Monday, June 28, 2010

Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum Experience

The Meeting of the KAWS
I finally took my children to the museum today. My wife stayed home recovering from the bug that I was ill with the day before. We didn’t want to go to the planned museum since my wife was ill, so I chose an alternative that was close by. It was a sunny day and the kids had their swim, so I decided to go to the museum. I wanted to go to one that no one else in the class had had blogged about. My children and I took a trip to The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum located in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The kids were happy that it was close by, they said they were tired. When we got to the museum they were starting to get more into exploring. That’s the thing with my kids you have to get them going and then they enjoy themselves. We were to only take pictures if one of us was in it. They did not want us to sell any copies of our photos, so one or all of us had to be in the picture. The one with my daughter next to the red picture is the one where she wanted herself in it. She said “I can do better than that; I should have my pictures in a museum”. I think she will some day. Well now you met the kids and me.
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is on Main Street in Ridgefield Connecticut. The building was constructed in 1783 by Joshua King and James Dole, two lieutenants in the Revolutionary War, and was nicknamed "Old Hundred" because it served as a grocery and hardware store from 1783 to 1883 and as Ridgefield's first post office. Grace King Ingersoll remodeled the building in 1883 and used it as her home. From 1929 to 1964, it served as Ridgefield's First Church of Christ, Scientist. Larry Aldrich purchased the historic "Old Hundred" building. He wanted a place to contain his growing collection of art. So The Larry Aldrich Museum began in 1964. In 2001 were to renovate the Museum, the architects were presented with the challenge of expanding a contemporary art museum located in an historic district with colonial roots. Architect Charles Mark Hay, design principal at Tappé Associates, Boston, based the new Aldrich on an abstraction of traditional New England architecture. Today The Aldrich's 25,000 square feet of new and redesigned space accommodates twelve galleries, including: a screening room, a sound gallery, a 22-foot-high project space, a 100-seat performance area, an Education Center, Museum store and, the Cornish Family Sculpture Garden, a two-acre outdoor exhibition space.
There were seven different special collections showing at the museum. We started with the John Shearer: America collection. There were collections of his documentary photograph work. Most photographs were of images of people in their natural surroundings. Some black and white, some with color added on certain objects or the person themselves. We saw sketches, paintings and the journals from Rackstraw Downes.. He documented every day in his journals, which were on display, of is working process and creation of the paintings. The paintings on display were Under the Westside Highway at 145th Street and The North River Water Pollution Control Plant. I told the kids that when we finally get to the MET we can see this area; they thought that it would be cool to see where the painting was done. They had Screen-printing from Gary Litchtenstein. They showed each section as a new color was added. They even had a video showing the process on how screen-printing was done.
The one thing that stood out for all of us was the KAWS. This is a figure created by a Brooklyn-based artist and designer named Brain Donnelly, a.k.a. KAWS. KAWS was born in 1974, attended the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in Manhattan in 1993. KAWS started out skateboarding around Jersey City going into Manhattan to Brooklyn Banks. Then he started doing graffiti on buildings in New York, from there he’s has incorporated his signature image into posters and billboards. The character is an inflated skull with crossed bones and X-ed-out eyes. He started to incorporate this idea or “signature intervention” on as much billboard advertisement as he could. He considered the image to be limitless in terms of translation, anywhere, in any country it will always be just a skull. The KAWS would be recognizable no matter where he went
The figures we seen were from 2 inches to 10 feet tall. Most figures were made of plastic, because the artist wanted to make his artwork more accessible to a broader audience. He believed that the mini-sculptures, made from plastic, would be easier to purchase then a sculpture made of expensive material. He has incorporated his image in almost anything that is well known. KAWS has put his image on almost anything known from Mickey Mouse, the Simpsons, SpongeBob, Pinocchio and Jimmy Cricket and the Michelin Man. See photos. It was hard to see the cross bones because it looked more like ears. After knowing what it really was you could see the true form. I must say they did get the attention from my kids. We were all fascinated in all the pieces there. This was the first time seeing these but I bet it will not be the last.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yale Art Gallery Visit

The Yale Art Gallery Museum Experience

My wife and I visited the Yale Art Gallery this week. After some effort to acquire change for the parking meter, we entered the museum. A docent who handed us a list of the exhibits that were on each floor greeted us. It was quiet except for the hushed voice of a professor leading a class through the Italian Paintings from the Richard L. Feigen Collection. We were suddenly glad that we did not bring our children. It was dark and not very inviting but we were still excited to get started. We headed in the direction of the hushed voice eager to see what the museum offered.

