All Kinds of Perfect

Since I had a gathering today in Brooklyn, that provided the best excuse for the long subway trip for an art museum visit.

Several good shows at the moment, including a John Singer Sargent watercolor exhibit.

John Singer Sargent An Artist in His Studio c1904

John Singer Sargent
An Artist in His Studio


My discovery though was an oil that directly relates to my thesis.  My artist Elizabeth Okie Paxton could have seen the painting and decided to work with the unmade bed.  You can see what a geek I am that this excites me.




Everett Shinn Fifth Ave 1910

Everett Shinn
Fifth Ave

The drawing exhibit Fine Lines: American Drawings is great, too.   Noguchi and Louise Nevelson did figure drawings!  I guess they had classical training.

Then there’s Everett Shinn, whose drawing style directly resembles his paintings, and I think is just as evocative.  Don’t you feel like you’re there?



And here’s the little charmer by Winslow Homer.

Winslow Homer Two Girls in a Field 1879

Winslow Homer
Two Girls in a Field



The Brooklyn Museum American collection is full of greatest hits which they have installed very thoughtfully–always some new connection or learning there.








The El Anatsui show Gravity and Grace is full of spectacularly photogenic works, so check out the slide show below.  His mixed media pieces, made of probably thousands of small pieces of various metals and found objects, shaped just so, are enormous.  Here’s one that takes up a whole wall, rippling and folding according to the site where it is hung.  Very joyous!

2013-04-28 15.07.55









The Brooklyn neighborhood I visited for the gathering on this perfect spring day is so Leave-It-To-Beaver gorgeous that I felt a little heartsick. You know, that sense of longing for a lovely home surrounded by flowers and birdsong.  That and only three blocks from the subway.  A little bit of heaven in Brooklyn.  Who knew?


Timely, Good Work

I left the United States today, to tour the United Nations.  193 nations share ownership of the land, bordering New York City.  They have their own flag (blue), fire unit, and post office.

The U.N. General Assembly and Security Council were both in session, so I don’t have any action shots.  We did walk through the General Assembly, which seemed empty, but the guide assured me they had a quorum to discuss issues concerning Mal and Somaliai.  A full 60% of 160 issues the U.N. is addressing are focused on Africa.

They communicate in six official languages:  English, Russian, Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish, and French.  They vote by pressing a green button for yes, red for no, and yellow to abstain.  The votes show up on a huge overhead board, although today the board was blank.

The tour was full of facts and details.  Here are a few that touched me most.

Tapestry 1


After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Belarus people were most affected.  They hand wove this enormous tapestry (you are only seeing one portion of it) in 1991 as an eternal reminder of that danger.



Red Cup feeds a child



For 25 cents, a child can be fed a meal.  The children can get the red cup with a meal inside when they go to school.  Two goals from the Milllenium Development Project – eradicate hunger and foster education.

Your UNICEF dollar also goes to distribute 400 million mosquito nets.  I visited on International Malaria Eradication day.  Even though deaths are down by 25% from last year, still 657,000 people will die from malaria this year.

Mosquito Net









And then there’s environmental sustainability.  For my friend Karen: the amount of garbage that ends up in global landfills annually equates in weight to 250,000,000 African elephants.  I can hear her now, “We’d rather have the elephants!”

Check out the slide show for more images, including the sculpture at the entrance of a mangled handgun, rendering it unusable.  Like everything at the U.N., how timely.


Picture 1 of 12





Over the Wall

Tina Packer, the Shakespearean director, has pulled together five works and one overview, which I saw,  on the patterns of development of Shakespeare as a man and as a writer, read through his attitudes toward women.  She alternates speaking somewhat extemporaneously on the resulting themes with acting out scenes with Nigel Gore.  The result is Women of Will.


