Visiting the Wexner Center for the Arts Tuesday, Nov 18 2014 

For Veterans Day last week, PJ and I drove up to Columbus and visited the Wexner Center for the Arts, which is exhibiting “Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection.” It’s a well designed show, and we really enjoyed seeing these works. As the title suggests, the exhibit is a collection of paintings, drawing, and sculptures from the private collection owned by the Wexner family, who are major donors to the center. The artists in the exhibit are Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Giacometti, Willem de Kooning, and Susan Rothenberg.

C_Dhotel-500x653 I especially enjoyed seeing the work of Dubuffet (1901-1985), with whom I was previously unfamiliar. Dubuffet was born in France and, according to Wikipedia, “His idealistic approach to aesthetics embraced so called “low art” and eschewed traditional standards of beauty in favor of what he believed to be a more authentic and humanistic approach to image-making” (source).

This is an image of “Dhôtel” from the Wexner exhibit was my favorite one. It is oil paint and sand on canvas and was produced in 1947. As the Wexner website explains, “his portraits act more as caricatures, in which one or two defining features serve as the only connection to the subject. For Dubuffet’s depiction of the novelist André Dhôtel, his likeness is boiled down to exaggerated versions of the subject’s glasses, three shocks of hair, and the creases of his forehead” (source). What stands out to me about this work is its emphasis on the figure’s skull. It thus becomes a kind of memento mori, an increasing contrast between the infinite lifespan of art and the morality of the artist. I think it’s an amazing piece.

I also enjoyed seeing the work of Rothenburg (b. 1945). A major subject of her work is horses that often seem to represent power and vitality for her.

As usual, there is also a lot of educational materials in this exhibit. Those, along with the collection’s website, make this an excellent opportunity to see great art and learn about the artists who created it. I highly recommend it.

SotW: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by She and Him Thursday, Dec 8 2011 

Unlike PJ, I’m not a big She and Him fan. I love M. Ward, but Zooey Deschanel is a little too much for me. So, I was surprised when I heard a bit of their new Christmas album and immediately loved it. I ordered a copy of the CD ostensibly for PJ, but I probably love it even more than he does.

I love the album’s quiet simplicity, which really works on a song like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the old Judy Garland classic:

The album also features “The Christmas Waltz,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and “Blue Christmas,” all of which are great! I highly recommend it.

Visiting the Columbus Museum of Art Monday, Dec 5 2011 

PJ and I visited the Columbus Museum of Art this past Friday. I was in Columbus for a meeting, and PJ come along to do a little site seeing and shopping. We both wanted to see the new Caravaggio exhibit, so I met him at the museum as soon as my meeting was over.

We’ve visited the CMA before. It’s a little larger than I remember it being, and it has an excellent collection of modern art. The Sirak Collection, which contains “78 works by masters such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste-Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Paul Klee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Chaim Soutine, and Henri Matisse among others,” is especially good.

I was also fascinated by a new work on display, Gregory Scott’s Structure, 2011. Here’s a video I found of it:

It’s especially interesting in person — even once I knew what was happening, I was constantly surprised by the changing images. It repeatedly tricks you into thinking you know what you’re seeing only to change it in surprising ways. I loved it.


Hide/Seek: A Book Review Sunday, Oct 30 2011 

PJ and I missed the Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery earlier this year, so PJ ordered a copy of the catalogue. We’re going to have a chance to see the exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in December, so I started reading the catalogue, which was edited by Jonathan D. Katz and David C. Ward.

This is the first time that I’ve read a book about an exhibit before seeing the exhibit. The book version of Hide/Seek is a great read, whether one ever sees the actual exhibit or not. In particular, Katz’s opening essay describing the exhibit and providing historical context for the works in it is a particularly fine essay.

For a couple of decades now, scholars have argued that before modern notions of sexuality became prevalent, “homosexuality” was coded as being effeminate and the penetrated partner in any sexual activity. Thus, a “heterosexual” man could have sex with a “homosexual” one without impugning his reputation as a straight man, provided he performed the masculine role of penetrating the gay man. Katz’s explanation of this theory is one of the best I’ve ever read.

Katz explains this concept in order to interpret George Bellows’s The Shower-Bath (1917):

He reads this image to explain why, even though it depicts an “obvious” homosexual in the foreground, it was an extremely popular. His reading is convincing, and it made me think about this period of American cultural history differently. This print is nearly contemporaneous with one of my favorite novels, Henry Blake Fuller’s 1919 Bertram Cope’s Year. Thinking about this novel in terms of Katz’s argument would be a very interesting way to approach the book.


