Friday, April 20, 2018

Women / Impressionism 6

One last post from the exhibit at the Speed Museum.

Whenever my friend Marti and I go to a museum we play a game at the end: which piece do you want to take home with you?  It requires us to take one last walkabout, reminding ourselves of everything we've seen, and to discuss why this one is our favorite.  (It's an exercise that I recommend to any serious art viewer, making sure that you haven't just looked without seeing and thinking.)

Here's Marti's favorite, which we both thought screamed "Vermeer" for its gorgeous light coming in from the side window.

Anna Ancher, Young Woman Arranging Flowers, ~1885

It struck me that hardly any of the paintings showed those classic Impressionist subjects of landscape or still life.  Those have always been my favorite Inpressionist genres, and I had a hard time choosing my favorite from the few possibilities.

Fanny Churberg, Waterfall, 1877

This artist got no respect from the Finnish art world: they called her paintings "strange" and "abnormalities." Unsurprisingly, she gave up painting.
Marie Cazin, Evening, 1884-88

The dramatic smoke plume made me think of all those paintings of trains, especially inside the huge open-air railroad stations. 

Helene Schjerfbeck, The Door, 1884

Anna Bilinska-Bohdanowicz, Unter den Linden in Berlin, 1890

This was my favorite, reminiscent of all the Childe Hassam paintings of New York street scenes with flags flying.  I loved the way the precise detail of the architecture dissolved into hazy radiance.

Well, maybe not my absolute favorite -- how about a tie between that one and this beautiful still life of pink satin shoes.  Not only do I love the painting, I sure wish I had a pair of shoes just like it.

Eva Gonzalès, The Pink Slippers, 1879-80

And that's all, folks!  You still have a couple of weeks to see the exhibit, "Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism," which closes May 13.  As the Michelin Guide says, it's worth a detour.  Maybe even worth a trip.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Women / Impressionism 5

Almost done with my report on the "Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism" show at the Speed Museum in Louisville.  Most of the work in the show was portraiture, and there were several that called out to me.

Cecilia Beaux, Sita and Sarita (Woman with a Cat), 1893-94

You come upon this painting from a far distance, and I didn't even see the cat until I got a whole lot closer.  But how much the portrait sings when you do detect the cat among the shadows of her dark hair.

Amélie Beaury-Saurel, Into the Blue, 1894

Scholars think this is probably a self-portrait, which makes two strikes against Amélie -- a smoking artist!!!!  Scandalous!!!!!!

And finally, this exciting picture of a young girl, which was chosen for one of the poster images to advertise the show. 

Ellen Thesleff, Echo, 1891

Let's all imagine what she's shouting, what powerful words are echoing back to her.  I hope it's something more important than just calling the cows home.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Women / Impressionism 4

A couple more posts about the exhibit at the Speed Museum about women painters in Paris during the late 19th century.

First off, a mea culpa -- I said incorrectly in earlier posts that the exhibit would close last week.  Good news -- it's actually open through May 13, so if you're anywhere in the vicinity of Louisville, you still have time to drop by and enjoy this engaging show.

I'd like to show you my favorite pictures from the exhibit.  Today, three paintings of mothers and children that hung right next to one another, which made me realize how all three of the mothers have the identical expression:

Cecilia Beaux, The Last Days of Childhood, 1883-5

(makes you wonder if childhood has been redefined in the last 135 years...  I would think it lasted a whole lot longer....)

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Nursing Mother in Front of Birch Forest, 1905

Elizabeth Nourse, A Mother, 1888

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Crabby three times from the same story

Yesterday I was crabby about a woman who looked really old to me being described by the police as "55 to 60 years old."  I submitted photos of women who are actually 55 to 60 years old, arguing that you can be that age and still look pretty damn good.

One of my readers took exception to my post, saying "I was not in the least offended by her being categorized as 55 to 60.  I WAS rather offended at you trotting out photos of 55-60 year old movie stars and celebrities as the benchmark for what that age range looks like.  Not my reality."