By clumping plays into themes, I had some interesting insights.  For example, they did the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet immediately after the history plays of Henry VI.  Those Henry and Richard III plays deal with the War of the Roses, fought between the houses of York and Lancaster.  That civil war only ended once a woman, Elizabeth, married her daughter and the opposing house’s son, giving rise to the Tudor Rose.  Packer points out that Shakespeare was writing for that couple’s granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth.

Then Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet and their competing houses, well I couldn’t help connect them to the Yorks and Lancasters.  The English teacher next to me didn’t see it that way, remarking that the split in the play had historical roots.  I know, but the analogy to English history seems like a possibility, too–the play with the deeply tragic ending, resulting from senseless prejudice, acts as confirmation of the majestic right of the current queen–Elizabeth as the glorious expression of ending that civil war violence.

Packer also intersperses dialogue between plays to draw out a point, most interestingly with poor Desdemona from Othello and sparkly Rosamund from As You Like It.  Huh?, you’re thinking.  I know!  But Packer’s idea is that Shakespeare advances to the point where he uses women to tell the truth in this stage of plays.  But those dressed in a skirt either died or went mad, or both.  Those who disguised themselves in pants and lived as a man, well they could go on to self-discovery and happiness.  A good reason to wear trousers, yes?

I left with a really interesting idea about walls.  Women were walled off in private gardens in the medieval and early Renaissance period, ostensibly for safety, but also to keep them in their place.  Monks and nuns crossed over walls into inner sanctums for a life of devotion.  The families of girls paid steep dowries for their daughters to marry Christ.  All this I know from my study of art.

But Romeo leaps a wall to reach Juliet’s balcony.  Packer says that leap over the wall equates to the leap to the monastery, a leap to enlightenment.  Juliet is the east (the mystery), the sun (alchemy), in other words, the mysterious source of Romeo’s transformation toward knowledge.  Packer calls this the sexual merging with the spiritual, as evidenced in the text of the scene.  Beautiful.

Now I’m thinking about walls.  How to leap over walls?  And which walls to leap over for enlightenment?  Hmmm.

Beautiful Brutality

For my Revolution and Napoleonic Politics class, we have studied 3 artists: Jacques Louis David, Antonio Canova, and Francisco Goya.  Goya really went to the dark side with his paintings, and particularly his prints, which were made for private use or limited production as series.

The most famous series are Los Caprichos (The Caprices) from 1799 and The Disasters of War, published well after Goya’s death, in 1863.  Only then was the Spanish world safe enough to endure Goya’s critique.  Both show the brutal, the superstitious, and the crude, as well as the senselessness of the abuse of power in whatever form.

Several of my classmates work at the Museum of Modern Art, which surprisingly holds both these series plus the lesser known Los Proverbias, printed in 1904.  The prints came to MoMA as part of a larger gift of illustrated books, and all three are in immaculate condition.  The prints are luscious in tone, almost sensuous in saturated ink.

Francisco Goya
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Los Caprichos


But they can be pretty hard to look at.  So why was I so excited to get to see them in person?  Well, I guess I want to seize every opportunity to see original works of art, even when they are unpleasant.  This exposure is one of the joys of being in New York.


This is probably the most famous image from any of the series.


You can see why he inspired the Surrealists.


As our professor noted, Goya could make the most beautiful, “Academic” body, even when displayed in such horror.  That juxtaposition and their timelessness are what make the works relevant today.

Four Freedoms

On a blustery morning, Justin Ferrate led the intrepid over the East River on the tram to Roosevelt’s Island.  In the New York tradition, explained Justin, to change a reputation, merely change the name.  Blackwell’s Island, home of Elizabeth Blackwell, New York’s first woman surgeon, was renamed Roosevelt’s Island.  Why?

Well, maybe the island that served as the pumping ground for New York City, with its prison and dilapidated hospitals for the poor, might have something to do with it.

