Sunday, May 4, 2014

Messy Met

Messy Outside: Last Thursday I went into the city to attend an opening at Debra Force Fine Art. As this didn't begin until 6 pm, I decided to make a day of it and spend the afternoon at the Met. It's been at least a year since I visited the Metropolitan Museum. As I approached 5th Avenue on the hike from the subway stop at 86th and Lex, I was surprised to see the mess outside--construction barriers covered with yards of colorful messages printed on cloth banners assuring passersby that the Met is still open as they overhaul the area in front of the museum. Once inside, I found it as cool and organized as always. I had no plans to see a specific show. Mainly, I was seeking guidance for a painting I'm working on that only the old masters could provide.

Green: I was especially interested in seeing how artists working in a detailed manner controlled the color green. My new piece, Circus Summer, includes a suburban lawn and shrubbery that covers at least 1/3 of the surface. Green is difficult to control and can be really icky. How green was green? How neutral could I make it and still have it read as green. How strong could I make it without overpowering the figures? First I encountered this Death of the Virgin by Vivarini--an artist and work with which I was not familiar. The green landscape in the background stayed in the background. I needed that to happen in my work.

Pink and Blue: Then I encountered a Birth of the Virgin by Fra Carnevole, which I photographed not for its use of green, but for it's combination of pink and blue. I'm going to keep this in mind as I work out the colors for the costumes of my piece, Circus Summer (more about that in future posts). The blue here is so dominating. The use of lapis lazuli was proof that no expense was spared in the execution of this work. The blue is certainly beautiful but I find it distracting. Come to think of it, the Death of the Virgin is also a study in pink and blue.

Barriers: Since my last visit, the European painting galleries had been totally refurbished--including new cord barriers around all of the walls which I found incredibly annoying. I could no longer lean in to see the detail work in the paintings without risking falling into them. They placed at exactly the right distance to prevent me from seeing clearly with or without my glasses. I will have to resort to binoculars next time.

Treasure in a Darkened Room: Of all the beautiful works I saw--old friends and new finds--I was totally blown away by a multimedia piece I literally stumbled upon. That was William Kentridge's Refusal of Time. I sat mesmerized in a darkened room for the better part of an hour and left only when they herded us out because the museum was closing. The room was large and dark. There were chairs scattered about so we could sit. There were 5 large movie screens--2 on the side walls and 1 in the front. Sometimes film images were duplicated on all or some screens. Sometimes images were projected as a continuum and progressed around the room from screen to screen. Sometimes there were complementary images on each screen. There was music and sound. All the while, a kinetic wooden sculpture moved in the center of the room moved back and forth like a beating heart or an atomic clock. There was history, time, sound, images--both representational and totally abstract, both politically charged and aesthetically driven. Anyone who has any interest in video, film, or mixed media has to see this piece. I can't describe it--I'm sure the Met can describe this new acquisition better than I. Better yet, go see it before it closes on May 11.

Spot Red
James Jebusa Shannon
Farther Downtown: By the time I left the museum, it was late afternoon. My final stop would be Debra Force Fine Art, located on 69th Street between Fifth and Madison. I took a leisurely stroll down Fifth Avenue along the edge of Central Park to see this show of portraits and other works by the little-known contemporary of Sargent and Whistler, James Jebusa Shannon. Seeing these sumptuous works in the drawing room like setting afforded by Debra Force Fine Art was a treat. I worked for Debra in the 1980s when she was corporate art director for Cigna Corp. A specialist in American art, her fine establishments focuses on American Art of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. She and her staff research and mount thought provoking exhibitions of famous and lesser known artists. We can learn so much from their work.

Afterwards, I strolled down Fifth Avenue to the 53rd Street E train station, and was on a Red Bank-bound North Jersey Coast Train by 7:30.