Thursday, March 28, 2013

Women Sculptors in American Museums

For a woman artist, it is even more daring to become a sculptor than a painter, and although there were famous women painters as early as the mid-1500s, it is rare to see a sculpture by a woman that was made before the 1800s. As we travel around the country, I make a point to collect images of sculptures by women. I took all the photos in this post during our 2012 art journey.

Among the first notable American sculptors is Emma Stebbins, 1815-1882. She was raised in a wealthy New York family and encouraged to study art from an early age. During the 1800s there was a sort of fad for American sculptors to study in Rome and Emma was part of that. In Rome she was able to pursue a bohemian and lesbian lifestyle that would have been less tolerated at home. What I like about her is that she depicted idealized working men, as opposed to mythical figures.

Industry by Emma Stebbins
Commerce by Emma Stebbins
Another member of Stebbins' circle in Rome, Harriet Hosmer, made sculptures of mythical figures, which are more typical for the 19th century.

Zenobia in Chains, c. 1859
St. Louis Museum (2010 photo)

One of the most popular women sculptors in American museums is Anna Hyatt Huntington. Although she could do excellent mythical figures, she is more well known for her naturalistic depictions of animals. Anna was encouraged to develop her artistic talent by her father, a well-known professor of paleontology and zoology. Anna was at the peak of a successful career in 1923 when she married Archer Milton Huntington, heir to a railway fortune, scholar of Spanish literature, and philanthropist. She continued her career and he built special venues for her work.

Reaching Jaguar, by Anna Hyatt Huntington, 1876-1973
Metropolitan Museum, New York
The woman who has done the most exciting treatment of the female form is Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, who generally worked in bronze. She has the distinction of having studied with Auguste Rodin in Paris. Her slender figures are typically stretching toward the sky.

The Bubble, 1928 by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, 1880-1980
Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AR

In the 20th century, women sculptors virtually abandoned the figure and made mostly big bold abstract works. Louise Nevelson may be considered an early re-cycler as her sculptures are typically formed of scraps of wood from a lumber yard. She unified and dignified them by painting them a single color, usually all black, but sometimes all white.

Night Zag Wall, 1974 by Louise Nevelson, 1899-1988
Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AR

The most respected of British women sculptors is Barbara Hepworth, who is generally over-shadowed by her male contemporary Henry Moore. I really like her smooth, simple forms.

Sea Form (Atlantic), 1964 by Barbara Hepworth, 1903-1975
Dallas Museum
One of the most innovative American sculptors of the 20th century was Louise Bourgeois. Instead of working within one basic style like the other sculptors we've considered, she was constantly experimenting with new forms and materials. In the 1950s she was making vertical forms from painted wood and giving them scientific-sounding titles.

Quarantania I, 1953 by Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010
Museum of Modern Art, NY
To her great credit, she continued to innovate into her nineties. In 2001 she designed a work to serve as a gateway to the Williams College Museum of Art that consists of a series of sculptures on a landscaped hill. The sculptures are eye-like forms with benches for seating on their back sides.

Eyes, 2001 by Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010
Williams College Museum, MA
A big favorite in California is Ruth Asawa, who is still living. Born in southern California to a Japanese family, she has been a renowned artist and educator in San Francisco for several decades. Although she first achieved major recognition for her public fountains in San Francisco, most of her astonishing work is done in wire.

Untitled, c. 1970 by Ruth Asawa, b. 1926
Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AR

What is an American name? At Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, a visitor puzzling over a large, macho-looking, wall-mounted wood sculpture exclaimed, "Ursula von Rydingsvard is not at American name." What is typically feminine? She went on, "Surely a woman didn't make that! It looks like it was hacked out with a chain saw!"

Unraveling, 2007 by Ursula von Rydingsvard, b. 1942
Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AR

Crystal Bridges gives very good coverage to women sculptors; I took several of these photos there.

One of my favorite contemporary sculptures was made by Liz Larner, who was born in 1960. I've only seen this one work by Larner, but from the internet I see that she is from California, and she works with a wild variety of forms and materials.

2001, 2001 by Liz Larner, b. 1960
Albright-Knox Museum, Buffalo, NY

In the last few decades, artists are less likely to create free-standing, single forms, and more likely to produce installations with multiple pieces. Artists don't stick with one material, and they don't necessarily fabricate the project with their own hands. A major breakthrough for artists in general was to realize that the idea or vision is the main dynamic in any work of art. The idea may be so large or so complex that a team of specialists is required to realize it, or the material may require some industrial process.

Although she is generally considered a painter, multi-talented Judy Chicago was a major pioneer of installation art with a work on women's history that she created in the 1970's called The Dinner Party. Chicago's idea was that women have been generally left out of "his-story": they don't get a place at the table. So she imagined a triangular table for thirty-nine of the most important women in history, thirteen on a side. Each woman was represented by a placemat embroidered with symbols and a plate formed in a symbolic shape. To bring this idea to reality she assembled a team of women who were already well-known in their crafts; part of her vision was to celebrate women's traditional crafts.

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago
Photo by Dan L. Smith

Detail of The Dinner Party
Photo by Dan L. Smith

My favorite installation artist is Allyson Shotz. She is pre-occupied with fluidity and reflected light. She might express that in any medium, and her work requires a team of software guys and another team of installers. I have seen three magical installations now that use different arrangements of fresnel lenses to play with the ambient light. However, a major show of Shotz's work that we saw in Indianapolis on our 2012 journey included giant photos of computer-generated bubbles streaming through space plus a couple of mesmerizing animated movies.

Allyson Shotz
Indianapolis Museum of Art
If you would like to see more photos of sculptures by women in American art museums, you can go to my website. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Philadelphia Addendum

Our posts on Philadelphia cover the art museums pretty well, but they omit certain important aspects of my experience there.

The city of Philadelphia does a lot to encourage the arts. While we were there, I was fascinated by a public art project called "Open Air." I did mention that the first night we were there, as I closed the drapes I noticed a great number of searchlights playing across the sky. Was a giant used car dealer having a grand opening? I tried to photograph it, but a light rain streaked the window of our motel room. I went to bed puzzled. This light show went on every night that we were there; the weather being mild, I went outside every night to watch it and try to photograph it. I didn't report all this, because neither my photos or video capture the project's high-energy beauty.

Later research revealed the project's background. Designed by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, "Open Air" consisted of 24 robotic searchlights situated on a half-mile stretch of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the boulevard in front of our motel. Here's the weird part. The movements, as well as the brightness, of the searchlights is controlled by audio messages from the general public, submitted online or through a free application on iPhone—messages such as "Happy Birthday, Joanie," "Please marry me," and rappers laying down rhymes. The application allowed listening to the message while watching the matching light show, which I didn't try. I grabbed a photo from The Huffington Post to give you an idea of the visual effect.

Open Air by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Philadelphia 2012; Internet grab
Our motel in Philadelphia, the Best Western Center City, must have been a premium property at one time. Not only does it have an excellent location in the arts district (with lots of free parking), but also an interesting y-shaped layout that is both unusual and efficient. However, it is getting a little run-down; the main problem during our stay was that one elevator was broken the whole time, leaving only one elevator for a very large motel, and it made clunking noises when it stopped, causing the Japanese tourists to titter and point with alarm.

The motel's least-expected feature was that the doors were totally locked at 10 p.m. and not opened again until 6 a.m., something I've never seen though I've stayed in hundreds of motels. I discovered this by unlucky accident. One morning about 5:15, I went outside to put something in the car. When I tried to return to our room, the motel was locked, every entrance; the key-card readers were non-functional. I thought surely there would be security at the front desk or somewhere; all I found was a hand-scrawled notice that the motel was locked at those hours, and to ring for assistance. The buzzer didn't make a noise. I banged on the front door for awhile, but there was no response.

What a funny situation. No phone. No iPad. Not even a bench to sit on. At least the temperature was mild. To pass the time, I went over to the large convenience store on the corner, which is open 24 hours a day; a police station is just down the block, and several officers, both uniformed and plain clothes, came in while I was there. I trolled the aisles for awhile, then bought a Diet Coke from the fountain and went back to the entrance of the hotel. At 6:05, a sleepy guard trudged to the door and opened the bolt without a word. I made a few excited comments about being locked out; he just trudged to the other door without a response. Oh well, a harmless little adventure.

The motel restaurant served a pretty good breakfast, modestly priced, and Dan ate there every morning. There was a Starbucks just a few blocks away, and I would go there for latte and a yogurt-fruit cup. I really enjoyed these morning walks, past the convenience store, the police station, and the Barnes Foundation, though the sky was generally gray. The amount and variety of activity in those few blocks was very intriguing to me. The last morning I pushed a little farther in order to see a mural a few blocks away. I thought it was lovely and made this photo on my iPod Touch.

Secret Book by Josh Sarantitis, 1999
Touch photo by Jan

I really like Philadelphia, and I especially like staying in a busy part of town.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Day 55/60: Dallas Museums

My impression after one day of touring in Dallas is that it is an architecture-happy town, and that it has grown at a phenomenal pace in the decade since our previous visit. There are several more skyscrapers downtown with innovative profiles and materials, and several arts-type buildings by big-name architects. In one day, within walking distance of each other in the Cultural District, we photographed buildings by I.M. Pei, Norman Foster, and Renzo Piano.

We parked at the Dallas Museum of Art but we started by walking to the Myerson Symphony Center, which was designed by Io Ming Pei—his actual name is not that hard—pronounced 'Yo Ming.' Anyway, the building had elegant curves. Then we hiked around the corner to see a first rate, and huge, sculpture by Mark DiSuvero, located on a rise where traffic on a busy highway passes it. This put us in an awkward position behind a huge events center, meaning we had some extra walking. It was about 80 degrees at 11:00. Part of the events center is the Winspear Opera House, by Norman Foster and Partners. We enjoyed the reflecting pools and bold lines of the building. Then we had to hike back to the museum. We were steamy and gritty by the time we arrived.

We took a break in the museum's snack bar. I had an iced latte and fresh out of the oven ("not even wrapped yet") chocolate chip cookies. Dan cleverly drank iced water.

I am happy to say that Dallas has improved their collection quite a bit since we were here. Their American collection and their contemporary collection are pretty good; European work, both the old masters and the 20th C. masters, is spotty, but does include some good ones. Their sculpture garden has a small but tasteful collection of modern works.

Dan and I worked separately and very intensely all day. We had salads for lunch in the museum's café. Then Dan wanted to go over to the Nasher Sculpture Center about 2:00 to get good light on the outdoor sculpture. 'I said no way am I going out with the sun so high. I'll go about 4:00.'

The Nasher is just across the street from the art museum; you can buy a joint ticket. It turns out there are lots of trees in the garden creating a much appreciated island of shade. It was about 88 degrees when I got there. The garden has all the big-name sculptors: di Suvero, Barbara Hepworth, Richard Serra, de Kooning—a dozen or so pieces.

The garden at the Nasher is part of an architectural scandal here in Dallas. In response to the development of the Cultural District, some developer built a sky-scraper, but really high, called Museum Tower, nearby. The problem is the same one I brought up in Oklahoma City: too much glass. In this case, sun reflecting off the west side of the building raises the temperature of the garden 20 degrees above its surroundings. The woman who explained it to me said, "So if it's a hundred degrees, it's 120 degrees in here." Oh dear. Just that morning she had read in the newspaper that they had decided to add a louvered screen on the west side that can adjust with the sun. It will only cost $6 million. They should get that money back from the architect, because he should have been able to anticipate this problem; that's what architects are hired for.

The museum building of the Nasher is one of Renzo Piano's best works. The lines are simple and elegant. The light is lovely. The building is even less intrusive than his usual work.

Our Hilton Garden Inn is located right by a busy off-ramp/on-ramp of a freeway. It is quite hard to even get into the parking lot. Driving somewhere for dinner seemed out of the question, as was walking. So we were forced to eat in the wholly uninspiring café at the hotel. I was interested to see how Dan took control of the situation; we were the only customers. He took the table closest to the TV and demanded the remote so he could choose his news commentator; he made them turn off the loud music. The menu was limited and unappealing; deep-fried and over-sized. Dan made the waitress get the cook to negotiate a meal: a hamburger patty with a double helping of mixed veggies. The cook made a nice job of it. It was a lot like home.

I feel bad that I didn't mention the Superstorm that hit the North East a few days ago. We have watched the news coverage closely. We had just visited some of those places. Also we have friends in New York City, who are okay. Of course, we are very sad and upset, same as everyone, and worried about the future. Can't help comparing this with the big storm in New Orleans. These coastal places are more vulnerable to the effects of global warming.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Photos

Dear Friends,
For several years Dan has created a holiday greeting card featuring a few of his best photos for the year.  He takes pride in careful printing in order to create a keepsake. It's his way of making a contribution to holiday cheer.