But now Governor’s Island also has Louis Kahn’s long awaited memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Four Freedoms speech, made as part of his State of the Union address in January, 1941.  The vision of the worldwide freedoms–or speech, religion, from want, and from fear–were then popularized by Norman Rockwell.  These words and images helped bring Americans out of isolationism and toward participation in World War II.

The paFour Freedoms, FDR monument 4rk of the monument is austere, perhaps in keeping with much of the Brutalist architecture so in favor when Roosevelt’s Island was turned residential.

Stark but still beautiful, I’d say.



Cherry Blossoms



The Cherry Blossom Festival was held today, too, and despite the ongoing cold, those blossoms were trying really hard.



The great irony was that all day, Japanese were celebrating traditional culture as part of the festival, with events located at the FDR memorial.  This picture of a Japanese family walking along the side of the memorial seems elegiac to me.

Four Freedoms, FDR monument 1









Small Pox Hospital ruins 2

The monument is located right next to the really spooky ruins of a small pox hospital. It was made from stone quarried on the island and meant to represent muscularity and stability.  As you can see, it’s very, very Gothic.

The remains are being shored up, so that people can actually visit the site.  Would you?  Yikes!  Maybe only on Halloween…with lots of good friends around!



UN complex


On a brighter note, the monument is located just across from the United Nations complex in Manhattan, which, of course, has its roots back in FDR’s policies.


Bridge, trolley station, tram lines 2



The Queensboro Bridge is viewable from everywhere on the island, making for some incredible sights.  Check out the slide show below.  I really liked the historic trolley station.  It’s made of terracotta–practical because it’s easy to clean with a power wash–and stations were moved to either side of the bridge.  Look at all the interesting architectural juxtapositions here.




And the Roosevelt Island slide show:


Ride the tram with your metrocard.  Then walk around the island to the lighthouse on the northern tip and the FDR Memorial on the southern tip.  it’s a great day!


A trip worth taking

Having seen “The Trip to Bountiful” many times, each with the same wrenching emotional effect, I wasn’t sure my heart could stand another visit just now.  But after reading the article for my Arts & Leisure broadcast for the blind on Cicely Tyson this morning, I decided to go today.

The play tears me up because for many years I made first monthly, then weekly, trips to my own version of Bountiful, Texas–to visit my parents in their rapidly deteriorating house, filled with their rapidly aging lives.  Horton Foote writes his elderly mother character with great tenderness and understanding.  Her need to see her collapsing old house in Bountiful helps her deal with how empty and meaningless her life has become.  Admittedly, seeing my parents in their home did not help me deal with the empty meaninglessness of their lives, or my own.  But the yearning Mrs. Watts feels in the play makes sense inside my bones.

So, I’m glad I went back there again today.

While no words of the play were changed, the cast and the incredible sets were changed with an added layer of meaning.  All the cast, except for the white sheriff, are African American, with Cicely Tyson heading up the all-stars onstage.  But they really fad, those tv and movie stars, next to her theater essence.

A real highlight was when some of the audience starting singing and clapping with her as she sang a spiritual.  Not a common occurrence on Broadway.The New York Times reports that Tyson, 88 years old, traveled to Harrison, TX, where Foote was from, to put her hands in the dirt and find her character.  Find her, she did.

The play, in case you haven’t seen it, is very quiet, poignant, and old-fashioned.  The other TDF’ers (deeply discounted tickets for non-profit types) around me wondered whether the slow first act would have a payoff.  I just smiled and counseled patience.  Afterwards, they all agreed, the second act made it all come together.

I cried some tears, my Horton-Foote-gets-me tears, the my-mother-was-like-that tears.  And I braved the journey.  Let me know if you do, too.

Folk and Craft

Playing catch up with myself today, I went to two museums and two plays (check out my theater log for more), after doing my tour for an especially exuberant group at New York Historical Society.

Happily, the American Folk Art Museum has righted itself in its small Lincoln Center space.  The current show on William Matthew Prior demonstrates how style can be an artist choice.  As I type that statement, it seems obvious and a little silly.  But folk artists are accused of naïveté and lack of skill, hardly the foundation for choosing style.

