Sunday, January 22, 2012

Winter Exhibitions 2012

I've been M.I.A. for the past few weeks dealing with everything from a stomach virus to real estate drama, work stress, and writing projects I've needed to catch up on. But it hasn't all been bad. I've had a few opportunities to see a exhibitions since Winter began (we had a bit of snow today, but not enough to warrant a first snowstorm post). Last weekend it was all about Brooklyn Museum. I had gone to see Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties with DC soon after it opened, and I thought it was an excellent show, so I was delighted to return with a few other friends and see it again. Encompassing 140 works, the show introduces you to new artists and works you've never seen before, then pairs them old standards that take on new life seen from this 1920s-only perspective. When I first wrote about going to see this show, I used the Luigi Lucioni portrait of Paul Cadmus as my image, but this time around I thought I'd show from the exhibition this beautiful photograph of the actress Gloria Swanson by Nickolas Murray (image: George Eastman House, Rochester). According to the curators, positioning her arms in this way became a 1920s trope of feminine beauty: "A beautiful woman’s depth was to represent her holding her face, masklike, in her hands, as if to signal the simultaneous acts of self-invention and containment." In addition to mixing paintings, sculptures, and photographs, I love that the show focuses on portraiture and the body, although there is an entire room devoted to abstraction and the urban environment. Even the section on still lifes is fascinating. Who knew that grouping paintings of calla lilies by artists as diverse as George O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and others, and then mirroring them with a Grant Wood portrait of an old woman holding a cactus, could provide to be such a fascinating cross-section of art from one decade? The show closes this weekend and travels, but I'm determined to buy the exhibition catalogue, the show was that good.

We also saw HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, the gay/lesbian art exhibition, which I had first seen in Washington, D.C. with RL back in December 2010. Now, I know I should be supportive of this exhibition. After all, it is the very first show to focus on gay/lesbian art by a major museum (National Portrait Gallery and now Brooklyn Museum). And of course I do support it from a social-historical perspective. It is important and it is ground-breaking, even if there had not been any controversy over the inclusion of David Wojnarowicz's video A Fire in My Belly. There are a number of works in the show that are interesting and worth seeing, like the earliest work you see here, a photograph of the poet Walt Whitman by the painter Thomas Eakins (image: NPG). Whitman became a champion of male-male love with his poems in Leaves of Grass (1855) and was known to have a longtime lover named Peter Doyle. And yet, as I went through the exhibition (again), I found myself often questioning why other works were even in the show. For instance, why include George O'Keeffe? The wall text talks about the sexual imagery inherent in her flower paintings, but then notes that she often denied it. What does this have to do with gay/lesbian art? O'Keeffe was not a lesbian, so presumably the implication is that this is about sexual identities, not gay/lesbian identities? But it doesn't say that. And the concept of "portraiture" is really stretched here, which typically isn't a problem, but it's not defined up-front for audiences, so I feel like people don't necessarily understand this is more about gay/lesbian identities then specifically pictures of gay/lesbian artists or sitters. My lesbian couple friends told me they didn't think there were even any women artists in the show because all the promotional material seemed to focus so much on men. That was surprising to hear, but definitely a noteworthy point. There are women artists and subjects in the show, but they are minimal. What was interesting is that Youth and Beauty actually seemed to have a greater celebration of the gay/lesbian subcultures of the 1920s than HIDE/SEEK did. So the exhibition is worth seeing for certain, but it may leave you with more questions than answers.

Over at The Met, I've finally been able to get to see some of the current exhibitions. Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine will leave you chuckling aloud, showing that we've always had a sense of humor for hundreds of years now. The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini is an impressive grouping of paintings, drawings, and sculptures from the 15th to early 16th centuries. The room dedicated to the de' Medici family is excellent, and the busts by Mino da Fiesole are absolutely brilliant. The new galleries for paintings and sculpture in the American Wing also just opened, and they really are beautiful. The New York Times published a press preview by Carol Vogel and a great review by Holland Cotter, who with his usual flair describes them as "sensational." The highlight of the galleries is Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, an enormous picture that has been restored and newly framed, but let's face it, we're most excited to see John Singer Sargent's Madame X, 1883-84, is back and hanging proud (image: Met).

I still have to get over to see the Met's Victorian electrotype sculpture show, which I hear is very interesting. At the end of February, their spring blockbuster The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and Parisian Avant-Garde opens. Supposedly it will include at least one recreation of Gertrude Stein's home in Paris, which should be great to see. Tomorrow, I'm making a point to head to the Guggenheim to see Maurizio Cattelan: All before that show closes, although I'm sure I'll have to fight through the crowds to get in, it has been so popular. I missed the Museum of Modern Art's show on Willem de Kooning, which I hear was great, but I'm really excited to see their upcoming retrospective on photographer Cindy Sherman, which also opens in February. Considering how cold it is these days, it's always pleasant to think there's good art show to look at and keep you warm.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012!

Is it really 2012? Someone needs to tell Father Time to slow down! The weather here in NYC is surprisingly mild, pushing into the 50s today, although we are expecting a cold snap with highs in the 20s on Tuesday. Since I've been recovering from another sinus infection and feeling perpetually exhausted, I decided to lay low last night. I wound up watching the 1934 film It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, which was surprisingly racy for the time, with blatant sexual innuendos and flashes of bare flesh. The film itself was okay, but it wasn't easy listening to all that misogyny, as if constantly belittling a woman was a sure way to win her heart.

For the past few years, I've been redesigning the look of bklynbiblio on New Year's, and today is no exception. A few months ago Google introduced some new templates, but despite their sleek looks and functionality, none of them worked for me. Since I believe the look of the blog shouldn't overwhelm the posts themselves, I've gone for a more streamlined look for easier reading. (If you read these posts by email or RSS, go to to see it live.) So here's to another year of blogging. Happy 2012!