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Museums - 2016

1. I thoroughly enjoy going to museums and try to visit them as often as possible. I always visit the local museums when traveling to another state or country. I recently made trips to several museums and galleries but chose to focus on artwork from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. MOMA initially opened 86 years ago in 1929, shortly after the Wall Street Crash. This museum was the brainchild of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and two of her friends. The Museum started in a modest building on East 57th Street, and gradually expanded to its current size of 630,000 square feet. The holdings are diverse which include a massive library, sculpture garden, photography, and film. But, the primary focus has always been modern art; prominently displaying the modern masters on the fifth floor- my favorite section. Modern masters include artists such as Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Gris, and Cezanne spanning the years from 1880 to 1940. Approximately 3.1 million visitors attend each year, and I could visit this museum daily!

2. My most recent visit to MOMA was really fun- I went with my nieces and nephews who were visiting from Washington state. I was overjoyed when I discovered that NYU students receive free admission! Sometimes it's the little things in life that make your day. "Starry Night" by Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh is on permanent display at the Museum, and there were crowds of people gathering around to view it close up and take selfies. It reminded me of trying to get a close look at the Mona Lisa at The Louvre but there were so many people and the painting is tiny in person. Luckily "Starry Night" is an adequate size, and my niece really wanted a photo with the work of art, so we waited for the crowds to subside. MOMA is one of my favorite museums- I find it similar to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, with its wonderful collection of contemporary paintings. I think The Louvre is more analogous to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and then there is the Rijksmuseum in a class all by itself- another one of my favorites. I am also impressed by the new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District - the collection of Frank Stella's work is extraordinary. Miami had a tremendous opportunity to excel with their new Perez Art Museum, but I found it lacking in any significant artworks. Additionally, they chose a Swiss architect to design this museum whereas I feel they should have used someone of Latin descent. There is also a new museum in Aspen, Colorado with their controversial opening exhibit of live turtles on the roof deck- with iPads strapped to their backs! This received an inordinate amount of negative publicly until finally a petition was signed and the turtles were sent back to their natural habitat - sans iPad. I also have a story about the Gauguin Museum in Papeete, Tahiti. We drove and drove the long winding roads to experience the Paul Gauguin artwork in their place of origin. Astonishingly, there was not a single Gauguin painting- only photos of the famous artwork in various museums around the world. Oddly, there was a large, unique Bernard Buffet oil on canvas displayed. My husband and I now call this the Gauguin-less Museum. So that's my brief critique of a few museums around the word.

3. I was playing New York City Tourist during the month of August. I had read our syllabus and noticed the Museum Assignment and knew I needed to choose two artworks to compare and contrast. This actually made the tour even more interesting.

I chose two highly prolific artists for this assignment, each with a distinct style and very influential during their lifetime and beyond.

Russian-French artist, Marc Chagall painted "I and the Village" in 1911, the year after he moved to Paris. The painting depicts memories of his quaint hometown near Vitebsk, which borders Latvia and Lithuania. Chagall is famous for his dream-like paintings that make the viewer feel they are seeing an alternate reality. The floating characters and unusual mixture of animals, people, clouds, and sun enhance the trance-like feeling. There is a lot of symbolism in this brightly, colored work that somehow manages to appear soft at the same time. In Chagall's native village animals lived side by side with the people. Animals were viewed as humanity's link to the universe. This is why Chagall painted a pretty cow with big bright eyes looking face to face with a person.

This work is characterized as cubism because it was painted during the cubist period. When comparing this style to other works by Chagall, it is apparent he is consciously trying to use this abstract technique. The Museum description calls this, "Chagall's personalized version" of Cubism. Marc Chagall famously stated, "For the Cubists, a painting was a surface covered with forms in a certain order. For me, a painting is a surface covered with representations of thingsā€¦ in which logic and illustration have no importance." This poignant quote tells me that Chagall is his own person and not one to follow the crowd. Yet, he wanted to incorporate this popular style in this magical, rural fairy tale work of art.

Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso is renowned for his definitive cubist work, but I chose "Girl Before a Mirror." A stunning oil on canvas painted in 1932, during the cubism period but not fundamentally cubist in style. Especially when compared to something like "Three Musicians" from 1921, which is distinctly cubist because of the use of square shapes and abstract figures. Cubism is described as an innovative or avant-garde art movement during the 20th century in Europe. When thinking of cubist works most people think of art with geometric shapes somehow depicting a person or other subject matter. "Girl Before a Mirror" is unique because the only square, geometrical shapes are in the background.

When I initially viewed this work, I interpreted it as a girl looking in a mirror with body dysmorphia. The image on the left is bright and pretty, whereas the image on the right is darker. The image on the right is how the girl perceives herself with dingy colored hair, a bigger nose, and rolls on her stomach. Basically, the way all women view themselves when looking in a mirror. My niece was viewing the painting with me, so, of course, I pointed this out because I know young girls are prone to unfairly criticizing themselves.

"Girl Before a Mirror" is actually a painting of Picasso's young mistress Marie-Therese Walter. The Museum of Modern Art description suggests that the light and dark images are the day and night versions of the muse. Tranquility versus vitality and the "transition from an innocent girl to worldly woman aware of her own sexuality." The MOMA description also postulates the young mistress could be pondering her future and her fate.

When comparing the two iconic paintings, it is evident that both artists are supremely talented. Their use of color is quite similar whereas their lines are distinctly different. Picasso's work is bold, yet there is always a hidden meaning. Chagall's lines are softer and he doesn't pretend not to have alternate definitions within his masterpieces.

Chagall and Picasso are two of the greatest painters during the past century and were actually friends in real life. They were both expatriates living in France and respected each other until a fateful dinner in 1964 when too much wine was consumed. Picasso continued to be complimentary when speaking publicly about his fellow painter. But, Chagall held a grudge and famously told Francoise Gilot, "What a genius, that Picasso. It's a pity he doesn't paint."

I love both of these artists and I am particularly fond of their use of paint- it is not too heavy with surfaces that are smooth. I have never been a fan of thick globs of paint such as Jackson Pollack or the presently popular Mel Bochner; although his sayings are entertaining.

Mainly I chose these two works of art because they are truly beautiful in my opinion. I love bright, happy, colorful paintings with a pleasant subject matter. This reminds me of a friend of mine who has a very famous Rothko. During a dinner party one evening with the bold artwork prominently displayed in his dining room- the gentleman kept saying he was depressed and not happy, etc., etc. I said, "M, you must change your artwork, I think that Rothko is depressing you! At least exchange it for the bright orange and red one instead of gray and black." I think our surroundings have an unyielding influence on our mood; even if we don't realize it is having a strong effect either adversely or positively. This is why I always recommend purchasing art that you truly love. It must make you feel good because you have to live with it every day.

 

 

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