Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

Thomas Charles Farrer (British, 1839-1892)
Mount Holyoke, oil on canvas, 1865.
My youngest brother is now living in Holyoke Mass, about an hour and a half from my home in Hudson, so I am exploring the very fine small college museums there. That area, Northampton, Easthampton, Holyoke, Springfield, has a number of colleges and a few good small museums. I am looking forward to getting to know more about them and the area. I am starting with the Mt. Holyoke College Art Museum, which has a small but very satisfying collection. Above is a view of Mt. Holyoke painted by a British painter, and it captures the beauty of the landscape in that area. I happen to like this painting a lot, even though there are others of the same scene that are larger, as it reminds me of the luminist painters from the Hudson River School; it is remniscent of Kensett. And of course it is beautifully painted and polished in its execution.

Statuette of a Youth, Greek, early Classical, ca 470 B.C.
Bronze, cast and incised, Height: 9 inches.
This bronze statuette is the star of the collection in my eyes, I have known it since my early days of learning about ancient art; it has been included in a number of important exhibitions of ancient Greek bronzes and published many times. It is a Severe Period Greek statuette, a short moment between Archaic and Classical that lasted maybe 50 years, if that. It is characturized by the serious mein of the figure, and simplicity and severity of ornament, the way the garments drape, etc. So while a modest object in size, this bronze is very rare and quite important.

Head of a woman, Greek, Late Hellenistic, ca 200 B.C.
Marble, Height: apr 8 inches.

I could not this charming ideal head, typical in the soft carving and idealistic treatment of original Greek sculpture from the Hellenistic period. It is from a statue made of parts, the head and possibly the hands an feet being carved of high grade white marble, the body in limestone or lower grade marble. This is typical of sculpture from South Italy where marble was imported, they used it sparingly. You can tell this by the cut off at the neck, which was shaped to fit into a socket in the body, usually draped torso, with the drapery hiding the join. It is hard to know who is depicted, it could be a goddess, or a royal figure, the filet she wears in her hair was reserved for royalty, or gods.

Ideal head of a Woman, Ellie Nadelman, ca. 1910-1911
White marble, about 20 inches tall.
Ellie Nadelman is one of my favorite American sculptures. He was active in the first part of the 20th Century living from 1882-1946. He is best known for his wood figures of men and women, a few of which are at the Metropolitan Museum, but he did a series of ideal heads, and it follows on the Greek head I feature before. He was looking to classical antiquity for his inspiration and yet enfused this ideal type with the spirit of his age, the sharpness of the nose here, the small closed mouth, are very much the ideal of his time, not that of antiquity. But the softness of the carving with smooth transitions is very much like that of Greek sculpture.

The Holy Family, School of Joos van Cleve (Flemish, 1485-1540)
Oil on Canvas.
I thought this one of the most beautiful things I saw at the Holyoke College Museum. I always like Flemish Renaissance paintings, and this is a beautiful example, it is exquisitely painted with incredible detail, it has a sense of vista, you have the gorgeous cloth of honor behind Mary, and the view of houses, cliffs, water and mountains beyond. And like so many Flemish paintings the iconography is a bit mysterious, what is the man doing, he looks like he is feeding baby Jesus porridge. Perhaps he is. Given the splendor of Mary's raimnent, Joseph looks out of place, like a poor priest. It is a very satisfying gem of a painting, on loan to the museum; I hope it is gifted to them, it really adds to the collection.

Hetch Hetchy Canyon, by Albert Bierstadt, 1875
oil on canvas.

This beautiful luminist painting is a gem of a Bierstadt, it has the qualities of his best works, and is of a respectable size, in other words, it is a really good example of his work. Being one of Americas greatest lanscape painters, he was the heir to Thomas Cole and Church, and while he painted mostly in the West, he can be considered a member of the Hudson River School of painters. This is a view of a canyon quite close to the Yosemite, one of his favorite places to paint. I googled Hetch Hetchy Canyon and found out that this painting marked the founding of Mt. Holyoke College Museum of Art, it was purchased a year after it was painted. It shows vision on the part of the donors, a Mrs. A.L. Williston and Mrs. E. H. Sawyer. I also learned that this canyon was dammed up to provide water to San Fransisco, and that there is a group arguing for the restoration of the canyon to its natural state. It was described by John Muir, "Hetch Hetchy Valley is a grand lanscape garden, one of Nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples."