You're right, I should not have suggested that movie stars and celebrities should be held up as role models or reality benchmarks.  So I have gone back and amended my post.  No more celebrities.  Instead, U.S. Senators and governors.  You may want to go back and see how good they look. 

And Idaho, thanks for keeping me honest.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Crabby twice from the same story

Yesterday I wrote about a "crime" that made me crabby -- a woman took a rock from a Yoko Ono exhibit that consisted of many, many rocks on the floor.  And another thing about it made me crabby.

Here's the perp, surveillance photo courtesy of the Toronto police:

She is described as 55 to 60 years old.

Does this look like a 55-year-old woman to you?  Looks more like 75 to me, or maybe 80 or 85.

Here's what some women 55 to 60 look like:

age 57

age 59

age 56

age 58

Because I am a late-middle-aged woman myself, I am particularly alert to what I see as the way society dismisses and devalues older women.  Apparently in the eyes of the Toronto police, if you look old and doddery you must be (horrors) in your late 50s!  I realize that if I were to be creamed by a runaway bus I would be described in the news report as "elderly," even though I think of myself as anything but.

What's up with this stereotyping?  Don't any of the cops who put together this APB know a real 55- to 60-year-old woman?  Or a real 80-year-old woman?  Or don't they even look at women past a certain age, even if it's their own wife or mom?


This post has been updated to remove photos of movie stars and celebrities and substitute photos of U.S. Senators and state governors.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Crabby about art

Every morning I get an email from Hyperallergic, a newsletter that covers the art scene (I recommend it to anybody who's interested in the wider world of mainstream art).  Today's included a story about a woman who stole a rock from a Yoko Ono exhibit at a museum in Toronto.

The exhibit consisted of a whole lot of river stones that were apparently arranged artfully on the floor.  Some of the stones were inscribed with messages such as "love yourself", written by Yoko herself.  The shtick of the exhibit, which the museum describes as "collaborative," is that viewers are supposed to pick up a stone while "concentrating on the word and letting go of their anger or fear."

Then, presumably after the anger and fear are gone, they're supposed  to put the stone back with the others.  But a woman picked one up and failed to put it back.  It's all on surveillance footage, and Toronto police are looking for the perp.

But I have mixed feelings about this story.

First off, you know I have a jaundiced view of these "collaborative" or "relational" art projects, having devoted too much of my own time to participating in one a couple of years ago.  The plan is to make people feel all warm and fuzzy by picking up the rock and thinking about loving themselves, or helping to mend a broken teacup (another part of the Ono show in Toronto).  According to Hyperallergic, this approach is "encouraging viewers to engage intimately with artworks."

Sometimes, I guess, such exhibits can make you think deeply or feel great emotion, but mostly I find them manipulative and cynical.  Geez, "love yourself" is kinda shallow, not to mention unoriginal, don't you think?

Second, if a show is all about encouraging people to engage intimately with the art, isn't it a bit hypocritical to call the cops if they engage a little bit too intimately?  What if in all sincerity this woman picked up the stone, tried hard to love herself, concentrated on it, concentrated on it, concentrated some more, but could never quite let go of her anger or fear?  And since it was almost closing time, thought she could take it home and keep concentrating?

But third, here's what really got me crabby about this story: the stone was described with a straight face as "valued at $17,500."  Hmmm.  Are they selling individual rocks in the gift shop for $17,500?  That would make that whole big pile on the floor (who knows how far it extends beyond the photo) worth -- what? -- millions?  In the next room was a setup where viewers were invited to use hammers and nails to stretch pieces of string to make "lines in space."  I wonder what a piece of string or a nail would be "valued at" if some viewer, in the spirit of collaboration and intimate engagement with art, decided to take one home?

I don't recommend that museums allow people to take home the art -- although there have been lots of "relational" projects in museums that do exactly that -- but for heaven's sake, if somebody takes home a rock, and you think it leaves a terrible gap in the pile on the floor, go get another rock.  It won't cost you anywhere near $17,500.

