Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Category: High Art

Six New York Museums And What They Are Good For

The Wilbour Plaque, from the Egyptian Collection at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Good For Actually Learning About Art:

The Brooklyn Museum

While other museums throw piles of art objects behind glass cases with cards that say things like, “Amphora, Corinth, 4th century BCE”, the Brooklyn Museum takes a more down to earth approach. The curators don’t assume that, by virtue of wandering into an art gallery, you must already know what you’re looking at. Instead they tell you what’s up in plain language, often answering questions you didn’t entirely know how to ask.

Venus and the Lute Player, by Titian. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Good For Drowning In Beauty:

The Metropolitan Museum

It’s often difficult to know what, exactly, you’re looking at, and don’t even TRY to see the whole place in one day (or even one lifetime). But the thing about the Metropolitan Museum is that no matter how you approach it or what’s on display, you will always see something that leaves your jaw hanging somewhere around your knees. The collection is just so rich there’s no way to take a wrong turn down a boring hallway full of fusty old junk. The Met doesn’t have any of that.

The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. In the collection of the Cloisters.

Good For Time Travel:

A tie between The Cloisters and The Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Maybe you came to New York because you want to see what being a “true New Yorker” is really like. Maybe you are a “true New Yorker”, and you just want to run away to medieval France for the afternoon. Manhattan can do that. And that. The Cloisters is an actual monastery, shipped here brick by brick from France by the Rockefellers, plopped down in a bucolic and period-accurate hilltop garden, and turned into a medieval art museum. The Tenement Museum is an actual tenement, restored to multiple layers of period-accuracy so that you can wander through on guided tours and see what life was like on the Lower East Side from the 1850’s through the 1970’s. They are two of my favorite places in the world.

Henry Clay Frick didn't have a Rembrandt. He had three motherfuckin' Rembrandts. Photo by Ozier Muhamad, via the New York Times.

Good For Pretending To Be New York Royalty:

The Frick Collection

After you’ve had your fill of the Lower East Side, come uptown and see how the rich capitalist fat cats lived. While the Frick Collection is a proper museum with a straight up ridiculous collection of important European art (Vermeers, y’all), a lot of the rooms have been left relatively untouched, with unobstructed views of Fifth Avenue and Central Park. Making it very easy to stroll amid the velvet couches and gilded clocks as if you, too, were to the manor born. But without all that oppressing the working classes.

Interior of the Guggenheim Museum, photo via shafe.co.uk.

Good For Digging Deeper And Rollerskates:

The Guggenheim

When the Guggenheim is good, it’s amazing. Since the spiral main space is usually treated as one long ramp of a gallery, the curators have become experts in presenting exhibitions that suck the viewer in. Even as a huge museum nerd, for the most part I go into a gallery, look at a few things that seem interesting, maybe read some of the supplementary materials if they’re not too obnoxious, and then zip off to the next thing. But the Guggenheim doesn’t work that way. I typically go in with only the vaguest notion of who the artist is or what the work is about, and I always come out not only a newly minted expert, but head over heels in love. You can blame this museum for almost all of my artistic obsessions. Even minimalism. If you don’t know a ton about art, but you wish you knew more, make a habit of seeing shows at the Guggenheim. Maybe if we all get together, we can convince them to let us bring our skateboards.

My space plans will surely be carried out.

The Afronauts. All photographs by Cristina De Middel.

It was 1964, and Zambian schoolteacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso had a dream.

Mr. Nkoloso dreamed that his newly independent country would make its mark on the rest of the world in a way that could never be forgotten.

Three years before, the Soviets had put a man in space. A week after that, the American President Kennedy promised that the USA would be the first to set foot on the moon.

Zambia would do the world powers one better. The Zambians were going to Mars.

Nkoloso took the first step without consulting his government — which was busy planning Independence festivities — and created the National Academy of Science, Space Research, and Philosophy (NASSRP?). He recruited astronauts and began weightlessness training by hurling them down hillsides in an empty oil drum.

This may seem primitive, but if you look at footage of NASA and the Apollo program from the same era, things aren’t a whole lot more advanced. There’s an element of the Cargo Cult in Nkoloso’s editorials from the period, but if you think about it, there’s an element of the Cargo Cult in the early Space Age as a whole. The US could never have won the space race without German scientists who brought rocket technology to the table in exchange for having their Nazi connections erased from history. Seen with 21st century eyes, we got to the moon on firecrackers and tin foil.