Visiting the Smithsonian: Part 3 Wednesday, Aug 3 2011 

This post is the last in my three-part summary of my visit to some of the Smithsonian institutions in Washington, D.C. This one will cover my visits to the Natural History Museum, the Renwick Gallery, and the Sackler Gallery.

Natural History Museum

The taxodermied elephant in the lobby of the Natural History Museum.

I’ve been to the Natural History Museum before. In general,  I tend to like natural history museums. I arrived early — almost as soon as the museum opened — which was great: no swarms of kids everywhere!

I started by buying a ticket for an IMAX movie. The tickets seemed fairly cheap, and I figured it was a good way to get out of the heat. Then I started wondering around the museum to kill the hour or so until my movie started.

I began upstairs by looking at the Hope Diamond, which has never really interested me. This time was no exception. But I enjoy looking at the other jewels in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. I especially liked the Elbaite gemstones:


Visiting the Smithsonian: Part 2 Monday, Aug 1 2011 

This post continues my series describing my visit to Washington D.C. and various institutions in the Smithsonian last week. This one will cover my visits to the American Indian Museum, the Freer Gallery of Art, and the National Zoo.

American Indian Museum

I visited the American Indian Museum for the first time just a few months ago, so I was a little hesitant about going back so soon. However, I really loved it when I visited in April, so when I had a little time and was in the area I decided to go back.

I’m delighted to say that the museum holds up even when visiting again so soon. It presents a lot of information for visitors, so in many ways it promotes repeat visits. I don’t think you can soak it all in one (or even two) visits.

This time I really liked the wealth of information the museums presents as well as the ways in which that information is presented. During my first visit in April, I was drawn to the cultural exhibits on specific tribes in North, Central, and South American. I enjoyed those again this time too, but I was especially drawn to much of the art featured in the museum this time. A couple of pieces that caught my eye were these:

Part of series of decorations by the Yup'ik people.

Another figure from the American Indian Museum.












The one on the left is part of one of the exhibits in the Our Universes section of the museum. This section provides a lot of information about both similarities and differences in various native peoples’ belief systems. The figure on the right is one of many native works featured in the Our Peoples exhibit, which is largely focused on history.


Visiting the Smithsonian: Part 1 Sunday, Jul 31 2011 

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. without it being primarily a business trip. Before going, I decided that I wanted to spend my four days there visiting as many of the museums and galleries as possible. I also wanted to visit a few other institutions that were either associated with the Smithsonian or not part of it.

Over the four days I was there, I visited the African Art Museum, the Air and Space Museum, the American History Museum, the American Indian Museum, the Freer Gallery of Art, the National Zoo, the Natural History Museum, the Renwick Gallery, the Sackler Gallery, the United States Botanic Garden, the National Gallery, and the Newseum. That’s an average of three institutions a day!

I’m happy to say that I had a great time visiting these museums, galleries, gardens, and zoo. It was a great way to spend a relaxing, fun vacation, and I learned a lot. As I walked around these institutions, I was really impressed with the fact that I live such an incredibly luxurious life. While I’m just an academic who heads up an honors college, I have the incredible luxury of spending the better part of week just touring museums and the like, not caring about anything taking the time off work or paying for my hotel and meals. I feel wonderfully lucky in life.

Rather than write about each museum in a separate post, I’ve decided to group the museums alphabetically into a few posts that will briefly summarize my thoughts on each institution I visited. In this post, I’ll write about my visits to the African Art Museum, the Air and Space Museum, and the American History Museum.


Visiting the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Again) Monday, May 30 2011 

On Thursday, PJ and I each flew to Boston for the weekend. He was there for the American Literature Association Conference, and I decided to tag along for a little rest and relaxation. I had initially thought that I would set up some visits with alumni while there, but I quickly decided that I deserve a little time off every now and then. I’d glad I did; it was a fun, restful weekend.

The highlight of the trip was visiting the Museum of Fine Arts again. In particular, I took a look at the museum’s new Art of the Americas wing, which is nothing less than fabulous. My memory of the previous space was that it was rather dull. The new wing is beautifully arranged, and I especially enjoyed the lighting. The works on display are gorgeously lit in this new, four-story wing. There’s also plenty of room for moving around and seeing the works from multiple positions. It’s a great addition to the museum.

