CURATOR'S CHOICE SM
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GLENN LONEY'S MUSEUM NOTES
CONTENTS, January 2005
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
At the New, Improved Museum of Modern Art: *
At The Noguchi Museum—Way Out in Queens: Noguchi and Graham: Selected Works for Dance *
At the Whitney Museum of American Art: James Lee Byars: The Perfect Silence *
Bill Viola: Five Angels for the Millennium *
Renzo Piano Designs the New, Improved Whitney *
At the Frick Collection: Raphael's La Fornarina *
At the Bard Graduate Center: The Castellani and Italian Archeological Jewelry *
At the New York Public Library: James Gillray *
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art: WILD: Fashion Untamed *
$45 Million "Stroganoff Madonna" on View *
At the New, Improved Museum of Modern Art:
[Open until further notice!]
For some months, it was an adventure—fun, even—to trek out to Darkest Queens and the old Swingline Stapler Factory to admire the provocative shows MoMA's adventurous curators had installed there while its true home on West 53rd Street was undergoing an attack of Gigantism.
The newly re-opened midtown MoMA HQ is nothing if not Big. This proves a mixed blessing. The truly remarkable paintings and sculptures from its Permanent Collections—many not often on view in the two previous versions of MoMA—now have grand white spaces around them so they can be savored and studied without competition from too-closely-hung or set equally strong Masterpieces. This is a wonderful Holiday Gift that will keep right on giving—although admission prices have skyrocketed.
Facts & Figures: MoMA's press-releases point out that the total exhibition-space has increased from 85,000 to 125,000 square feet. On six floors! The PR info describes this as nearly doubling the show-space, but Do The Math: Doubling would have provided 170,000 square feet.
Had that space-increase been achieved, MoMA curators would have been hard-put to find enough new works worthy of public display to fill such vast white voids. That is part of the Mixed Blessing, as noted by several critics: Much Contemporary Art looks nakedly exposed in the new galleries, compared with the majestic timeless authority of Picassos, Matisses, & Giacomettis.
This is the age-old problem of both Museums & Libraries: people will not stop trying to produce Works of Art, nor will scribblers stop writing books and poems.
When the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts was constructed—as a kind of Square Concrete Doughnut around the Vivian Beaumont Theatre-Complex—the architects left no easy possibility for expansion. As if Arthur Miller would stop writing plays, Willa Kim stop making costume-plates, and Brooks Atkinson stop writing reviews: Atkinson, at least, has passed over into Immortality and has sent no reviews Back from the Beyond.
It may seem difficult to imagine that some of the works being shown at the Whitney Biennale—and, later, at MoMA—will pass over, in time, into the kind of Immortality now accorded Matisse and Picasso. But as American Culture, Taste, & Morals continue to be debased, today's scandals may well be Tomorrow's Classics.
There is also that annoying question: Where Does Modern Begin? In Paris, at the Musée d'Orsay, what's Modern at MoMA now looks Historic on the Seine.
Much has been made of the vast new MoMA Atrium, the ingenious innovation of Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi. It is truly overwhelming, and it provides a kind of Light-Well to flood the museum with Natural—and some un-Natural—Light. The architectural vistas which it makes possible for photographers—including long windows, staircases, and elevated walkways—are breathtaking.
Barnett Newman's rusty iron Broken Obelisk which dominates this space seems to have been created with that function in mind. Unfortunately, Monet's Water-Lilies, splayed out on a concrete wall low down in the atrium-tower, reads like almost nothing: not even Wall-Decoration…
Every Department—and Aspect—of Modern Art now has its own spaces—and, one hopes, offices, as well. Film, Prints, Books, Video-Arts—you name it, All Are Here!
The new—or made-over—MoMA premises cost some $450 million. That is only ten times the cost of that tiny Duccio the Met Museum just bought. Just think what the Met could have added to its exhibition-spaces with $45 million!
And that is another problem about Modern Museums. New Art Expands To Fit The Space Available. Another form of the Peter Principle… Or is that Murphy's Law?
When MoMA had its last expansion, one hoped a new long-gallery would be used to show some of the masterpieces usually hidden in storage. No Way! Artists like Frank Stella rushed into the breach with long, long canvases to fill the Empty Spaces. These Extended Artworks—some new ones are now on view in the vast upper reaches of the new MoMA—often have nothing much to say visually after the first ten linear feet or so. Unless Endless Extension of Patterns or Similar Images is an art in itself…
It has been reported that Taniguchi was not pleased with the ways in which the contractors finished his designs. Perhaps they were too rushed? Or too far Over-Budget? Whatever the reason, some wall-surfaces and hallways are uneven or not well finished. This is unfortunate.
