Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Best art blockbuster shows I have seen

I have not updated this blog as much as I would like.  I have written a piece of my next sestina, but the paper I wrote it on appears to be in another bag.  I may write about some very bold panhandler I encountered yesterday, but I will probably let it pass.  I could write about an exciting job opportunity, but will hold off on that.  Now I do plan to write about this ridiculously pompous (yet youngish) academic I ran into at my panel at the Urban Affairs Association meeting, but perhaps that can wait for tomorrow.

I let my membership at the Art Institute of Chicago expire (as I don't expect I will be able to use it enough to justify the cost).  So I did go over on Thurs. and then took my son on Sunday to soak the whole thing in, as I will certainly be going less in the future. 

They had a nice special exhibit on early French art, though this isn't really that much too my taste, aside from a really beautiful alterpiece (didn't like it enough to buy the $35 catalogue, however).  So I thought I would try to cast my mind back to the best of the "blockbuster" art exhibits I've seen over the years.  This will definitely change with time, as I remember more I attended.  I'll be sorting them roughly with my top favorites at the top (natch).  Probably worth noting that I was simply too young and not in New York at the time for the first blockbuster Picasso show at the MoMA in 1980 (that kind of started this trend along with the King Tut exhibit in 1977 -- to which I was definitely too young to be brought) and not yet in the region for MoMA's High/Low show (in 1990).

Matisse show at MoMA (1992) -- only art exhibit I've been to where there were scalpers involved
Matisse Picasso -- MoMA Queens (2002)
Max Beckmann - MoMA Queens (2003) -- I actually scheduled a worktrip to NYC to make this show -- it was definitely worth it
Cezanne and Beyond - Philadelphia (2009) -- I honestly can't remember how I got away for this show, but I did.
Abstract Expressionism show at MoMA (2011)
Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde -- Art Institute Chicago (2006)
Monet to Matisse: Painting the Modern Garden -- Cleveland Museum of Art (2015) -- I managed to sneak away to this show before all the tickets sold out in the final weeks.
Cézanne in Provence - Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence (2006) -- actually a smallish exhibit but seeing it in Aix made it special indeed
Highlights from Barnes Collection seen in Toronto and the National Gallery, DC (1993-4)
Caillebotte exhibit - Art Institute Chicago (1995)
Jeff Wall saw at Tate Modern and Art Institute Chicago (2007)
Picasso and American Art - Whitney (2007)
Picasso and British Art -National Gallery of Scotland,  Edinburgh (2012) Honestly, the British artists in the show did not compare that well to Picasso and generally seemed kind of second-rate.  I don't recall feeling that way at the Whitney show, but it was  still very cool to be checking out a show in Edinburgh.
Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction - Tate Modern (2006) -- certainly an impressive exhibition
Kandinsky: Compositions - MoMA (1995) -- a more focused show but quite nice
James Rosenquist: A Retrospective - Guggenheim (2004) the best show I've seen at the Guggenheim, though Picasso in Black and White (2012) was also a good show.
James Rosenquist: Time Dust, Complete Graphics: 1962-1992 (1995) an impressive show in a small museum in Madison, WI. One of those things I just stumbled across, making it a bit more special.
Robert Rauschenberg: Combines - Metropolitan Museum (2006) -- seeing these all in one place and in person definitely gave them extra "presence" and made them more interesting
Edward Hopper - Whitney (2006) -- set off a series of current Hopper retrospectives
Frida Kahlo - Tate Modern (2005)
Mexican Modernism and the Art of Gunther Gerzso, Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Chicago (2004) -- kind of special since it was such a surprisingly good exhibit at a very obscure museum about a subject (Mexican modernism) I knew nothing about.  Really liked a number of the Gerzso pieces.
Georgia O'Keeffe: Arts and Letters - Art Institute of Chicago (1988) -- My family traveled to Chicago for this, mostly because my mom wanted to see it.  Even though it was only a few years before the Matisse show, my memories of it are definitely more vague, though I certainly recall enjoying it and doubling back to see the paintings a second time.

I suppose I am getting ahead of myself a little, but I am planning on heading to New York in the summer of 2016 to see a Stuart Davis exhibit, which I'm confident will make this list.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Famous Last Works

This may become a running feature.  While there has been a cottage industry in books about the last words of various authors, artists, political figures and celebrities, I am more interested in their final works of art.