Much of the collection is organized around the museum’s strengths, two of which immediately stand out: John Singleton Copley and John Singer Sargent. One of my favorite paintings during this visit was Copley’s “Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Winslow (Jemima Debuke)”:

This painting illustrates a trend in the way the museum now labels its paintings: whenever the painting depicts a married woman, her maiden name is also given in the title along with her married name. I really like this acknowledgment that women are not only wives, subsumed into their husbands’ identities.


Visiting the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. Sunday, May 8 2011 

Photograph by Robert C. Lautman, National Geographic

While in D.C. last month, I visited the National Museum of the American Indian for the first time. I’ve been wanting to visit since it opened, so I was delighted to have a couple of hours free one afternoon.

As this picture from the National Geographic website illustrates, the NMAI is a beautiful building, and just as its outside is quite different from the other museums in the Smithsonian, so too is its inside. It has a much more fluid, organic organization than more traditional art museums. For example, exhibits are arranged by theme rather than historically. It also embraces a multimedia approach to its subjects, often blending sights, sounds, video, and music into an organic whole that represents native tribes, their artifacts, their art, and their beliefs holistically.

Most of my museum blogging has been about art museums. I’ve also written a couple of posts about natural history museums. This is the first cultural museum I’ve visited in a while, and it took me a little while to get acclimated to it — visiting this kind of museum is obviously very different from looking at paintings, sculpture, etc. Visitors are encouraged to start on the top floor and work their way down. The first exhibits I saw were in the Our Universe exhibit.

As the NMAI website explains,

Our Universes focuses on indigenous cosmologies–worldviews and philosophies related to the creation and order of the universe–and the spiritual relationship between humankind and the natural world. Organized around the solar year, the exhibition introduces visitors to indigenous peoples from across the Western Hemisphere who continue to express the wisdom of their ancestors in celebration, language, art, spirituality, and daily life.

The  gallery features eight cultural philosophies — those of the Pueblo of Santa Clara (Espanola, New Mexico, USA), Anishinaabe (Hollow Water and Sagkeeng Bands, Manitoba, Canada), Lakota (Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, USA), Quechua (Communidad de Phaqchanta, Cusco, Peru), Hupa (Hoopa Valley, California, USA), Q’eq’chi’ Maya (Cobán, Guatemala), Mapuche (Temuco, Chile), and Yup’ik (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska, USA) — and its design reflects each community’s interpretation of the order of the world. (Source)


Visiting the National Gallery of Art Thursday, Apr 21 2011 

Last week I was in Washington D.C. for work. Fortunately, I had time to visit a few museums while I was there, including the National Gallery, which is a great museum. I had been to two of them before. I really enjoyed visiting them again soon enough to remember what I had liked before and what I wanted to see again.

Now that I’ve been to Belgium and saw an exhibit about Dutch and Flemish painters, I was particularly interested in seeing the Gallery’s Dutch and Flemish Cabinet Galleries. When I was there in 2009, I was interested in a female Dutch painter, Judith Leyster. Initially, I thought it would be nice to see her work again, but the exhibit has changed since then. While I certainly like her work, the new stuff was also great.

Perhaps my favorite this time was Dutch painter Abraham De Verwer’s “View of Hoorn” from about 1650:

I love the color palette, the browns and oranges, and the painting’s overall simplicity. Here’s part of what the museum’s web site says about the painting:

In this atmospheric painting, Abraham de Verwer has depicted the Dutch city of Hoorn from the south, the view that greeted ships as they sailed the Zuiderzee toward this important port that served as a major center for trade to the Baltic, the West Indies, and the East Indies. From De Verwer’s low and distant vantage point, Hoorn’s distinctive city profile is barely distinguishable. To the right of the three-masted sailing ship in the distance is the tower of the massive structure at the harbor’s entrance. The towers of the city’s Noorderkerk (North Church), Grote Kerk (Great Church), and Oosterkerk (East Church) are just visible above the buildings lining the harbor and the masts of ships moored within it, all of which De Verwer silhouetted in muted browns against the gray sky.

It’s a relatively simple painting visually, but I think it’s absolutely lovely. Dutch painting seems rather staid and somber. This painting represents that tendency beautifully.


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