The Yale Art Gallery’s long history can be told through the buildings the gallery has occupied. John Trumbull designed the Picture Gallery at Yale, which opened to the public on October 25, 1832. Yale’s collection quickly outgrew the Trumbull Gallery and in 1867 moved to Street Hall. “The Trumbull Gallery then served as office for the University president and treasurer until it was demolished in 1901.” The fall of 1926 saw the construction of a new building that would unite the University’s art collections which were being housed in several locations around campus. The new building also provided additional space for the expanding collection. It was known as The Gallery of Fine Arts and was designed by well-known architect Egerton Swartwout, B.A. 1891. It opened its doors to the public on September 27, 1928. The design style was Gothic that was favored throughout the university. Louis I. Kahn designed the current Yale Art Gallery building. It was his first significant commission and is widely considered his first masterpiece.” The building was a departure from the neo-Gothic buildings that made up much of the university’s buildings. Each of the structures, except for the original Trumbull Gallery, still stands on Chapel Street. A full restoration of the museum began in 2003 and is currently in progress.

Our general impression of the museum’s collection is that the museum has a lot of interesting exhibits. We did not recognize most of the artist’s names. My wife was particularly disturbed by the paintings in the Italian Paintings from the Richard L. Feigen Collection. Most of the paintings were religious in nature and we were unfamiliar with the stories associated with the paintings. One painting by Annibale Carracci called Virgin and Child With St. Lucy and the Young St. John the Baptist caught our attention as the subjects were all looking at a plate containing two human eyeballs on it. We were confused until another patron explained that the eyeballs were a reference to the legend in which Diocletian put out St. Lucy’s eyes. My wife was extremely upset by another painting in the collection by Giovanni di Paolo called Christ as the Man of Sorrows. It depicted Christ as naked and extremely emaciated in the crucifiction pose. I could not photograph the actual painting because it does not belong to the museum but have included a picture I took from the book of the collection in the lobby. We thoroughly enjoyed the African Art section and included some pictures of a mask and headdress that caught our attention. The special exhibit of Jane Davis Doggett’s Talking Graphics was intriguing. My wife loved the art but I thought it was a bit simple. It didn’t really strike me as being “great art”. Finally, the modern arts section was full of surprises. The addict on the floor that appeared lifelike at first glance, televisions playing videos and Andy Warhol’s pop art all challenged our viewpoint as to what could be considered “art”.

My wife and I were particularly intrigued by a large oil on canvas painting called The Rest on the Flight into Egypt known as the Madonna della Pappa by Francesco Vanni Siena (ca. 1595). The painting featured the Virgin feeding the Christ Child cereal with a silver spoon while an angel holds a porcelain bowl and St. Joseph hold cherries from trees that appear to be bowing down to offer their fruit to the infant. The photograph included does not do the painting justice. There was a light over the painting which was hung high on the wall that interfered with the camera’s ability to capture the image. The surprising element of the painting is the calmness it exudes despite the fact that it is capturing a moment during the flight of the subject’s who were trying to save the infant. The life like faces of the Virgin, the Child and the angel are all beautifully illuminated which is a trait of a manneristic painting. St. Joseph is a presence in the painting but is not a focal point as he is almost washed out of the painting. The appeal of the painting is not only the pleasing aesthetics but also the emotional connection we made with it. The subjects would be emotionally distrught and yet, here is this beautifully illustrated almost tranqil scene.

“Francesco Vanni (1563 – 1610) was an Italian painter of the Mannerist style, active in Rome and his native city ofSiena”.

The Mannerist style was an art style that was characterized by the human form in exaggerated poses in uncharacteristic settings. Francesco apprenticed with Giovanni de’ Vecchi from 1579 – 1580 but was also influenced by Federico Barocci. Francesco was also considered one of the last painters whose work mirrored the Sienese school of painting. He was named a Cavalieri, which I understand to mean that he became part of a very selective papal order under the direction of the papal legate, cardinal Bonifazio Bevilacqua (1571 – 1627).

Francesco came from a family of artists, as both his half brother and stepfather were painters as well. After his stepfather died, sixteen year old Francesco went first to Bologna and eventually to Rome. He was commissioned by Pope Clement VIII to paint an altarpiece St. Peters. He created many other paintings for Roman churches as well including Assumption for S. Lorenzo in Miranda. He eventually returned to Siena where he continued to paint for various churches. He spent some time teaching as well including the famous Italian painter Rutilio di Lorenzo (c. 1571 – 1639) known for his contributions to the Casino Mediceo.