What America had that Zambia didn’t was aesthetics: Tang, aerosol cans, go-go boots, and the bee-hive hairdo. I’m not even sure the Soviets had that much. If it looks like you can do something, then people will believe you can do it. The funding comes rolling in. Next thing you know, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are on prime time TV, in color. You’ve sold your mission to the stars like a sweat-shop designer handbag. One small step. One giant leap.

But Zambia didn’t have silver lamé miniskirts or a Space Western in the network TV lineup. Nobody was going to be fooled. And so, when the world reported on Edward Nkolosa’s astronaut training regimen, it did so in the form of a colonialist joke.

More than fifty years later, Spanish artist Cristina De Middel isn’t laughing. After discovering the Zambian space program through old British news footage (what can’t you find in old BBC documentaries?), she has created a series of photographs that explore ideas of the future, the past, stereotype, and image, all surrounding the aesthetic of the Zambian Astronaut.

The Afronaut series, which De Middel hopes to publish as a book, seems on the surface to participate in the joke of the Zambian on Mars. Black men wear space suits accessorized with raffia, pose with elephants, and stride through tall grasses bathed in bright sunlight. Afro hairstyles poke out of the front of their helmets.

But looking deeper, it’s obvious that De Middel is in on it. The poses are too reminiscent of Keith Haring’s cartoon space men not to be a reference to the astronaut as visual code for Infinity And Beyond. The elephant photos are juxtaposed with shots of an alien autopsy. The astronauts’ gloved hands probe; what is this strange creature? What is this bizarre sun-baked moonscape?

After all, what’s more primitive than a man being shot into the sky on the back of a giant bomb?

Note: I absolutely could not have written this piece without the inspiration of Wired Magazine and Laughing Squid.

Innocence and Experience

Lug Von Siga F/W collection. Photo by Ayten Alpun, via Cool Hunting.

In 2008, Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk published a novel called The Museum of Innocence, about a man who creates a shrine to a doomed love affair with a much younger woman who doesn’t reciprocate his feelings.

On April 28, Pamuk will open an actual museum called The Museum of Innocence, a physical tribute to the shrine and the novel.  I don’t think anything like this exists in any other city, and in fact I had a hard time both conceiving of what the museum actually is and writing the sentence that precedes this one. I’m really sad that I missed this while I was there, just for the chance to wrap my brain around the idea of a museum centered around the characters in a work of fiction.

Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence, under construction. Photo via The End Of Collection

Meanwhile, the look book for Turkish fashion designer Gül Agiș‘ Fall/Winter 2013 collection centers around some of the same themes, exploring forced marriages between young women and much older men in rural Turkey.

”My tears are my witness.” from fabrika.photography on Vimeo.

Planned to take advantage of a long haul flight

How could I not post this?

Nina Katchadourian, Lavatory Self-Portraits in Fifteenth Century Flemish Style.

“While in the lavatory on a domestic flight in March 2010, I spontaneously put a tissue paper toilet cover seat cover over my head and took a picture in the mirror.”

The rest is (art) history.

On view at San Francisco’s Catharine Clark Gallery from April 14 through May 26.

But wait. There’s more!

Wednesday Round Up.

Screenshot diptych from Pollock. Via Design*Sponge.

Design*Sponge did a Living In post on Pollock. I remember disliking this movie when I first saw it, but damn, it really gets the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic right. I think the main reason I wish I were an artist is the idea of having a ramshackle old studio-slash-house out somewhere nobody else wants to live. In the 50’s that was eastern Long Island. Which is funny because now the Hamptons is the land of spray-tan and appletinis, a place the least imaginative people in the world want to be. I think now you’d have to be in Detroit or a ghost town in the rust belt. Will those places be the hot vacation spots of 2062?

Image courtesy Huffington Post.

The Film On The Rocks Yao Noi Festival — curated by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tilda Swinton —  created a floating island cinema for screenings.

La Guardia Airport, 1961. Via Retronaut.

Just in time for the new season of Mad Men, Retronaut has a photo series on flying into La Guardia airport in 1961.