There are many other notable works at this very fine small museum, and if you are in that part of Massachusetts, you owe yourself a trip to it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Montreal MFA, and decorative arts

view of the decorative arts galleries at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

One thing I really enjoyed about the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, was its emphasise on objects, from ancient, to African to 20th Century design. While not a huge museum or collections, they really make an effort to be inclusive of all expressions of design and art. For anyone planning a trip to Montreal, the Museum of Fine Arts is a must see for lots of reasons, this being just another one.
Here is another view of the decorative arts galleries.

Another view of the galleries, showing my personal favorite, not necessarily the prettiest of the bunch, but close to my heart; the original Macintosh computer at the top, ca. 1984. Having become a Mac convert in the past four years now, I love my mac, and enjoyed seeing the original one. I remember them when they came out, computers in general were sort of exotic and Macintosh computers stood out for their simplicity of design and utility, and of course, the graphic interface, which we now take for granted on every platform.

The Artemis again

After that spectacular sale at Sotheby's this last summer, the bronze statue of Artemis de-accessioned by the Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY, has reappeared; at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, on loan anonymously. I was quite happy to see her again, on my own home turf, rather than having to travel to see her. Still no real clue as to who bought her and now owns her, but at least she is available to the public. There is a difference seeing something at a museum rather than at an auction house; here she was in the company of many other great things, and still she stands out as something noteworthy and special.
I look forward to getting to know her better by repeated viewings, which is how I see things best.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Strangest thing I saw at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Old Enemy, New Victim, by Tony Matalli, 2006
Latex resin, hair.

This has to be a mistake, I find it hard to believe that this museum feels the need, like so many today, to buy bad contemporary art. This sculpture is so weird, extremely well made, very naturalistic in a Madam Tussauds sort of way. I mean at least there is skill and craft involved, but to what end? What a stupid obvious allegory, the skinny chimp strangling the fat one; compelling visually, but just too trite. But perhaps my strong reaction is in part because this is exactly how I feel when going to Walmart; it is all I can do to keep myself from wringing the necks of the obese people there! (Just kidding, like I'm so skinny myself.)

One good thing is the installation, rather than being safely quarantined with other terrible contemporary art, it is in a gallery full of beautiful paintings, and is a strange but very interesting, juxtaposition.

Friday, January 11, 2008

African Art and the Cirque du Soleil

Ceremonial mask from the Lower Zaire Region in the Congo, Vili-Yombe tribe, 19th-20th Century.
Wood, pigments and animal skin.
Collection of Cirque du Soleil.

Unexpectedly, on exploring the wonderful Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, I came across a superb small exhibit of African art culled from the collection of the museum, with additions from other collections in Montreal, many of them from the Cirque de Soleil collection. While not an obvious connection, when you look at the sculptures, you can see how they had influenced the imagery that Cirque employs.

I love the Cirque de Soleil, I first saw one of their shows in NYC, years ago, and have vivid memories of it, and made a point of going to Saltimbanco while I was in Montreal. It is wonderful entertainment, with music, movement, incredible acrobatics with terrifying high wire acts and juggling, percussion artists. And beautiful visuals, including two male acrobats who use each other as props to do these amazing positions, erotic and beautiful at the same time. So to see the art that inspired much of the imagery in the show was great. I have enormous respect for Guy Laliberte, who founded Cirque and remains very involved in it. He started buying museum quality works about ten years ago, many from old historic collections, and the pieces are exquisitely beautiful. He loaned 36 objects from his collection to this installation with other objects from the Redpath Museum, which is affiliated with McGill University, and the balance from the Montreal Museum's own collection.

Ceremonial mask, Mbuya, Congo, Tshikopa region, Wester Pende.
19-20th Century, Wood, pigment, and black cords.
Collection of Cirque du Soleil.

Dance Mask: Mwana Pwo
Southern Kasai region, the Congo, Chokwe tribe.
19th - 20th Century, Wood, vegetable fibres, pigments.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

With these galleries of African Art, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts adds depth to the experience of their museum, it is wonderful be able to see such a range of art, the people of Montreal are lucky to have this visual resource to go to. Visit their website for more information on this exhibition and the museum: