Category: museums

Miscellaneous Monday: Summer Weekends

Are you, dear reader, a worshiper of the weekend?  On Monday mornings do those two precious days glimmer like a mirage on the far horizon; a heavenly vision that gets you through those nasty mid-week blues?  I must admit that I’m more tolerant of weekdays and less reverent about weekends since I’ve left the 9 to 5 routine but — they do remain special.  Weekends are little breaks from the mundanity of everyday routine, with even the most ordinary non-special-occasion weekend offering its own little serendipities.  The greatest, of course, is the weekend read.  An entire afternoon, with no chores or commitments, and nothing, absolutely nothing, between you and the book of your choice.  A treat of this caliber is rare, even on weekends, but there are lesser delights to savor.  On weekends, the morning’s hasty bagel breakfast can expand to include a friendly  interchange with the bagel chomper at the next table, or the harried trip to the grocery store can become leisurely enough to notice (finally) that nice patch of flowers along your route.  Or — hang on to your hat, Magellan! — you might feel relaxed and adventurous enough to explore a different route to a familiar destination; or even to try a different activity — a new store, an unfamiliar park or museum or that obscure cafe you’ve being hearing about.  Even the domestic routine mellows out — weekends are for trying new recipes, or looking at forgotten photos, or giving the cat an extra tummy tickle along with his/her’s Little Friskies Gravy Lovers’ Treat (a huge favorite in my household).  In short, weekends are for doing all those little things that are actually very big things.

Although weekends are pretty super any time of the year, summer weekends are really unbeatable.  One huge factor contributing to their charm — farmers’ markets!  Do any of you live near farmers’ markets and, if so, do you enjoy them as much as I do?  In my area, they’ve gone from being rather rare to being ubiquitous.  Although you may find, depending on location, a pop-up market on Friday, or even Thursday, Saturday morning markets tend to be the most popular.  Many of the markets also include much more than the usual fruits and veggies (although I tend to stick to the produce).  The Saturday morning farmer’s market is one of summer’s delights, combining exercise (well, sort of — you do have to walk past the stands), entertainment (if nothing else, there’s always people watching, or a clever dog chasing a frisbee) and really great food:

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Very early morning at the local farmers’ market.  Not all the vendors have set up their stands and the street entertainers haven’t yet made their appearance. In an hour or two, this place will be mobbed ……
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A few of the local offerings.   At this particular farmer’s market, items must be locally grown and preferably organic. As you can see, basil, greens and baby tomatoes are in season.  They will be followed later in the summer by local strawberries, cherries, peaches & corn.
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It’s no mystery why this particular bakery does quite a lively business at the Saturday market!
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If you’re ambitious, and unlike myself non-fatal to plants, you can even find things for your very own garden.
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At last, an entertainer shows up!
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A souvenir from the farmers’ market, to enjoy all week after the eatable goodies are gone.  Although I didn’t get photos of the stands, several of the vendors at my local market specialize in flowers, less expensive and far nicer than the greenhouse variety…

When you’ve had enough of the farmers’ market, or if you decide to skip it that week, not to worry!  Summer weekends have still more delightful possibilities for the dedicated hedonist!  Although my ideal physical exercise is ordinarily confined to turning a page, in the summer I actually like to walk.  One of my very favorite places for a summer’s stroll (quite accessible from where I live,  but, unfortunately, not terribly close) is Little Bennett, a gorgeous multi-use state park containing numerous paths and trails, natural wonders in the form of native plants and critters and some interesting historical sites.  Although Little Bennett is under increasing pressure from a growing population (it’s only a couple of miles from a recently developed “town center” that added approximately 20,000 people to this part of the state), it remains an incredible oasis of natural beauty.  Because Little Bennett is a large place (3700 acres or about 1497 hectares), quiet and solitude can be found there even on crowded weekends.  It has a variety of trails, suited to almost every energy level:

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Little Bennett is hilly; this particular trail has lots of dips and ascents.
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For a more sedate walk, you can use the remnants of an old road that once connected several of the farms whose acreage is now included in the park. This portion is relatively intact; the road disappears entirely further along.
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One of my favorite things about the park is its large and meandering stream, which provides habitat for fish and birds, including …….
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Louisiana Waterthrushes, a species of North American warbler.  These birds are regular summer residents of Little Bennett.
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An area I call “the Bluebird meadow” (I have NO idea of its official name, if any). If you squint really hard at the center of the photo (behind the tree shadow extending from the left) you can see two Bluebird nesting boxes (small square shapes on a pole).  This portion of the park is — surprise! — a pretty good spot to see ….
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Eastern Bluebirds.  Bluebirds eat bugs, love meadows and need cavities for their nests. Without nesting boxes, they would probably be totally displaced by non-native European starlings, which are more aggressive and are also cavity nesters.
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Wims Meadow, once part of a farm owned in the 1930s by Jim Wims, a prosperous African-American farmer. Mr. Wims donated the meadow as a baseball field for African-Americans, who had nowhere else to play in those segregated times.  The Wims teams became known for their excellence and a couple of the players went on to become professionals.

A third summer delight for those less outdoorsy moments is taking a bit more time to savor the cultural offerings that come with the season.  This year I hit the jackpot, as there’s a wonderful June-August exhibition at the National Gallery on:

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The exhibition, the first of its kind, covers 17 centuries and animals real and imaginary. Many of the objects, which include sculpture and ceramics as well as paintings, have rarely if ever left Japan.
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The wall banners are located outside and to the left of the exhibition’s entrance.  As I recall, the banners portray animals associated with the Japanese zodiac.

(in the first exhibition photo, you can see that this digital display is located to the right of the entrance; as you can tell from the sound — you may want to use mute — its animated  animals are quite popular with the kids).

Since summer is my time for exploring, I usually visit the Gallery’s east wing, devoted to modern art, more often than I do at other times of the year.  The east wing has recently reopened after a five-years renovation.  Its totally gorgeous galleries are expansive, roomy and filled with light.

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Although this photo shows only a portion of the East Building’s atrium, it does give you an idea of its size. If you like Alexander Calder’s mobiles, it doesn’t get any better than this!
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A gallery devoted to Calder’s smaller works.  My favorite is the glitter fish in the upper right.
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See what I mean about the gorgeous display spaces? I’m embarrassed to say I’ve forgotten the names of the artists whose works you see here — help anyone?
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I love Giorgio Morandi’s paintings .  My significant other finds his work dull; I find it deeply spiritual and contemplative. When I’m in the East Building, I NEVER skip these paintings!
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One of the very nicest features of the renovated East Building was the addition of a roof top terrace, an ideal “break” spot for the summer time art lover! Pay close attention to that hint of blue underneath the left-most tree …….
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. . . which is the bottom half of this huge plastic sculpture by the German artist Katharina Fritsch.   Just LOOK at its size (use the door to the left and the tree in the preceding photo for scale). Are you surprised to learn this is a popular spot for selfies?

Although this post is growing dangerously long, in the spirit of Miscellaneous Monday I’m throwing in some miscellaneous video, also from the National Gallery (as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m learning how to use video on my website!)  One of my favorite parts of the museum is its “people mover,” part of an underground concourse that connects the older West Building to the Gallery’s newer East Wing.  The lights you see in the video are part of the  Multiverse light sculpture created by the American artist Leo Villarreal:

Immediately preceeding the people-mover/light sculpture is the National Gallery’s “waterfall,” which is visible from the underground cafeteria and bookstore and provides a source of natural light to these spaces:

Finally, if all this activity is just too energy consuming, nothing is better on a summer weekend than just plain taking it easy in a favorite spot:

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Farmers’ markets, hiking and museum exhibitions are all very well and good, but Percy knows the best way to pass a summer weekend . . . . on a nice cushion underneath an air conditioning vent!

 

Monday Miscellany: Museum Musings (plus photos!)

Despite my inability to concentrate on any one object for more than ten minutes, or to spend more than a couple of hours, max, on an art stroll, I adore museums.  Perhaps it’s because of their variety:  there’s a museum for everyone and for every mood and personality type.  Interested in the history of fire alarms?  The next time you’re on the Baltimore Beltway, take a detour to The Fire Museum of Maryland, which has one of the world’s greatest displays of working fire alarms.  Want to see some interesting stuff without getting out of your car?  Well, the Museum of Wonder in Seale Alabama (which claims to be the world’s only drive-through museum) is where you need to be!

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The Museum of Wonder (drive-through) in Seale, Alabama. Note the sports trophies glued onto the 1992 Cadilac.
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Butch Anthony, founder of the drive-through Museum of Wonder. As Butch puts it, “I let people self-serve.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you an aficionado of the circus?  Then go immediately to Sarasota, Florida!  It was formerly the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus (many circus performers settled there, not to mention John and Mabel Ringling themselves) and has a really great circus museum, founded in the late 1940s.

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Ringling Brothers Circus Museum, Sarasota, Florida
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Ringling Brothers Circus Museum, Sarasota Florida (interior)

 

And, of course, there are the big boys of the U.S. museum world — the Metropolitan, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Frick, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, to name only a few — those places you go when you’re in need of a serious dose of heavy culture, or a nice cafe to relax in on a hot day in the city or a browse in a great store full of art books and prints.  My favorite of these — the place where I head when I’m not in the mood for one of our quirkier little cultural hors d’oeuvres — is Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art.  It’s a fabulous museum to visit especially when, as now, there’s a major exhibition or two going on.

A reasonably good street view of the West (old) building of the National Gallery of Art.  Notice the dome, over the columns?  Just scroll down, to see it from the inside!
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A street view of the NGA’s East Building, designed by I.M. Pei. The two buildings are connected by an underground complex, containing a cafeteria, bookstore and people mover; the triangular glass thingeys you see in the photo provide natural light to the underground museum space.

Although I love the East Building, which houses a wonderful collection of 20th century art, my focus today is on the older part of the Museum.  So — back to the dome!  We all have our little rituals and one of mine is to always stop here for a moment or two to admire and to contemplate.

A partial view of the dome, which was modeled on that of the Pantheon in ancient Rome.
More dome, from a slightly different angle. Those indented square things above the columns producing a honey-comb effect  are called “coffers.”
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Looking straight up, here’s my last dome picture (I promise!).  The opening at the top is an oculus, or “eye.” In ancient times, it would be open to the sky (and rain).  Modern museum folks, however, take a dim view of the elements, so the NGA has sealed its dome with glass.

The NGA usually has some sort of special show or exhibition going on.  The current attraction is a fabulous show on 16th century Venetian art, featuring the paintings of Tintoretto, a contemporary and rival of the great Titian (the two artists, by the way, loathed each other).  Since many of Tintoretto’s paintings are really, really large and seldom travel, this is a great opportunity to see something of his best work without a trip to Italy!

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Anyone out there like 16th century Italian art?  If so, the NGA’s current “big” exhibition should be right up your alley!
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The first room of the Tintoretto exhibition.  See the serious looking young guy in the small center portrait?  It’s the artist’s self portrait, done when he was in his 20s.  The last thing you see upon leaving the exhibition is another self-portrait, which he painted shortly before his death over fifty years later.  It’s surprisingly moving & a wonderful touch to a wonderful exhibition.
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One of my favorite Tintoretto’s. I love the fact that the princess is running away like hell, leaving her rescuer and the dragon to battle it out.  Sensible girl!

Besides the special Tintoretto exhibition (around for the next month or so), there’s always something to see or enjoy at the NGA.  If you’re not in the mood for paintings, or food, or books — well, the building itself is worth a visit!

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The photo is deceptive: this is a moving wall of water, visible from the underground cafeteria between the old (West) and new (East) buildings.  It provides natural light and visual interest while one is munching one’s potato chips and slurping one’s diet coke.
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The people mover in the underground passage connecting the West and East Buildings.  The light display, “Multiverse,” was created by the American artist Leo Villarreal.  The constant shifting and changing lights make little kids (and me) cry out in awe and wonder!  I NEVER get tired of this part of the museum!
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A sideways view of the NGA’s sizable main bookstore, also located in the underground concourse.  It’s much larger than it appears in this photo and has a fantastic selection of art books.  If it’s tchotchkes you’re after, there’s another large shop in the West Building dedicated to prints, cards, toys & museum related items.

And when the weary museum visitor needs a physical and mental time-out, he or she can always head for one of the garden courts in the old West Building, which are thoughtfully provided with very comfortable seating around the edges ……

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You can’t see ’em, but the chairs are there (and usually fully occupied!) in the space behind the columns  ….

 

Monday Miscellany: architecture & art in unexpected places (with a little history on the side!)

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Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberllin College, Oberlin, Ohio. Cass Gilbert, a leading American architect, designed the gorgeous Renaissance style building in 1917.

A few years ago, whenever I took even very short road trips, I began to make a point of checking out whatever art museum, historical house or major monument happened to be in my vicinity.  I can’t tell you how much fun it is to do this — it’s like a treasure hunt, with something gorgeous to look at or a fascinating bit of history to learn being the treasure.  And — it’s easy to do!  Going to see the relatives for Christmas and driving through Florida?  Don’t miss the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum at Winter Park, which has the most comprehensive collection of Tiffany glass in the WORLD! (and there’s a great Middle Eastern restaurant a block away, where you can have lunch afterwards!)  Traveling to or near Pittsburgh?  You owe it to yourself to detour for at least a few hours to the Carnegie Museum of Art, whose collection includes paintings by James Whistler, Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer.  Did you know that the great Impressionist painter Paul Degas had family connections in New Orleans?  If you’re lucky enough to visit that charming city, take a break from the French Quarter and visit the city’s art museum, located in the middle of a vast urban park (bigger than Central Park in NYC), which includes among its holdings Degas’ portrait of his sister-in-law, painted during his 1872 visit to the city.  Do you find yourself near Montgomery, Alabama?  Don’t miss the chance to visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Center and accompanying monument, which was designed by Maya Lin (perhaps better known for her Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.) and lists the names of those murdered in the struggle for equality.

It’s easy to forget that the smaller museums often provide a wonderful experience that larger collections often do not: they allow you to view an entire collection in a reasonable amount of time without being overwhelmed by physical or mental fatigue, they frequently have overlooked gems and/or reflect their founders’ personality in interesting ways, and they are often located in wonderful buildings that are worth seeing just for themselves, regardless of the art they contain (check out, for example, the beautiful Palladian building housing St. Petersburg, Florida’s Museum of Fine Arts, located adjacent to Tampa Bay).  Google, as always, is helpful in locating these treasures or, for the more traditionally minded, guides are available; here are two good ones that I’ve used fairly often:

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Last week I was very excited to add a new gem to “my collection” of small art museums when I visited Oberlin, Ohio.  Unlike my previous treasure hunts, in which the museum was an incidental discovery on my way to somewhere else, this time around the museum itself was a destination.  As I have no doubt mentioned at least several million times over the brief life of this blog, I’m currently spending a lot of time, not to mention energy,  in researching (and hopefully writing — that comes next!) a paper on Sofonisba Anguissola, one of those (very) rare female artists who lived and worked in 16th century Italy and Spain.  As I’ve been able to discover only a few of Sofonisba’s paintings in the United States, you can imagine my excitement in February when I discovered that Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum has one!  Last weekend I was finally able to see it for myself and it did not disappoint:

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Sofonisba Anguissola’s Double Portrait of a Boy and Girl, most probably siblings, from the wealthy Attavanti Family of Florence.  Sofonisba painted this portrait around 1580, using the relatively uncommon tondo or round format.

Aside from Sofonisba’s painting, the museum has a small but wonderful collection of ancient, Asian and European art.  The latter includes works by  Cezanne, Monet (two paintings), Rubens, Jan Steen, Chagall, Matisse, Modigliani, Courbet and more!  Admission is free, the staff is friendly and the interior of the building is as gorgeous as the exterior.  Moreover, although the museum is clearly well-attended, there’s space and quiet to enjoy the art even on a relatively busy Saturday afternoon.  Believe me, dear readers, it doesn’t get much better than this:

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The Allen Memorial Museum’s main rotunda. The individual galleries open from this space and there’s more space for rotating exhibits upstairs (behind the square windows over the arches).
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The Allen Museum’s wonderful ceiling and chandelier.  You can also catch a glimpse of the upstairs exhibitions through the square windows on either side of the circular chandelier.

When you’ve finished with the museum (or before, preferences vary!) you can spend a pleasant few hours wandering around Oberlin, which is a great little college town with some remarkable attributes.  Oberlin was founded in the 1830s by a couple of visionaries who combined spiritual aspirations and high ideals with ascetic notions about work and lifestyle (the founding “covenant” of “Oberlin Colony” expressly forbade its residents to indulge in alcohol or a rich diet!)  The idealism bore fruit in the 1850s, when Oberlin was known as a hotbed of the radical abolitionist movement.  It was also a key juncture on the underground railroad, that network of secret routes and safe houses operated by abolitionists and their allies who (at great risk to themselves) smuggled desperate fugitives escaping from the slave states to the north and freedom.  Did you know that Oberlin College (then known as the Oberlin Collegiate Institute) admitted African American students from its beginnings in the 1830s and allowed women to matriculate as “regular” students as early as 1837?

 

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A popular and well written history recounting an episode in 1858, shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, when the residents of Oberlin defied the Fugitive Slave Act, a federal law requiring them to return escapees to bondage in the slave states.
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Colson Whitehead’s novel won both the Pulitzer and National Book Awards and was nominated for Britain’s Man Booker Prize.  Drawing on magical realism, Colson depicted the underground railroad as a literal physical structure used by escaping slaves.  Despite the fantasy aspects, Whitehead’s depiction of slavery’s horrors was, alas, all too real.

Another thing that makes a morning wandering around Oberlin so enjoyable is that the college itself is almost an outdoor architectural museum, containing as it does some remarkable examples of late 19th and early 20th century buildings designed by the leading architects of their time.

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Baldwin Cottage, designed by Weary and Kramer. Probably not everybody’s idea of a “cottage” . . . .

 

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Finney Chapel, also designed by Gilbert and located on Professor Street — a perfect address for a college campus!

 

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Bosworth Hall, designed by Cass Gilbert

Oberlin’s architectural jewels extend from high Victorian structures to an early Frank Lloyd Wright house; the latter, at one time a private residence, is now part of the Allen Memorial Museum.

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One of noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s rare Usonian houses, a residential design he developed in the 1930s.

Finally, Oberlin has many of the best features of a traditional college town:

A highly individual bookstore (actually, I saw two.  Oberlin Books, however, seems more oriented towards textbooks) ….

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A wonderful bookstore, full of charm and character; so different from those faceless mall-type stores or online offerings.  Although mainly specializing in second-hand books of all types, it also offers prints, paintings and interesting “objects,” utilitarian and otherwise!

Some interesting (albeit limited) retail shopping ….

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Bead Paradise — wonderful selection AND it has more than beads!

… and FOOD!  Oberlin has several interesting eateries; in my limited amount of time I had to limit myself to only two …..

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True to its name, Aladdin serves fabulous Middle Eastern food!

 

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I wasn’t able to hang around for dinner or lunch, but the breakfast was great! Local produce, with lots of vegetarian and vegan options.

 

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Saturday morning BEFORE the rush. An hour later and the place was packed!

In short, if you’re ever close to northern Ohio (Cleveland is the region’s “big” city) don’t pass up a chance to visit Oberlin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Virtual Voyage to Visionary Vienna

Yes, dear reader, I know what you’re thinking — enough already with the bad alliteration!  But you know, sometimes I just can’t help myself  — it’s like a little demon is sitting on my shoulder, urging me on!  So how could I possibly resist?  I will be the first to admit that, sometimes, I really, really need to (resist, that is), but if we were good all the time, well — we’d be pretty dull, wouldn’t we?  And, besides, I couldn’t think of anything else to call this post!

My last few posts have included, but not been centered on, books, which is odd, because I read all the time (well, most of the time.  When I was a kid, I did read all the time). Reading a book, however, is not quite the same as writing about a book; for one thing, it’s a lot more fun (although I do enjoy discussing what I’ve read).  The problem, however, is that so much of my reading these days is required, which definitely changes how I approach a book.  For instance, I absolutely adore Middlemarch, which I regard as the second greatest novel in English (the first being, with apologies to any ichthyophobes, Moby Dick!  What’s a blog for, if not to voice your opinions?) but knowing that I have to read a hundred odd pages by next Wednesday does detract a bit from the pleasure of the experience!  Also, I’m reading so much non-fiction these days for my research paper — Renaissance this, Baroque that; visions of whatever in the art of so and so — very interesting stuff, to be sure, but so serious!  Do art historians never laugh?  All this required reading was giving me the megrims, as Georgette Hyer might have said (another of my favorite writers, BTW, as much a genius in her own way as George Eliot.  If you haven’t read Heyer yet, stop immediately, right now, run out and buy one of her books) so I decided to take a much needed break from Victorian England and Renaissance Italy and head for deliciously decadent Vienna — the city of Gustav Klimt! Alma Mahler, Bride of the Wind (and of about five other guys)! Sigmund Freud! Mayerling, Crown Prince Rudolph and Maria Vetsera! Egon Schiele!

In other words, I went for a brief but very pleasurable visit to the Neue Galerie, one of the most wonderful museums in the city of New York City.  The Neue Galerie isn’t a comprehensive museum like the Metropolitan or Washington’s National Gallery; it’s focused, rather, on German and Austrian art from the early 20th century and is the brainchild of Ronald Lauder, son of Estee and heir to her great cosmetic fortune (it makes me very happy to think that all my eye shadow purchases may have inadvertently contributed just a teeny bit to the enormous amount of lolly it took to purchase this artwork!).  Have any of you visited the Neue Galerie?  If so, please share your experience; I’m such a fan of this place that it’s impossible for me to give an unbiased judgment, so I’d welcome someone else’s reflections.  Although I’d gladly visit any time (the truly great cafe with its authentic Viennese pastries is in itself quite a draw), the specific lure this time around was the Galerie’s exhibition on “The Self-Portrait, from Schiele to Beckman.” Before going there, however, the museum itself deserves some visuals, as the building itself is a work of art.

The exterior retains its original appearance of an Upper East Side brownstone dating from 1914, transformed with great skill to house a stunning collection of paintings, sculpture and decorative art from the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop), which worked in a sort of Austrian version of art nouveau:

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I will try to limit myself to only a few images of the interior.  It’s difficult, for as you can see the space is gorgeous:

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The museum’s entrance, which is usually thronged.  You can see the wonderful attention the architects paid to the historical elements of the building.

 

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The second floor, which opens onto the rooms displaying the Klimt paintings and products of the Vienna werkstätte, including jewelry, furniture and glassware.
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The second floor gallery where the museum displays its collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt (mostly portraits but there’s a landscape or two).  You can see how the museum interspaces objects with the paintings, which makes for a very interesting display.

No matter what specific exhibition draws me to the museum, I always pay homage to the museum’s show stopper, Gustav Klimt’s 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer:

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This reproduction gives you a good idea of the textured quality of the painting, as well as some of the details of Adele’s costume.

Aside from its undoubted greatness as a work of art, the painting’s history makes it even more special.  Because the Bloch-Bauer family were Jewish, their fabulous art collection (including this painting) was stolen by Nazis in the 1930s.  Did you notice Adele’s necklace?  It, too, was stolen and eventually “presented” to the Nazi general Herman Goering as a gift for his wife.  After the war, the Austrian government refused to return the Bloch-Bauers’ paintings to Adele’s surviving heirs (many of her relatives and friends perished in the camps).  The ensuing legal battle went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and resulted in a landmark ruling in the area of reparations for stolen art works (spoiler alert: the family won).  Anyway, if you’re interested, you can read all about it in this very good book or …..

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…what’s even more fun, watch this possibly not great but very entertaining movie (worth it, just to see Helen Mirren in top form!):

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For those of an historical bent, Frederick Morton provides a thorough and very readable account of a fascinating time and place, ominously ending his history of late 19th century Vienna with the birth of Frau Klara Hitler’s son, little Adolf.

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But — I digress!  Back to the museum and its very, very good bookstore (after all, this is a bookish blog!):

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This space is much smaller than it appears and is usually jammed with people.  The reason?  It’s a WONDERFUL bookstore. In addition to the usual tomes on painting, there’s a literature section featuring German, Austrian and eastern European writers.

Despite my best intentions, I don’t read a lot of literature in translation and many German and eastern European writers are not familiar to me.  As a result, when I browse here I usually find wonderful things that I didn’t previously know about; on a previous visit, for example, I discovered the great Joseph Roth and his Radezky March (keep this wonderful novel in mind if you need a European classic in any future reading challenges!):

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This time around, my haul consisted of two shorter works, both by Stefan Zweig and published by the Pushkin Press (Zweig by the way was only one of the many writers and artists who frequented Adele Bloch-Bauer’s literary salons):

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And you might ask, if you haven’t forgotten it by now, what about the exhibition itself? Although I seldom read autobiographies, I’m very interested in self-portraits, which I consider a type of visual equivalent.  I love to see how an artist chooses to represent herself (and by this time there are at least one or two “herselves”) and the elements she uses to construct the identity presented to the viewer.  This particular exhibition was both fascinating and troubling; many of these artists were Jewish, they all lived in troubled times; you know what’s coming and the art frequently makes you suspect that they did so as well.  I particularly liked the following paintings:

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Felix Nussbaum’s 1944 Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card.  Nussbaum escaped from the Nazis once, but wasn’t so lucky the second time, dying in Auschwitz in 1944.

 

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Paula Modersohn-Becker, a new artist for me.  Her 1907 Self-Portrait with Two Flowers in her Raised Left Hand is one of the first self-portraits in which a female artist painted herself as pregnant.  She died at age 31, shortly after the birth of her daughter.

To end on a positive note, I turn to one of my very favorite subjects — food!  The Neue Galerie’s Café Sabarsky is modeled on the Viennese cafes that were a center of the city’s intellectual life.  Beautiful period furnishings and great food — no better way to end a visit!

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It speaks much to my character than the cafe is, perhaps, my favorite part of the museum.  More knowledgeable sources than I have proclaimed that it has “the best museum food” in NYC; the waiter “warns” you that you’ll have to “put up” with the whipped cream on the Viennese chocolate!

 

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After viewing Adele’s stunning portrait upstairs, I was positively obligated to eat a slice of the “Klimt tart” (it’s one of the chocolate/hazelnut things)!