I would group them roughly into the following categories:

  • Accidental last work -- the last work, particularly of a film maker, that would normally only be considered a mid-career film but is credited with transcendental meaning because of the sudden death of the artist.  Intimations of mortality are often read back into poets' work as well, and here I am thinking of Ted Berrigan's Sonnets.
  • Summary work -- a film that was completed late in an artist's career and one in which he or she did seem to be trying to synthesize and/or recap a large body of work.  Kurosawa's Madadayo serves as a kind of summary film, though one could argue that Rhapsody in August or particularly Dreams would have been even more apt as a final career note (proving that Kurosawa was more prepared than most).
       Joseph Heller's Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man would seem to fall into the category as well, particularly as it was completed before Heller's death but then published posthumously.

  • Staring death in the face work -- these are particularly interesting and come from middle aged artists and writers who have become very aware of their mortality (often due to the onset of cancer).  One work that fits this category to a T is Tony Judt's memoir The Memory Chalet, which was actually dictated to an assistant as he was dying due to complications from ALS.  I will definitely be discussing The Memory Chalet and some of Judt's other late work in future posts.
       Many of Dennis Potter's works were written while staring death in the face, and indeed, many comment about this in a meta-theatrical way.  His final, final works were the scripts for the television min-series Karaoke and Cold Lazarus (starring Albert Finney, who is in a late career stage of his own).  I have not seen either, but will attempt to in the near future.  The scripts themselves are readily available.
  • Indian Summer work -- a subset of the staring death in the face work.  These works come about when an artist or writer has been deathly ill but gains enough energy to complete one last, often short, valedictory work.  The two that come to mind most readily are Carol Shield's Unless and Meteor in the Madhouse by Leon Forrest, though my understanding is that the executors had to make some decisions about the Forrest work, since it wasn't 100% complete.
Which leads me to the thorny issue of posthumously completed works
  • Desk drawer novels
  • All but finished last novels
  • Unfinished work, sometimes wrestled into shape by executor
  • Completed by committee/hired gun
The first doesn't hold too much interest, from this admittedly narrow perspective.  The last doesn't either (such as the latest attempt to complete Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood).  The second category is probably the most interesting in terms of revealing anything about the author (and I would think Forrest's work probably does fall here).  The third is primarily interesting for editorial decisions.  One of the more famous examples is Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth, which 10 years later was published as Three Days Before the Shooting that was three times as long (1100+ pages!) as Juneteenth.  Hard to believe that anyone but the hardest core English lit. major would find it worth tackling that -- or that it should signify anything more than Ellison's crippling fear he would never be able to follow up upon the success of Invisible Man.  My understanding is that Ellison wrote and wrote and wrote but never really found his way in this second novel, and the editors hacked away to make it somewhat digestible.

Another recent interesting case where the editor had to take the exactly opposite case is Nabokov's The Original of Laura where the "book" is literally composed of reproductions of the notecards Nabokov was using to work up the skeleton of the novel right before his death.  No one was brought in to flesh this out (perhaps impossible to even attempt to imitate his style) and the result is really less than a working draft.  If I had to choose between the two, I'd rather read Ellison's overstuffed unfinished novel than a series of notecards.  I suspect I won't ever read either all the way through.

As I read through more of these other, actually completed final works, I will have a few things to say about each, and of course I'll want to keep adding to this list in progress.

Update (10/11/2015): I have been reading the new translations of Clarice Lispector's work.  Her last novel, A Breath of Life falls into this category of a final editor needing to shape the scraps she had written into a book.  Perhaps not quite as extreme as The Original of Laura, since the text was written out, i.e. it wasn't just a glorified outline of a novel, but it's hard to tell if this is really what Lispector would have wanted.  I really am not enjoying this, but then again, I also strongly disliked Água Viva, which is similar in style to A Breath of Life, though it is not her last proper novel (which is The Hour of the Star).  Reading these two in quick succession is basically enough to put me off her for a long time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lists - Museums

In some notebook, I have a list of the top museums in the world, based on my personal taste, which coincides with a preference for "modern Masters," essentially the tail end of Impressionism through Abstract Expressionism with some Pop Art thrown in for good measure. On the whole, I am unimpressed with contemporary art, though there are always some exceptions, particularly for current artists who display at least some evidence of craft, rather than a reliance on conceptual art. Anyway, these are museums I've really enjoyed, and in some cases have been able to return to again and again.