At The Noguchi Museum—Way Out in Queens: Noguchi and Graham: Selected Works for Dance
[Closing May 1, 2005]
Bertram Ross, Matt Turney, Yuriko, and Glen Tetley with Noguchi set for Embattled Garden, 1958. Photograph by Sam Frank. Coutesy the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance.
Isamu Noguchi's very own Museum—with a small Sculpture Garden—has been closed for renovations since 2001. Now re-opened, it is currently featuring a fascinating and impressive exhibition of the costumes, props, and set-pieces the sculptor created for major Martha Graham choreographies.
These two major artists and great friends collaborated in a wonderful way that increased the visual and spiritual powers of both the Sculpture and the Dance.
Not only are the Noguchi/Graham objects and costumes artfully deployed in the former photo-gravure factory's upper galleries, but Curator Bonnie Rychlak has also provided wall schemas of the actual on-stage placement and function of the materials.
Although the Museum has a Permanent Collection of Noguchi Sculptures—not all on view at any one time—the Graham show is a one-time-only opportunity, as these beautiful and unusual objects are on loan from the Martha Graham Foundation. They do not belong to the Noguchi Museum!
Featured are nine of the nineteen dance-settings Noguchi created for Martha Graham. Among them: Acrobats of God, Phaedra, Judith, Nigh Journey, Dark Meadow, & Embattled Garden. Of course there are videos of the actual works in performance, showing how Graham's dancers interacted with sets, props, and costumes.
The Museum is sited at 32-37 Vernon Boulevard: not easily accessible by MTA, but you could take the Roosevelt Island cable-car from East 59th Street, then take the Island bus for a small fee, and walk across the elevator-bridge to Mainland Queens, and then walk some blocks up to Vernon.
There are some great Industrial Wasteland photo-shots in this area, especially under the Manhattan-Queens 59th Street Bridge. I made the mistake of stopping to photograph the towering smokestacks of the great power-plant—as well as the bridge—only to be sharply questioned by passing residents and then accosted by a Security Guard who demanded to see my ID. John Ashcroft and George Bush have done their work well: If You See Something Suspicious…
If the Taliban wanted to attack the plant, they already have plenty of site-info, as a number of Hollywood films feature it in flyover-shots of Manhattan.
If you want to see any of these Industrial Artifacts—or the Noguchi Museum—from the comparative safety of the Public Sidewalks, there is a weekend bus from the Asia Society on Park & 70th. Call the Museum for more Info: 1718-204-7088. Noguchi masterpieces are also currently on view at the Whitney Museum.
At the Whitney Museum of American Art: James Lee Byars: The Perfect Silence
[Closing March 6, 2005]
James Lee Byars died in Cairo in 1997, not the ideal place for an artist's demise. But memories of his artistry live on at the Whitney Museum. My favorite is a gold-leaf-covered box of a room—missing the Fourth Wall—which contains a gold-leafed coffin-like box. This work is titled The Death of James Lee Byars.
When this installation/sculpture was initially shown in Brussels, in 1994, Byars himself was IN it. He wore a gold-lamé suit and black top-hat, lying on the floor, "Practicing Death," as he said. Marcel Duchamp, Eat Your Heart Out!
The Curatorial Judgment on Byars' work is that it: "…articulates a dualist aesthetic that embodies both the Zen and the baroque."
You will surely sense this when you regard The Little Red Angel. On the Whitney gallery floor, neatly laid out in a baroque flourish, as Byars had decreed, are no less than 333 hand-blown red glass spheres!
If you think about the Mystical Significance of this number, it is exactly half that of the Sign of the Beast or Anti-Christ, which is 666, the Fifth Avenue number of the Tishman Building!
Bill Viola: Five Angels for the Millennium
[Closing March 6, 2005]
No Little Red Angels for Bill Viola! Instead, he videos five visions of a man plunging into a pool of water, or variously hovering over it, emerging, or submerging. Like Byars, Viola has been violated by Zen Perceptions. The Moving Images are projected forward, backward, upside-down, or in slow-motion.
Curatorial Advice: These projectional quirks are intended to disrupt "conventional readings of the image" and to "disorient the viewer." As if the daily reports on the news of the latest sayings of George W. Bush were not dis-orienting enough!
Viola's five video-loops are variously titled: Fire Angel, Birth Angel, Creation Angel, Departing Angel, & Ascending Angel. This artwork—and the tapes—are a three-way ownership deal involving the Whitney, the Tate Modern in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Parigi.
