Quote of the Moment

"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye and more."

Walker Evans, American photographer.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Off The Wall Exhibit at the Danforth Museum

Yes, I know, I have lived in Framingham for 8 years and I had never been to the Danforth Museum! Well I remedied that on Thursday, June 24 when I went to see the Off the Wall & Community of Artists exhibits. The program for the exhibits states: " Each year our two concurrent juried exhibitions showcase artistic talent of emerging and established member artists. Off the Wall communicates the unique vision of our renowned guest jurors while Community of Artists provides a snapshot of some of the most exciting work done by artists living and working in New England." (The guest jurors this year were Jen Mergel, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the MFA Boston and Helen Molesworth, Chief Curator at the ICA Boston). All of the pieces by artists I know and the piece by an artist new to me that really got my attention are in the Community of Artists exhibit, so that exhibit is what is covered in this post.

I was prompted to visit this exhibit through an invitation from a friend, C-J Stevens, whose beautiful (and labor-intensive!) bead work pieces I last saw on display last fall at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in an exhibit called "Ten Thousand Hours". I've known C-J through another mutual friend for several years but had only seen some of her beaded jewelry work before (which is also fabulous), never the framed pieces. I was very impressed by the depth and beauty of her work. One of the pieces, titled Recession, is on view at the Danforth show. (Unfortunately, C-J doesn't have a website so I couldn't extract any examples of her work for the gallery on the Museums page. Someone needs to drag this girl into the digital age!)

I didn't realize until I got to the Danforth that there were several other artists in this show whose work I also know and admire. David Lang, who I know through C-J, has two of his kinetic sculptures on view, one of which is a favorite of mine that I had seen in his studio last fall. It's called The Day the Castinetti Sisters First Learned to Fly and it makes me smile every time I see it. It is similar to the example on the Museums gallery page but also has clam shells, which open and close to reveal pictures of women inside. The sculpture is motion-activated and it was fun to watch other people in the gallery who didn't know this start by being startled and then entranced by it. One family I saw spent several minutes at it, making sure they saw every aspect.

John Borchard has to be my favorite photographer and I was delighted to see a photograph of his in this exhibit as well. His work was introduced to me through an exhibit he did at the Wellesley Free Library a year or two ago. I signed the guestbook and included my email and subsequently learned that he and his wife, Marian Dioguardi, were having an opening in North Becket on the weekend I was in the Berkshires last summer. My intrepid friend Melinda and I searched out the North Becket Arts Center and had a chance to meet both artists and see their work. Nice people and wonderful art; I will be attending the SoWa First Friday event sometime this fall to see more. John's piece Island in the Fog, one of his smaller works, is at the Danforth (see Museums page for image). Marian is represented in the show by an oil entitled Simplicity: A Cup Study. I couldn't find that image on her webpage but did include an example of her work. I'm a big fan of Marian's paintings too; simple subjects rendered in brilliant colors that make you sit up and take notice.

I also "discovered" another artist whose work absolutely captivated me and I want to see more! Her name is Dido Diana Thayer and she paints in oil on Venetian plaster on panel. The piece in the Danforth show is called Listening Landscape and is done on two panels put together, one slightly larger than the other. (I couldn't find an image of this on her gallery's website (Soprafina Gallery) but I did find another example of her work to include). Her work shimmers and changes as you approach it, the way landscapes do on very hot or very foggy days - beautiful and intriguing.

Off the Wall & Community of Artists is definitely worth a trip to the Danforth; it runs until August 8th. The museum is closed for August and will reopen in September, when I intend to return to view the permanent collection (which goes into storage annually to make way for this exhibit). Don't forget to check out the adjacent Museums page for images. And yes, an ISG badge will get you into the Danforth.

Next up, a toddle to PEM..... !

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Trip to Newport: Marble House & The National Museum of American Illustration

Grab a cup of coffee, folks, this is a long one!

On Sunday, June 20th the Merry Toddlers (this time consisting of Carolyn, Vivian, Kristyne and I) took a day trip to Newport, RI. (We are called the Merry Toddlers because we like to take little art trips and we are always merry!). Our destinations this time were Marble House and Vernon Court, home of the National Museum of American Illustration. It was a beautiful day - a little overcast and foggy when we got to the coast, but not too hot and with a delightful breeze - and the drive took about an hour and a half and was very scenic with little traffic.

Marble House was our first stop. The "summer cottage" of Alva and William K. Vanderbilt, this opulent edifice by the sea only served as their summer home for about 3 years after it was built. (Subsequently Alva scandalously divorced her husband and a year later married his good friend. She was also a prime figure in the women's suffrage movement...but I digress! For further information I suggest you read Consuelo & Alva Vanderbilt: the Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda M. Stuart).