1. MoMA (NYC)
2. Musée d'Orsay (Paris)
3. The Hermitage (St. Petersburg)*
4. Metropolitan Museum (NYC)
5. Museo del Prado (Madrid) (On top of the Goyas and El Grecos and Velázquezes one might expect, they have many of the most important Hieronymous Bosch panels. I will simply have to find a way to go back some day.)
6. Tate Modern (London)
7. National Gallery (London)
8. Louvre (Paris)
9. Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid) (Can one rank a museum this high just for one painting (Guernica)? -- well I guess I just did)
10. Art Institute of Chicago
11. Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) (I would probably have ranked this higher but it was always under construction when I visited. Still has an stunning collection of Rembrandts and Vermeers.)
12. National Gallery of Art (DC)
13. Philadelphia Museum of Art
14. Museum of Fine Arts (Boston)
15. Courtauld Gallery (London)

* This is cheating a bit, since it is the only one I have not visited in person, but I have seen traveling exhibits drawn from the Hermitage as well as several catalogues. This is basically the only museum remaining on my "bucket list," except perhaps also the Uffizi, though honestly I can't see visiting Russia until Putin is out of the picture and perhaps not even then, depending on what happens after him.

It will take me a while to rank the next 15-20. I should note both Berlin and Vienna are great art cities collectively, but the individual museums were not in the top 10, mostly because I do have a preference for seeing at least some early 20th C. art mixed in with the older European Masters.

Honorable mention (for now):
Centre Pompidou (Paris)
Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
AGO (Toronto)
Tate Britain (London)
Whitney Museum (NYC)
St. Louis Art Museum (world's largest Max Beckmann collection!)
Guggenheim (NYC)
The Belvedere Museum (Vienna) (home to a major collection of Klimts)
Museum of Fine Arts (Vienna)
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Madrid)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis)
Cleveland Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
J. Paul Getty Museum (LA)
Hirschhorn Museum (DC)
Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam)
Milwaukee Art Museum
Alte Nationalgalerie (Berlin)
Pergamon Museum (Berlin) (far more of an archeological museum like the British Museum, but some amazing holdings)
British Museum (London)
Victoria & Albert Museum (London)
Phillips Collection (DC)
Corcoran Gallery of Art (DC)
Frick Collection (NYC)
Manchester Art Gallery
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston)
High Museum (Atlanta)
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (Copenhagen) (This would have been ranked higher, but virtually all the of French impressionist and Post-impressionist works were hidden away due to renovations on my one and only visit. So sad.)

Rome's modern art museum was indeed fairly disappointing, and the Italian art on display in various villas and museums was fantastic, though not quite a perfect fit to my preferences. However, actually visiting the Vatican Museum was truly a once in a lifetime experience, and I'm so glad I went.

If I do make it to Florence one of these days, there is a reasonable chance that the Uffizi would crack the top 15, despite not having any modern art, much like the Louvre.

I just realized that I left out the Philadelphia Museum of Art with its major collection of cubist art. Whoops! I'll probably have to get that in there in the top 15, and maybe bump AGO down (done). Hmm. I've never seen the full Barnes Collection, though I saw the highlights when that was on tour. If the collection does end up opening down the street from the Philadelphia Museum, then I'll certainly make the trip. (For a very one-sided take on this issue, check out The Art of the Steal.) The Barnes Collection probably wouldn't quite crack the top 15, but would probably fall between 16-20 based on what I have seen of it.

After their recent expansions, the St. Louis Art Museum is very near to cracking the top 15 and the Cleveland Museum of Art is pretty close to the top 25 as well, though I might change my mind again after another tour of Europe...


I really like lists, except those that make me feel a bit bad, like lists of things I still haven't accomplished. 

If I can figure it out, I will probably put the lists in their own separate section.

For now, let me put together a list of quasi-academic topics that probably could be turned into papers, but given my career trajectory I won't bother with, but instead will just muse about in this blog:
  • non-events (outcomes that are widely predicted to come to pass but don't for one reason or another)
  • a comparison of two such non-events - the (non)-construction of the Westway in Manhattan and the unbuilt Crosstown in Chicago
  • impacts of casinos at the regional level
  • an systematic approach to studying regions
  • the informality of African suburbs
  • a somewhat jaundiced view of the state of academia