Some of Viola's footage is arresting, with dramatic color-changes. But, if you saw this on your own SONY at home, you'd call the TV repairman.
Renzo Piano Designs the New, Improved Whitney
Michael Graves had the best visual & spatial concept for expanding the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue. But various quarrelsome locals defeated his plan, eager to protect the shabby tenements which adjoin the Marcel Breuer bulk of the museum, fiercely fought when it was first proposed, as well.
Now, an attractive third plan is going forward, recently presented to the press in models, drawings, and slides. This is Renzo Piano's ingenious solution to the Whitney's on-going problems about space, mission, and function. Piano is also responsible for the exponential expansion of the Morgan Library, farther down Madison Avenue at 36th Street.
What is it with all this expansionism by Major Museums, Collections, and Libraries? The Met, MoMA, the Morgan, the Noguchi, the Whitney?
All that's now needed is for the NYPL on 42nd and 5th to begin yet another internal expansion. The Astor, Tilden, & Lenox Libraries were long ago combined to form this great Beaux Arts Monument, on the site of an Egyptian-style Central City Reservoir. And Manhattan had its own Crystal Palace Exhibition behind it—on what is now Bryant Park!
At the Frick Collection: Raphael's La Fornarina
[Closing January 30, 2005]
Raphael's La Fornarina - "The Little Baker Girl."
The Frick Collection, with its magnificent Interiors and remarkable Masterpieces, is always well worth a visit. Currently, it has an Added Attraction: Raphael's La Fornarina—or "The Little Baker Girl." This impressive nude portrait is on loan to the U, S. for the first time ever from the Palazzo Barbarini in Rome, thanks to the generosity of the National Museums of Rome and the Foundation for Italian Art Culture.
Was this beautiful lady Raphael's Mistress? Did his sexual infatuations lead to the fever that killed him—as Vasari alleged? In any case, on her arm she wears a bracelet inscribed: RAPHAEL VRBINAS.
Curatorial Advice: Raphael's striking canvas is: "One of the most famous and immediately identifiable paintings in the canon of Western Art." This means, if you are studying Art History, you'd be well advised to hurry to the Frick to imprint La Fornarina's image on your brain for future slide-quizzes.
[Speaking about the Lenox Library—see above—it once stood on Lenox Hill where the Frick Mansion now sedately sits.]
At the Bard Graduate Center: The Castellani and Italian Archeological Jewelry
[Closing February 6, 2005]
Pendant-Brooch with Medusa Cameo. Castellani. Private collection. Photo: Sheldan Collins.
Also on loan from Italy—and museums & private collectors worldwide, as well—are the remarkably intricate jeweled settings of necklaces, brooches, earrings, buckles, bracelets, and pendants created by the Castellani Family in the 19th century.
What distinguishes these magnificent adornments is not only that they are each a work of art in itself, but that their designs were inspired by the arts and adornments of Antiquity: Ancient Egypt, Greece, & Rome. The Italian Renaissance was also a powerful influence on some of the more elegant jewelry. Even Medieval Motifs moved the Castellanis to make magic for women's beautification.
Quite aside from the obvious value of the gems and semi-precious stones set in solid gold, silver, or colorfully enameled precious metals, the designs and workmanship make these treasures truly priceless. Insurance for this exhibition must have cost a small fortune!
Delicate yet powerful cameos vie with richly hued enamel images and mosaics of tiny bits of colored glass to form the centerpieces of pendants, pins, and necklaces. Although the Bard Center's townhouse on West 86th Street is not large, its intimate galleries are currently crammed with these wonderful objects. Do see this show!
At the New York Public Library: James Gillray
[Closing January 29, 2005]
James Gillray was the foremost political & cultural commentator of his time—though he was not an author! He achieved his effects largely with his boldly colored and grossly caricatured images of the Royal Family, the Aristocracy, Parliament, Con-Men, Farmers, Shop-keepers, & Layabouts.
Considering how outrageously distorted his images of the Royals were, it's surprising and amusing that the Prince of Wales was an avid collector of his brazen cartoons. In fact, as the current show on the third floor of the NYPL on 42nd Street explains, his hand-colored engraved images were pricey enough that only those with money could generally afford them.
"Penny plain, tuppence colored" prints were far less striking than Gillray's cartoons. What's more, the ordinary prints lacked the pointed visual and textual sarcasm and insight of the typical Gillray scene.
In almost all of the Gillray cartoons currently shown in the two corridors flanking the entrance to the Main Reading Room, detailed dialogues are provided in burgeoning white balloons of conversation billowing from his victims' mouths.