Aside from the regular furnishings on view there is currently a special exhibit of objects that originally comprised the furnishings of the Gothic Room but were subsequently sold by Alva V. and now reside in the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, FL. This exhibit is of special interest to fellow "Gardner Geeks;" Alva Vanderbilt acquired most of these works around the same time Isabella Stewart Gardner was collecting and there are some striking pieces that would also look quite at home in Fenway Court. I'm thinking particularly of a beautiful little terra cotta bust of the young John the Baptist and a couple of exquisite marble reliefs as well some cassone panels that we believe were loaned to the cassone exhibit at the Gardner a year or so ago. Interestingly, there is also a terra cotta bust here that is a fake by the same forger who passed one off on ISG!

The entire house is well worth seeing and the audio tour is excellent (and included with the price of admission). At the end of the tour there is a gallery of reproductions by Newport Reproductions that features copies of furniture and paintings from the era. (I lusted after the copy of a small seaside scene by Edward Darley Boit but I restrained myself. I hate restraining myself, it's very boring). There is also an excellent gift shop which has reproductions of the VOTES FOR WOMEN china that Alva designed for her suffrage activities among other things. (I was a little disappointed that there weren't more postcards of the interiors of Marble House but not a big deal).

After our tour we had a light lunch in the Chinese Tea House near the water. This is a garishly mad little building that reflects the fascination with Asia that was so fashionable during the period the house was built. The menu is pre-made and limited but not bad and the setting is fun.

After lunch we toddled down the street to the National Museum of American Illustration, housed in Vernon Court, a smaller but much more architecturally pleasing (to me) building. Vernon Court was designed by the same firm that designed the Frick and has been called the most beautiful house in Newport. The museum was opened ten years ago by Laurence and Judy Cutler; an architect and an art dealer specializing in American Illlustration. He is the CEO and she is the Director of the Museum and the collection is theirs which they have given to the museum. (I assume they also own Vernon Court but I'm not quite sure about this).

The collection is quite comprehensive and beautifully displayed on the ground floor of the house, with a further gallery in the basement for special exhibits. Being a Maxfield Parrish devotee, I was very happy here! I saw a couple of pieces which I am pretty sure I saw in the Parrish exhibit at the Currier Gallery back when I lived in Manchester, NH. Also on display in the light-filled garden loggia are several huge paintings that were commissioned for the "Girls Dining Room" at the Scribner publishing house in Philadelphia called "A Florentine Fete." I don't know what the "boys" had in their dining room but I'm pretty sure the girls got the best end of the deal! There are chairs arranged in the middle of the room and I could happily spend an entire afternoon moving from chair to chair and just drinking these paintings in. There is also an extensive collection of Norman Rockwell (the most outside of the Rockwell Museum) and quite a few N.C. Wyeths as well as many other artists.

This museum is only open on Friday afternoons for a guided tour and during the day on Saturday and Sunday. The staff is very nice but don't seem to be particularly knowledgeable about art - the young ladies at the entrance seemed to be college kids with a summer job. An audio tour would be a very helpful addition; also being able to go into the small library room at the beginning instead of standing at the doors would be nice as you can barely see some of the gems housed in this room. When I first read about this museum in Marshall's Art Museums Plus, it indicated that you could see the grounds as well but sadly now you cannot. The gardens seem as if they would be well worth seeing and there is some statuary I would have liked to have seen more of too. There is a very good introductory video about the collection that features one of the board members: Whoopi Goldberg, who is also a collector of American illustration!

At the end there is a very nice gift shop, although I would have liked more reproductions of pieces in the collection (as opposed to works by represented artists that are not here). The book selection was very good and I had to be quite severe with myself - I only purchased one small version of a catalog by the Cutlers, who have written fairly extensively about American illustration.

On the journey homeward (and on the way down too!) we were treated to special Swiss chocolate that Vivian's daughter had brought her and that she generously shared with us. All in all a wonderful day filled with friends, art and....chocolate! Check out the adjacent Museums page for some highlights from the exhibit and stay tuned for future photos of the "Merry Toddlers" on the road....

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stained Glass Exhibit at the Weston Library

I came here today to write and found a wonderful exhibit of stained glass by Weston resident Joseph Ferguson. The works are truly extraordinary: three dimensional, large, and intricate in design. I just looked at his website and Ferguson has shown at the DeCordova and at Chesterwood among numerous other venues. The exhibit has been up since May 15; I don't know how long it's expected to be here but it is truly worth a trip to see it. I just wish it was a sunny day so that I could see the light coming through the pieces! ... There is another exhibit in this library as well; another Weston artist, a painter named Xima Lee Hulings has an exhibit that was inspired by the reclusive Arkansas photographer Mike Disfarmer. Disfarmer worked between 1928-1959 and his photos are sepia portraits of local people. Huling paints people from the photographs in acrylic ink on paper covered in gold leaf. The effect is oddly medieval and interesting - kind of like portraits from the 40's laid on top of a Fra Angelico background.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my first blog post. My philosophy:

"You grave creatures never understand how much quicker the work goes with the assistance of nonsense and good meals." G.K. Chesterton

In this blog I plan to record my musings on trips to museums and other maunderings.