This sort of pretentiousness is what gives art a bad name among ordinary people.  What do you think?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Women / Impressionism 3

Everybody knows Mary Cassatt as the painter of adorable babies, but that was not her only skill.  The exhibit "Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism" includes lots of her work.

Yes, there were adorable babies.  You probably know the first one, but maybe not the second:

Children Playing on the Beach, 1884

Spring: Margot Standing in a Garden, 1900

Can you imagine putting that hat on a little girl to go out and play?  Obviously Margot wasn't encouraged to climb trees or turn somersaults.

Here are some adults:

The Reader, 1877

Although Cassatt's signature style is highly realistic, I was intrigued by two paintings that were much more gauzy.

Woman Standing, Holding a Fan, 1878-9

The focus here is on the dress rather than its wearer; in particular, the foofy lace on the left sleeve is almost luminous with back lighting.  I'd much rather have this painting in my living room than the one of the reader.

Autumn, Portrait of Lydia Cassatt, 1880

This portrait of the artist's sister is like two arts in one -- the face realistic, the patterned blanket almost abstract.  In fact, the loose brushwork of the blanket reminded me of Gerhard Richter's squeegee paintings!

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1991

The show continues through May 13 at the Speed Museum in Louisville.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Women / Impressionism 2

The curators' statements on the walls of the Speed Museum's exhibit "Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism" contained some language that I didn't love, to the effect that women of course had a special facility for painting domestic scenes.  Because of course men don't have breakfast tables or children, right?  Can you deduce the gender of the artist in comparing these two classic Impressionist scenes:

Well, be that as it may, there were some nice domestic scenes portrayed in the show. 

Harriet Backer, Big Brother Playing, 1890

Berthe Morisot, The Artist's Daughter, Julie, with her Nanny, 1884

Probably my favorite was this:

Marie Bracquemond, Under the Lamp, 1887

Probably the artist didn't intend it this way -- or did she? -- but to my eye the husband is a disembodied presence floating on the mist of the hot soup, ignored by the woman staring off into the wings.  Maybe he's just a disapproving spirit who hovers over her life and makes her feel under surveillance even if he's not there.  Or maybe he's really there, and she's just wondering how come he gets to drink all the wine.

Oh, and the top picture of women in a boat was by Claude Monet, the bottom picture was by Berthe Morisot.  Did you guess right?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Women / Impressionism 1

A fascinating exhibit at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville focuses on women artists who came to Paris during the second half of the 19th Century even though the deck was seriously stacked against them.  They couldn't attend the big art schools, had a hard time showing their work through the official Salon, couldn't draw nude models, couldn't go to certain public places without chaperones, were advised by their teachers to abandon art when they got married.  Nevertheless they came, and they learned to paint, and they made lovely paintings.

I was impressed by how many of them had success despite these obstacles.  Many had work eventually accepted to the Salon, a few were given honors such as the Legion of Honor.  Of course the praise was grudging -- lots of critics' remarks quoted on the wall signs to the effect of "it's astounding that a woman painted this!!"

Marie Bashkirtseff, In the Studio, 1881

The Académie Julian was one of a few small art schools that admitted women.  Originally it allowed male and female students to work in the same room from a nude model (gasp!) but after too many gasps had to have separate studios for men and women.  Here's the women's studio; Marie, who was from Ukraine, is center front with black dress and big palette.

I was unfamiliar with most of the artists in the Speed show; many of them returned to their native countries after studying in Paris and did not have a chance to make names for themselves internationally even if they were well-regarded at home.  I had heard of only four: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Rosa Bonheur and Paula Modersohn-Becker.

More tomorrow, with lots of pictures.  Meanwhile, click on the link at the top of this post and you can watch a slide show of many of the paintings from the show, which is up through May 13.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Quilt collector extraordinare

Just read an obituary on Eli Leon, one of the most famous quilt collectors of recent times. Starting in the 1970s he bought quilts at flea markets in California, and soon specialized in African-American quilts, drawn to "their irregular, improvisatory patterns."  His most important discovery was Rosie Lee Tompkins, whom he met at a flea market and who became famous thanks to Leon's buying her quilts and putting them into shows he organized.  Eventually she was hailed as one of the outsider artists who "have altered the shape of American art history."

New York Times

Rosie Lee Tompkins, Three Sixes

Leon also organized many exhibits of other quilt artists and wrote books about African-American quilts. 

Whenever I read about outsider quilt art -- Gees Bend comes to mind -- I am bemused at how the mainstream art world is eager to embrace improvisational, unpredictable quilts (or paintings or sculpture) made by marginalized people, but at the same time eager to ignore equally exciting quilts  (or paintings or sculpture) made by mainstream artists.  Nancy Crow's quilts are every bit as nontraditional and wonderful as Rosie Lee Tompkins', and yet Tompkins gets into the Whitney Biennial and Crow doesn't.

(By the way, Crow credits a glimpse of a Tompkins quilt for turning her away from the highly structured patterns of her early work into the improvisational style that she has used for several decades.)

It's as though you need the back story of poverty and isolation, perhaps a little mental illness, to make your work "authentic" before the mainstream art people are willing to call it art.  All the better if that back story involves picking cotton (the original Gees Bend exhibit and its book/catalog had lots of evocative photos of sharecroppers toiling in the fields, displayed next to the quilts).

I don't begrudge Leon or any other collector the right to decide what to collect, but I feel sorry that a guy who fell in love with quilts with "irregular, improvisatory patterns" didn't also look a little more widely at other people making such quilts.

Meanwhile, what's not to like about a guy who owned 3,500 quilts, loved them dearly, and worked tirelessly to promote and show them.  We need lots more like Eli Leon.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The prettiest Easter eggs you'll ever dye

Maybe you read my blog post a year ago when I wrote about "tie-dyed" Easter eggs.  My daughter-in-law bought a kit with this fancy title and Isaac and I had a fine time working (or I should probably say playing) with it.  But I'm here to tell you that you don't need a kit to make the most beautiful eggs I've ever done.  Just buy the cheapest kit with the color tablets and mix up a cup of each with vinegar, maybe with a little less water than you would use if you were going to immerse the eggs.

Here's the trick: cut a couple of four-inch squares of plain white fabric.  Wet the fabric and wrap it around an egg.  The bunched-up layers of fabric that ensue when you close it up are what will give you the gorgeous patterning of the egg.

Hold the wrapped egg in one hand or place it on a plate or in a cup.  Using an eye dropper or a spoon or even your fingertip, deposit small dollops of dye onto the wet fabric.  Best results come when you use two or more colors, distributed around the egg.  The colors will instantly spread on the wet fabric and ooze into one another.

When you unwrap the egg, you'll find gently blended colors, separated by jagged spears of white where the multiple layers of fabric made a barrier against the dye.

You can rinse out the fabric between eggs, but we decided it worked just as well to just wring out the fabric and re-use it a couple of times.  No matter what we did and how casually we splatted the dye around, the eggs were gorgeous.

So if you have a four-inch square of fabric lying around, have at it, and Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

An altered book 1, and happy birthday!

Quite a while ago a friend gave me a book and said "this looks like something that you might like to work with."  It's a strange book, beautifully printed on excellent paper.  Each two-page unit is not printed front-and-back on one piece of paper, but on the same side of a long piece of paper that is then folded on the outside edge.

Even stranger is the content.  Each eight-page section of the book has a single graphic theme, after which it switches abruptly to a totally different theme.  Many use collage, some use computer-drawn graphics, some human-drawn graphics in various themes.  Several of the sections include text that reminds me of my found poetry, pasted up in ransom-note style, some in French, some in English.