Indeed, if you are able to see this show, put aside an entire morning or afternoon, for both the wall-texts—which explain the historical, social, & political backgrounds of each image—and the cartoons themselves offer hours of reading-material for amusement and reflection.
Many of the Library's Gillrays have never before been on view, and this is the first time they have been shown as a Gillray retrospective, rather than as images in a differently-themed exhibition.
In the 1950s, I was able to acquire some Gillrays in London's Portobello Market. I even found ten copies—hand-colored—of a Gillray cartoon which presented the backsides of various European types, showing how Scots, Brits, French, and Germans, among others, relieved themselves. Scat, in the extreme. So much so that I never mailed them back to the U. S. No need to shock the Postmaster General!
Most of the Gillrays were initially collected by Governor Samuel Tilden—once almost President of the United States, but defeated by the Electoral College vote. His Tilden Foundation is one of the three pillars of the New York Public Library: composed, as it is, of the Astor, Tilden, & Lenox Foundations. Tilden's handsome Victorian Mansion on Gramercy Park South—next to Edwin Booth's Players—is now home to the National Arts Club.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art: WILD: Fashion Untamed
[Closing March 13, 2005]
Rudy Gernreich (American, born in Austria, 1922-1985)
Animal print ensembles, 1966
©William Claxton, Courtesy Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles
All that was wanted to make the new Costume Show at the Met complete would have been the presence—perhaps as Hostess or Guide?—of Mme; Wildenstein, a famous lover of Lions, who had her plastic-surgeon re-configure her face to present a Leonine Countenance to the world. Indeed, at the time of her equally famous—or infamous—divorce squabbles with her art-gallery-scion spouse, the Popular Press dubbed her The Bride of Wildenstein.
In this very unusual exhibition—which should have drawn squadrons of PETA Protesters—a wide variety of wild-animal furs are displayed, either as trims or the substance of some dazzling fashion creations. But this show is not only about dead pelts; it is also about the Look of the Wild, invoking avian & animal shapes, forms, symbols, or qualities in striking clothes obviously designed to attract attention. Various animal and bird traits are exemplified in some of the costumes as Defining Woman. After all, Primitive Man [and Woman] initially adorned himself in skins of dead animals. Weaving was devised later. And, if Man was not intended to use birds for sources of adornment as well, where did we get that phrase: A Feather In His Cap?
But "Ethical Woman" is in part defined by Fake Furs! That's a stretch, but curators do have to seek out varied themes. Otherwise, it's just a lot of frocks on show.
The fashion-house of Roberto Cavalli was a major sponsor. Other design-houses on view include Gucci, Dior, & Fendi, as well as such designers as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Yohji Yamamoto.
$45 Million "Stroganoff Madonna" on View
[Through March 13, 2005]
What could you buy with $45,000,000? If you were Philippe de Montebello and the Met Museum's Trustees, you could probably have added a wing or two to this already vast museum. You could certainly have made the museum Admission-Free for many, many years!
But, no. They have paid this immense sum for a very small 13th/14th century gilded wooden panel, not as large as a piece of typing-paper.
Don't worry about Museum Expansion: that is already underway, and it's paid by a different fund entirely. Don't worry about Admission Prices: they will continue to be charged. And they will certainly increase. After all, MoMA is now charging $20 a head!
This staggering sum for a small piece of wood has been paid out of the Met's Acquisitions Fund. They could have bought a lot of Andy Warhol prints for that money. Or even a small collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Burne-Jones and others of his ilk.
What justifies this great expenditure—in the eyes of M. De Montebello, his Curators, and his Board—is the fact that it is The Duccio Madonna. It has not been shown in public for decades. Only recently did the private owners decide to sell it, and the Met topped all bids.
Together with Giotto, Duccio is regarded as a principal founder of Western European Painting. And this mysterious Madonna was the last of his works still privately owned. Major museums outside Italy which do have Duccios in their collections usually possess only fragments of his great altarpiece in Siena: the Maestà.
Once owned by a Russian count, Grigorii Stroganoff—from whom the panel now derives its name—the Madonna is one of the very few commissions Duccio painted for a private patron. It was obviously intended as an icon for personal devotions. In fact, there are very few Duccios surviving, aside from the great work in Siena.
The Duccio Madonna is shown in a small chamber at the Met, in the galleries of Medieval and Renaissance religious artworks. It is augmented and contrasted with other Madonnas and religious paintings of the period to place its genius in context. In mid-March, it will be removed from view for further study, but it will ultimately return to the galleries.
But, if you want to see what $45,000,000 looks like in very small—if splendid—format, rush off to the Met right now. [Loney]
Copyright © Glenn Loney 2005. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, Curator's Choice." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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