Pryor’s background is not very clear, but he studied with or at least saw works by Gilbert Stuart.  Look at his copy of Stuart’s dollar bill George Washington of 1850 and compare it to his “folk” version about two years later.  He obviously can paint in an Academic manner, so why paint the flattened, unfinished looking work after the more polished?

GW copyGW Folk







Copy of Gilbert Stuart’s “George Washington,” 1850            Folk version, c1852

At Winterthur, I would interpret this decision due to meeting customer demand.  The folk style was preferred in rural areas, even by wealthy patrons.  They wanted to differentiate themselves from the polished, slick urban patron and art style.  The folk art show doesn’t give us this interpretation, but I think it fits.

Pryor made 1500 portraits.  So he had a big business.  I would say the notable democratization of his subjects, including painting African Americans, is well represented in Millerthe small show.  They also include a portrait of William Miller, who found followers for his beliefs, all part of the 19th Century Great Revival of religious spiritualism.  Millerism was all about the Second Coming of Christ, which also meant the end of the world.  Millerists believed the end would occur between March 1843 and March 1844.  Well…

End of world









This show is thoughtful and small, making a perfect lunch-time outing or an easy visit if you’re catching something at Lincoln Center.  Not far away is the oh-so-cool Museum of Arts and Design.  Each show there now is a breath taker.

GrapesIn Against the Grain, some big names are part, making awesome wood pieces.   Al Wei Wei contributes “Grapes,” featuring a cluster of stools.  He’s interested in. Chinese history and links the image to the Qing Dynasty and its compromised functionality, like these stools.


Bettye Saar is there with her Mammies and “Herstory,” contrasting real and manufactured black women.  And Hope Sandrow’s chicken coops, which I saw on one of Justin Ferrate’s tours, has arrived, with video, at MAD.

Willie Cole worked with a chicken, too, here enormous.  The sculpture is an homage to Malcolm X, who reportedly said, “the chickens are coming home to roost,” after JFK’s assassination.  Notice that the piece is made out of matches, waiting to catch fire, as well as brooms and marbles.







TL wood
I really liked the show’s trompe l’oeil, or trick the eye, works.  For example, Mark Moskovitz’s “Stack of Wood,” is actually a piece of furniture with hidden drawers that open.



And video has made it to fine craft.  “Traffic” by Hunt Clark includes two video projections of traffic onto a shell-like form.  Pretty mesmerizing, eh?


In the Playing with Fire of glass works, Tim Tate has inserted a tiny video camera in his ‘bell jar’, which both records and displays, mirror-like, the viewer.  So now my looking and looking at the piece from all angles has been recorded, becoming part of the work “I Want to Run Away and Join the Circus.”  Too bad I couldn’t capture an image of that for you.

Dress 7



Karen LaMonte’s “Dress 7” is crafted from kiln cast glass.  Stunning, isn’t it?  I was really into bodies made of glass–look at Steve Tobin’s 1991 “Torso”!










Technology shows up in the jewelry show, too.  The wave form from a recorded sneeze, a yawn, and ‘wow’ are transferred into the shapes of jewelry.  Elegant pins actually, which hopefully you can make out in this video.  Turn the volume up.


As a fitting closure to the museum visits, the last show, After the Museum, features a folk art portrait, with its questions about the future of museums.  After my visits, I would say, the future is bright indeed.

Future of Museums 1Future of Museums 2










More cool things from MAD.  By the way, they actually encourage taking pictures!


Gary Carsley, Wave Hill

Gary Carsley, Wave Hill







Shoes, Hats in Wood

Shoes, Hats in Wood







Mindfulness and Meditation of Our Things

Mindfulness and Meditation of Our Things



Christopher Kurtz, Windsor Form

Christopher Kurtz, Windsor Form