Sadly, many of the drawings and text are kind of sophomoric, the kind of drawings and remarks that I recall from seventh grade when there were 12 girls and 20 boys in our class, and the boys delighted in making rude noises and crude gestures behind the teacher's back.  My challenge to myself was to embrace the good parts of the book -- its gorgeous paper and printing, and many of the non-scatological illustrations -- but obscure the outrageous parts.

The book sat around for a while as I pasted a few things in, but it wasn't until my recent week on retreat that the project took wings.  Most of my work during that week consisted of sorting through piles and boxes of paper, deciding what I wanted to save and organizing it.  I realized that I was coming across a lot of bits and pieces that were too special to throw out, but didn't really go into any conceivable art project.  So I started to paste them into the book, and it started to take on a most engaging personality of its own.

I added some maps, of course, and photos that I had cut out for collage but seemed to want to play right now.  A wine label that I had peeled off and saved for many years, memorializing a great time with my brother in Australia (I don't remember that specific bottle or the specific occasion, so it's an archetype for so many good times and good wines -- and by the way, happy birthday to my favorite and only brother!)

A newspaper clipping, decades old, that I had saved because it is so concisely meaningless, and deserves to be saved forever.  A certificate of weevil-free sweet potatoes.

Travel brochures from Prague, advertising the medieval torture museum and the Kalashnikov firing range (or you can buy the Bullets and Karts combo, going next door to drive go-carts after you shoot).

Handwritten labels pinned to doilies that appeared in the grab bag.

All kinds of miscellaneous that I didn't want to throw away but also didn't want to keep moving from pile to pile, looking at them every couple of years and saying "oh yes, that's nifty."

The book isn't going to be just a scrapbook of random stuff; I hope it has some mildly artistic moments.  I'll show you some of them in a later post.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Serendipity today

I'm a huge believer in serendipity, aka never cleaning up your studio too much.  So many times I have found a piece of fabric or a button or a paper or a piece of rusty metal lying around and a few minutes later realize that it's just what I need for a piece of art in progress. 

The latest recurrence came about as I was sitting at my worktable cleaning up, and what appeared from under a pile of stuff but an empty slide mount.  I do have a box full of slide mounts that it could have been filed into, but that would have required me to get up, find the box, open it up, put it back.  Seemed like an awful lot of work for just one little piece of plastic -- simpler to just use it!  And anyway, I needed a break from all that cleaning up.

So I took some thread that was also sitting on the worktable and warped up a little loom.  What to put on it -- beads? thread of a different weight or color?  Plenty of stuff was within reach. 

Including a leftover bit of map from a collage.  I cut it into narrow strips and used that as the weft.  The weaving was fiddly because of course I didn't have heddles or any other mechanism to make a shed, so each thread had to be pulled up with tweezers for each strip of map.  But it was a nice zen hour, lost in the process (which after all, is why we've all become sewists and textile artists, isn't it?).

I'm making this my daily map.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On retreat 2

Those of us on retreat last week had a lot of fun watching Cindy Rollins made felt.  Her first project was to make a pair of slippers, and we made her call us over to watch each time she did a new step in the process.

First, she made lasts for the slippers.  She put on a pair of throwaway socks and proceeded to apply many layers of duct tape over her feet.  Then she cut through the whole contraption, removed each one from her foot, taped it back together and stuffed it with plastic bags.

She marked the forms with the height she wanted the finished slippers to taken.

Then she started to lay small patches of wool roving onto the forms, gradually building up several layers of felt.  She massaged soapy water onto the slippers as they developed, wrapping them in nylon net so she could work them vigorously without the wool coming off into her hands.

Eventually she encased the slippers, still on the lasts, in bubble wrap, tied them tightly in a pair of old knee-high stockings, and put them in the dryer for one last round of heat and agitation.

Everybody there gathered around to see each step of the process.  We were impressed by how neat Cindy had managed to be while doing wet felting, with all the mess contained in a big plastic tub and a lot of old bath towels pressed into service to keep things dry.  And of course we all wanted a pair of slippers!