This picture of Clarissa Darling wearing a Keith Haring t-shirt brought to you by the fact that I can't get any good MTV Art Break video clips to embed properly. Image blatantly stolen from Flavorwire.

Remember how yesterday I mentioned that Keith Haring did stuff for MTV in the 80’s? Well it turns out MTV is bringing back the Art Break. Too bad nobody cool watches MTV anymore. Also, too bad I suck at embedding video. Click the link, I guess.

Painting Myself Into A Corner

Untitled, 1982. Sumi ink on paper. Image courtesy Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Keith Haring was an oddly ubiquitous part of my childhood. Oddly because, well, I grew up in a socially and culturally conservative small town where there is little appreciation for art of any kind, let alone the dingy grafitti-inspired oeuvre of a gay painter from the New York underground club scene.

And yet his work was everywhere in my childhood. Maybe it was his later status at the epicenter of the AIDS crisis, a supposedly gentler alternative to controversial artists like David Wojnarovicz and Robert Mapplethorpe. Or it could have had something to do with MTV’s commissions of their trademark astronaut as a Haring cartoon stick figure.

My memory of his work is so cuddly and bland that at first I wasn’t that interested in seeing the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition Keith Haring: 1878-1982. But I was surprised by the work. It’s more raw than the dogs and babies that made Haring famous, oddly violent and often centered on images of penises and men fucking. This is not the ubiquitous Keith Haring of my childhood.

There are two pieces in the show that not only changed my understanding of Haring’s work but, frankly, blew my mind.

Untitled, 1979. Acrylic and ink on paper. Image courtesy haring.com.

The first is a study in abstraction done in 1979 when Haring was at SVA. The swirling figures interlock like puzzle pieces, suggesting a pile of humanity. It’s a bridge between Bruegel and Pollock, a mass of dynamic energy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). 1950. Enamel on canvas. Image via metmuseum.org.

Pieter Bruegel The Elder, The Wedding Dance. Oil on panel. Image via Wikipedia.

The other piece stood out to me in a much less didactic way. It’s just… perfect. It’s the kind of painting you can’t describe in words. This is a masterpiece in a completely sincere way. It scratches the part of your brain that can find euphoria in a line or a shape. Unfortunately, I can’t find an image of it online. However, I did find a still of a video piece Haring made around the same time that features himself creating a painting that looks very much like the one I’m thinking of. So I’ll give you that, and then you have to go to the Brooklyn Museum to see the piece I’m talking about. Trust me, you’ll recognize it.

Still from Painting Myself Into A Corner video, 1979. Image courtesy Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Also brilliant, and a reason to check out the Haring show at the Brooklyn Museum even if you’re not a huge fan of his work: it’s one of the best curated shows I’ve ever seen. I especially love the choice to feature the music of 70’s and 80’s New York in some of the rooms. It’s rare that museums connect fine art with other artistic forms from the same period, and for Keith Haring, who exhibited work in nightclubs and made drawings on the subway, I thought it was a perfect choice.

UPDATE: Check out this tumblr with scans of Keith Haring’s journals. They start when he was thirteen years old!

In Which I attempt to connect all my crushes to Portland, Oregon

Robert Mapplethorpe has nothing to do with Portland. I just love this photograph more than everything in the world. Photo by Mapplethorpe, of course, via the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

I’ve had a crush on Portland for a long time. Thanks to its use as the setting for the Ramona books, it wouldn’t be hyperbolizing to say I’ve always wanted to go to Portland. After reading this Cool Hunting feature on Ampersand Gallery, Portland is back at the top of my list not just because it’s the dream of the nineties, but also as a place to look at art.

Ampersand Gallery, Portland, OR. Image yanked from coolhunting.com.

Sorry, guys. I have to post this. It’s a credit to Carrie Brownstein that this song is not just funny and true, but actually good:

 

In other art and video news, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries about art collectors lately. Who even knew there were multiple docs about art collectors?

The classic choice is Herb & Dorothy, the story of a postal worker and a librarian who became major collectors of minimalist art in the 60’s. In addition to the powerful narrative, there are interviews with art world megastars like Donald Judd and Chuck Close.