Our visit to the Yale Art Gallery was an enjoyable and eye opening experience. It definitely changed our views on what can be considered art and gave us a new appreciation for the emotional connection that can be made with a piece of art. We are looking forward to our next art gallery adventure.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hartford Museum

On the Yacht "Namouna", Venice (1890)

I had planned to visit the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut with my kids. A new pool and the arrival of friends quickly changed our plans. I was forced to wait for my wife to arrive home from work in order to leave. I headed for the museum alone, a bit apprehensive as I did not know what to expect. This type of outing was outing was new to me. The first hurtle to tackle was finding a parking place. I was thrilled to find one somewhat near the museum. The museum is currently being renovated. I somehow entered the museum from the rear and had to find my way to the front. The museum had a spider-like structure in the back that made me think I was in front of the museum. I have included a photo of the structure. I finally arrived at the front desk and I talked to the receptionist and let her know that I was a student and was here for my first museum experience.

The museum was founded in 1842 and is considered to be America’s oldest public art museum. Daniel Wadsworth, a native of Hartford founded the Wadsworth-Atheneum to share art with others. The Wadsworth was constructed on the site of the family home of Daniel Wadsworth in the heart of downtown Hartford. Its architects, Alexander Jackson Davis and Ithiel Town, designed the "castle" that is the atheneum's oldest building. Construction began in 1842 after the museum was incorporated on June 1 of that year. While "1842" can be seen clearly above the building's name above the front doors, the museum itself did not open until July 31, 1844. It has been operating continuously ever since.

From my travels through the museum, they appeared to have a large collection of oil paintings. They had many different types of furniture and even a Colt pistol on display. I was surprised to see the Colt pistol on display as I did not realize that a gun could be considered art. I had asked the receptionist if there were any special exhibitions when I arrived and she had mentioned there were a few. Some of the sections were closed due to the renovations. I never really saw the special sections because the museum was much larger than I expected. I unfortunately had to leave earlier than I would have liked due to a crisis at home. I did get to see most of the floors and many different types of art.

The painting that caught my attention was the On the Yacht “Namouna,” Venice, 1890. It shows a group of upper class citizens on a yacht. The reason I liked it was I took a trip on a sail boat once many years ago and the painting reminded me of it. The colors and the shininess of the brass on what appears to be a smokestack stood out the most to me. The brightness and life like quality of the painting surprised me as I had always thought that oil paintings resembled the $59.99 paintings I have seen at hotel art shows. I thought all oil paintings looked raised and “painted”. This painting reminded me of a photograph. It was painted by Julius L. Stewart, an American artist, 1855-1919. It was oil on canvas and was a fairly large painting.

Julius LeBlanc Stewart was born in Philadelphia and moved to Paris with his family at age 10. He ended up living there for the rest of his life. His father was a wealthy expatriate art collector and provided Julius with access to wealthy Americans and their European friends. ( He established a successful career as a portrait painter of elite American and French society. Stewart was known to exhibit his paintings at the famous Paris Salon from 1878 to 1895. He seemed to like to paint in groups of people rather than individuals. During his career, several wealthy Americans living in Paris commissioned Stewart to paint grand scale portraits of their friends and family.
A friend of Stewart’s named James Bennett, a publisher of the New York and Paris Herald, wanted Stewart to paint a group portrait of his friends. He painted a series of sailing pictures aboard James Gordon Bennett Junior’s yacht, called Namouna. The most accomplished of these, On the Yacht "Namouna", Venice (1890), showed a sailing party on the deck and included a portrait of a once famous actress named Lillie Langtry. The painting On the Yacht “Namouna,” Venice, was done as an Un-commissioned work. Yachting on the Mediterranean (1896) was his next well known painting. His next endeavor included paintings focusing on religious topics. He is probably most known however, for his portraits of nude women.

The research I conducted about Julius Stewart and his works did not lead me to any conclusion regarding the movement that Mr. Stewart’s work falls into. I originally thought that his work may fit into the category of impressionism but was unable to find any of his works associated with the movement. The closest reference I found was a statement about one particular painting. The Baptism, with its illusionism, elaborate composition, implied narrative, and slow ceremonial pace, is a tour de force and technical skill and a prime example of late nineteenth- century aesthetics. (