Before I get started on my museum musing, let me note that mine was the last post on this blog. And that was over a month ago. Is anyone out there interested in posting regularly or occasionally? This blog has been an important ingredient in my personal art education, so I should hate to see it fade away.
(Now I must also tell you that most of the images you will see in this post are not those I saw at the museum, but ones I scooped off the internet!)
Last week another art quilter (Glenys Mann of Tamworth, Australia) and I went to the recently opened Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. As you might imagine, this has gotten rather a lot of press here in Chicago. Not only is a major portion of the modern collection available for viewing and gathered together for the first time, the building itself is attracting a lot of attention. We entered from Millenium Park, itself a worthy attraction! I have no way of knowing the architectural significance of the building, but I can say it’s a pleasure to be in and look at art in: light, airy and spacious.
On the ground floor is a special exhibitions hall. I was happy to see the Cy Twombly exhibit (see a previous Ragged Cloth post on Twombly); all the work was new to me, but I felt like he was an old friend. I could go through quite quickly, knowing where in his oeuvre things occurred and how they connected, and just concentrate on paintings I was particularly drawn to. And this viewing, then, provided a context I hadn’t expected for the rest of my visit.
The sections we visited were divided into American Art 1945 – 1960, American Art 1960-present, and European Art 1945-present. As regular readers of RC know by now, I love Abstract Expressionism, so the 1945-1960 section was attractive to me. The Rothko, Newman and Pollock were very nice, but not my favorites, so I moved on. I was reminded that I don’t like de Kooning, Rothtenburg, or Kline, but maybe I’d like to learn more about Kline. As you know, I believe that it’s hard to like or even to look at with appreciation artists that one has no “way into.” And that’s how I feel about Kline. So perhaps further study will lead me to appreciate him more.
I was particularly drawn to Joan Mitchell’s City Landscape (below). It seems to represent the ganglion of a city’s nerves in the center of the painting which is vibrant and energetic and full of motion. Note to self: look at more Mitchell.
We then moved on to the more contemporary Americans. I was immediately struck by a fairly recent Jasper Johns encaustic piece whose name I did not remember to write down, although I sketched some parts of it and wrote extensive notes about it. It was a large painting, almost entirely gray, hinged on the side with parts of doors and a cord hanging down from it.
I was particularly impressed by the painting, which had shapes reflecting the shape of the cord, an actual shadow produced by the cord, and painted shadows. Reflections of reflections of reflections. I had never before been particularly interested in Johns, although I do remember wanting to see the Grey exhibit and not being able to. So now I shall have to investigate Jasper Johns more thoroughly.
Then I looked at some paintings by people I had never even heard of (which is not surprising as I know very little of the contemporary art scene) :
Ellen Gallagher Untitled 1999 , Mary Heilmann Heaven 2004, and Margherita Manzelli Dopo la fine 2008. (I remind you that these are not the images of the paintings I’m writing about.)
I was very intrigued by these three and spent quite some time taking notes on each of these artists’ works, vowing to look them up and see more work by them.
By the time I had found the David Hockney and the Gerhardt Richter, I was too tired to look more than cursorily. After all, I am a member of the museum and can come back and look whenever I want–how lucky am I?! And then my friend came back and insisted I look at the Joseph Cornell with her! And I adore Cornell, so off I went, glancing at Lucien Freund and Francis Bacon as I went (two I don’t like, important as I know they are. . . .).
After we had sat down and had something to eat, my friend and I were able to discuss what we had seen. And I started to think seriously of what the curator does and how it affects our vision of art in a museum. Why are certain paintings grouped together? We so rarely get to read why a curator makes the decisions he/she makes. If I am in a room with 4 or 6 or 10 artists, loosely associated in time, and my knowledge of art history is weak, then what do I learn by the association? I have to be very, very attentive to make out the connections (assuming the curator is a good one and there are connections other than simple chronology), unless I have prior knowledge of a group or a period. I have realized that I really prefer to see a large body of one artist’s work at a time so that I can educate myself, make observations and connections, and get a feel for what the artists is doing over a period of time. But a large collection, like that of the Art Institute, is great for introducing me to the myriad of artists I have not seen before, or showing me a side of someone I had previously rejected, or revealing to me themes or ideas or commonalities I had been previously unaware of among a group I know something about (our old friends the Abstract Expressionists, of course!).
I wonder if your recent viewing experiences at museums have been at all similar to mine?