit I confused these with the Post-Impressionists).  I even had a weird preference for Den Bosch and Bruegel.

I wasn’t exactly ignorant… but I would have been one of those who didn’t know about the African roots of Picasso’s work.

And yet, as the readers of this blog know, I often discuss art here.  And I make no excuses.  How come?

A funny thing happened.  I married a graphic designer.

Suddenly, I was getting dragged into the parts of museums I only glanced at in a cursory way before.  The abstract painters.  Calder.  Kandinsky.

I’ll admit that I still find figurative art much more attractive than abstract art… and (horror of horrors) I’ll spend a long time in museums staring at technically wonderful but artistically superseded pastoral landscapes (is there anything more peaceful than a good idyll?).  The difference is that I can now identify a Calder mobile from a hundred feet away, and I know what Dürer did.

And I can identify Picasso’s roots, and argue that Cézanne was the father of cubism.  A true art fan would tear me a new one, of course (I’d get my revenge in the subsequent discussion of literature), but at least he would take the time to do so, and not consider me beneath notice.

Hell, I can even identify Bauhaus design…

Who’da thunk it?

I suppose that the whole point of this is to say that the art world can be quite intimidating to outsiders, but if I can get a deeper understanding, so can anyone.

In the meantime, I’ll let the experts speak of the deeper meaning of things.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans not only several lengths but numerous genres, too.  His latest novel is a survival horror adventure book entitled Jungle Lab Terror which deals with advances in genetic engineering which, though seemingly fantastic, are happening today.  You can check it out here.

Urban Art – Beyond Vandalism

If you’re like most people outside of certain very open-minded circles, you see graffiti as a form of vandalism.  Innocent homeowners get their walls tagged and have to repaint or clean at their own expense.  Or perhaps empty spaces on city streets getting painted and repainted over and over by successive criminals armed with cans of spray paint.

Of course, there’s another side to this.  Graffiti is seen by many as a legitimate art form, and one of the few that is truly immune to the influence of the big money that defines the term “fine art” on the gallery and collector circuit.  Behind what, at first glance, appears to be wanton destruction of property–albeit often very prettily expressed wanton destruction of property–is a code of conduct and a set of rules that is every bit as intricate as medieval court ritual.

Urban Art Legends by KET

Why do I know this?  Well, because on a trip to Los Angeles a couple of years ago, I randomly picked up a book entitled Urban Art Legends by KET.  Now, when a book is written by an author who uses an single name, and is immersed in the culture of the subject at hand, you know you’re going to get a sympathetic take on the topic as opposed to a balanced one.  Perhaps in this case, it’s the ideal tone… after all you just need to turn to any of the neighbors to get a negative take on this particular art form.

In reading it, you’ll move far from the world of great New York art museums and  get lost in a universe where painting a complete train is the work that separates the journeymen from the masters, and where spending a night in jail is the mark of an artist who has broken their cherry.

It is powerfully militant, but whether it will convince everyone who reads it of the fact that graffiti writers are artists will be up to that person’s views of a number of things, including fine art and private property.

Saving Banksy

A good complement to this book is the documentary film Saving Banksy (2017)–you can get it on netflix–which tells how the most recognizable of the street artists are, against their will, entering the fine arts circuit.  It’s not a great documentary from a production or writing point of view, perhaps, but it is informative and give a third possible view of what street art means to the people involved.  Also, it’s interesting to see how protest, in the correct hands, becomes dollars.

Me?  I’m still open minded. I generally enjoy looking at art on the streets… but I live on a twelfth floor and don’t need to worry about cleaning up after it.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer.  The title story of his collection Virtuoso is about an artist, but that’s pretty much his entire list of qualifications for having written the above blog post.  

Empire State of Artistic Mind

New York City Skyline

So, our Editor-In-Chief has just returned from a trip to New York… it was pretty obvious that he was going to write stuff for the page.  His first delivery is a slightly elitist take not only on art museums, but specifically on which art museums.  A phrase about leopards and spots comes to mind.

When I got back from my recent New York vacation, a friend who’s never been to the Big Apple asked me: “Other than just walking around the city, what is there to do in New York?”

Talk about a loaded question.

In the first place, “just walking around the city” should be more than enough for essentially anyone.  This is a city that, if you avoid the tourist traps such as Times Square, or the Statue of Liberty cruise, is extremely rewarding.  Culture, be it art, literature, history or any other expression is there to be found, often even if you are a brain-dead tourist who tries to avoid it.  Any house on Museum Mile is likely to be an art gallery – even if it doesn’t really advertise the fact.  The Strand is an amazing experience, and if you happen to land in Times Square by mistake, the theater overflows onto the street.

But my first instinct when answering was: the art museums.  There’s MoMA and the Met, of course, but also countless others.  The Whitney, The Frick and the Neue Galirie spring to mind immediately… but there are still others.

But what if we had to pick just one?  And what if, hypothetically, you had to pick it according to Classically Educated’s Manifesto, so you could write an article about it?

Even more loaded than the last one!

But we’ll give it a shot.  And we’ll make it a top five list, just because people on the internet like top five lists.

Gustav Klimt Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer

5. Despite the fact that Gustav Klimt is well represented – by the famous, stolen-and-recovered-and-sued-for-and-recovered-again portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer, and that the gallery is located almost perfectly, the Neue Galerie is still a bit limited in scope.  Cool, but very small, only good enough for fifth place on our list, just edging out the Morgan Library museum, and the unexpected collection at Kykuit and well ahead of the Brooklyn Museum.

Whitney Museum New Building

4.  The Whitney.  4th place might be a bit unfair to this icon of American art, as, had I waited until 2015, I could have spoken about the museum in its new building at the southern tip of High Line Park.  But as it wasn’t yet done at the time of writing, we’ll acknowledge the quirkiness of the special exhibits here (Kusama being a particular favorite) with 4th place.

Edgar Degas Ballerina at the Met

3. The Met.  Wow, I can hear the cultured from all over the world complaining already.  How can the Met be third?  Well, it is.  It’s an amazing museum, built on the scale and philosophy of the Louvre in Paris, with the added benefit of an impressive Impressionist collection, which the Louvre doesn’t really have. But… apart from not having that inexplicable Pyramid entry, the Met has a bit too much mass appeal to get any further than third on our list.  Which just goes to show how good the art museums in New York truly are.

Frick Collection Interior

2.  The Frick Collection.  While the collection itself is small, and not particularly impactful compared to the others on this list, the Frick deserves its place among our favorites for various reasons.  The first is that the house it is located in is perfect gilded-age elegance, uncompromising in the sense that money exists to be enjoyed, without guilt and to the fullest extent.  It is a beautiful place.  The art is good, too, with Whistler, Goya and Velázquez on the walls.  It can’t be first, but it is the one that makes us point and say: that is how it should be done.

The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

1. MoMA.  OK, so once the Met was out, this one was always going to win, but still requires some explanation.  Classically Educated is supposed to be all about the classics, after all – and the collection here is late 19th century at its oldest point.  But the thing is, if you go off to look for a polymath with gently elitist tendencies, it’s more likely that you’ll find him hanging around in this museum than any of the others on the list.  So, something about this museum makes it a haven for our target audience.  What?  Well, for one thing, it’s eclectic – you need to be able to appreciate painting and photography and graphic design and industrial design to truly enjoy this one.  For another, you need to be grounded sufficiently in art theory to have an appreciation of the conversation that is constantly going on regarding the definition and limits of art.  These two characteristics make it our kind of art museum – but what truly seals its position is the fact that there it is: Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, hanging on its own wall.  When you have the best impressionist painting, you have an insurmountable advantage.

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