And then, suddenly, Netflix was recommending arts documentaries right and left. Due to my obsession with Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the downtown scenes of New York in the 1970’s, I had to watch Black White + Gray, a doc biography of Sam Wagstaff, who was an important photography collector and Mapplethorpe’s lover. In addition to scratching my Just Kids itch, I was fascinated by the way that people from different parts of Wagstaff’s life had such oppositional views of who he was. There were homophobic Society types, art historians who thought Mapplethorpe was a total gold digger, and Patti Smith being her usual awesome self. It’s rare that docs about relatively uncontroversial figures like Wagstaff convey conflict that way, so I thought that was an interesting approach.

Both of the above films — and many more arts documentaries! — are available streaming on Netflix.

P.S. In researching this post, I discovered the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which has a website full of beautiful images.

Dream Job: Museum Cat Caretaker

I wonder if this is what the Hermitage cat caretaker feels like on Monday morning? "Daniel in the Lions' Den" by Peter Paul Rubens. Photo by Son Of Groucho, via Flickr.

Once upon a time — back when it was an Imperial palace rather than an art museum — the Hermitage had a bit of a rodent problem. Empress Elizabeth came up with the obvious solution: kittehs! Almost three hundred years later, there are still feline exterminators living deep in the underbelly of the museum.

The second best thing about this is that there is a person whose actual job it is to take care of the Hermitage cats.

The first best thing? Apparently, at some point one of the cats escaped the basement and traveled through the walls of the palace for a week in order to reach the museum galleries. Now that’s what I call devotion to art.

 

On a slightly different note, Empress Elizabeth of Russia sounds pretty bad ass in general. Even if there is no evidence that she ever commissioned an official Cats In Racks portrait.

Via Art Fag City.

Our Lady Of Wisdom

Photo by Sara Clarke.

A couple days ago I asked the question, “Is preservation always the right thing to do?”

Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia — or Ayasofya, as it’s known in modern Turkish — is a prime example of that dilemma.

On the one hand, it’s possibly the most beautiful building ever. It was built by the emperor Justinian in 537 AD, so it’s obviously of historical interest. As a church it was converted from the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople to a Roman Catholic cathedral from 1204 to 1261, and then in 1453 the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet The Conqueror chose to preserve it as a mosque. So it’s also a holy place for people of various religions. There is no question that Hagia Sofia is worthy of historical preservation.

I’m going to ask that question anyway.

What if Ayasofya had been allowed to fester as Istanbul city life crept away from the old Byzantine center?

Photo by Sara Clarke.

What if Mehmet hadn’t been interested? (Which is a whole other architectural question, really, since the archetypal mosque structure used worldwide can be traced to Hagia Sofia, but let’s leave that for now.)

Photo by Sara Clarke.

What if Ataturk and the other founding fathers of the modern Turkish state had been a little more Soviet in their approach to religion and had closed it down rather than turning it into a museum?

Photo by Sara Clarke

What if they’d been a little more American in their approach and had let it stand as a mosque until attendance dropped and the building sank into disrepair, only to be turned into a shopping mall when Istanbul’s fortunes improved?

I guess the question I’m asking here is, how does the act of historic preservation affect — or maybe the right word is reflect — the march of history itself? What would Istanbul be in 2012 without Hagia Sofia, or with a Hagia Sofia that is still the mosque of Ayasofya, or the Mall Of Enlightenment, or a derelict site explored by intrepid travel photographers?

Lest We Think All Old Stuff Is Boring And Stuffy

Sorry for the radio silence, but it’s been a busy few weeks chez Travels. I wrapped up a long job this past Friday and am off to Istanbul tomorrow for a week spent looking at Byzantine mosaics, Ottoman palaces, and Turkish contemporary art. In the meantime, here are a few things that have been inspiring me lately.

This is a painting of a fart from Edo period Japan:

屁合戦, or in English, "The Fart War." Artist unknown. When I win the lottery, I am buying this painting.

Further selections from the scroll can be found at io9. Real information about this very serious topic in art history can be found here.

A brilliant use for vintage luggage, from Design*Sponge:

Beautiful and practical all at the same time. Though it does require the use of a circular saw. My mom totally had this exact same luggage, but in a pearly cream color.

While you’re hacking away on that peg-board insert with that circular saw, you could play this awesome TED Talk about a totally bitchen and rad ancient Akkadian scroll in the collection of the British Museum.

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