This year, he ran into a series of technical obstacles, starting when his printer ceased functioning; in addition, his old iMac is limping like an aging athlete. So he ordered a new iMac and a new printer, but they haven't yet arrived. He plans to create a card to celebrate the new year.

I'm taking advantage of the situation to do something he would never do: to send an online greeting containing photos of ourselves.

As many of you well know, the major event of 2012 for us was a cross-country expedition to view art museums. We covered 8700 miles and toured 42 museums. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Another tourist took this shot of us with the Portland Head Lighthouse in Maine.
Dan photographed us in a mirror on the Ticonderoga, a passenger ship that has been preserved
at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.
The Ticonderoga, a Lake Champlain Steamer, now an exhibit at the Shelburne.
I took this shot of Dan just before he dug into his grilled flounder with sweet potato fries at Claudio's, a traditional fish restaurant in Greenport, New York. We were in the midst of taking three ferries to get from Stony Brook, NY, to
Groton, CT. This day was a highlight of the trip for Dan.
A major goal of the trip for me was to see a retrospective of wall designs by Sol LeWitt at the Massachussetts Museum of Contemporary Art, MASS MOCA, in North Adams. This was a thrilling day for me.
Here are a couple more shots I took of Dan.
Dan is standing in front of a huge old tree on the property of the Pollock-Krasner House in Springs, NY, which is way out on the tip of Long Island. It was a beautiful location with a peaceful atmosphere. Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner were important abstract expressionist painters.

Dan is at the Farnesworth Museum in Rockland, ME.
Just to balance things out, here are a couple of self-portraits.

This big mirror was part of an exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art.
This motel room was in Columbus, OH.
I hope that 2013 is full of fun and excitement for you, in addition to health and prosperity.

Happy Holidays

Joy to the World

Peace on Earth

Good Will to All

Jan and Dan

Friday, November 9, 2012

Day 61: Barstow to Sunnyvale

We left Barstow at 8:00, very early for us. We arrived home at 4:15, the longest driving day of the trip. There was a cold wind the whole day, and light rain for a short while. We saw wind-turbines fringing the mountains around Tehachapi. On I-5 we observed that agriculture in California is even more intense and diverse than other states, but quite a lot of cropland in the central valley has been abandoned because of water restrictions; signs posted by farmers along the road protest the "Congress-created Dust Bowl." We discussed the competing needs of agriculture and wild Pacific salmon.

Everything is fine at our house. One of our dear neighbors has moved, but the "anchor" of the neighborhood, who knows all the news, happened to be out for his walk and he greeted us.

We have a tremendous sense of accomplishment. We covered 8,700 miles and visited 39 museums. Of 60 nights in motels, Dan negotiated 8 freebees. We saw three national memorials: Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania, 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan, and the Oklahoma City National Memorial. We had pleasant visits with 5 friends.

Dan did almost all the driving. Twice drowsiness forced him to let me drive for an hour. Nothing wakes Dan up like my driving. (It's not like I get a lot of practice.) His driving was virtually flawless, rarely frightening me. The only accident we saw was a big rig on its side across the highway; no emergency vehicles, the big excitement was over. Tow trucks were working on getting the truck upright. In our travels we have twice seen those big trucks turned over on the opposite side of the road. Trucks are the big danger on the road: there are so many of them and they are so competitive; the drivers are pushing themselves and liable to make a mis-step. It's scary to be on an old-fashioned two-way road with no divider. Highway construction was extensive all around the nation; this is good.

It's shocking how divided the nation is. In this last election Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana; while we were in Oklahoma, an 'open-carry' law went into effect enabling registered gun owners to carry their weapon openly. In Texas we drove through town after town with no activity or prominent institution except a church; and as we were driving on Sunday, the parking lots were all full.

We saw a phenomenal amount of poverty. Along the state routes you see people living in very remote places in shacks and single-wide motor homes and combinations of the two, surrounded by decades of detritus. Small towns that look largely abandoned. That's another big division in this country: poverty vs. luxury. We felt very lucky to be skimming by it all in our climate-controlled chariot.

All during this trip we enjoyed the largesse of rich people. We saw many museums that were originally founded by individual art collectors who wanted to share their collections; we benefitted from their spirit of philanthropy.

Dan loves the new mini-van. It gave him all the support he needed and enhanced the trip a lot. There is almost too much space; our stuff sort of sloshed around in a semi-organized fashion. We were able to take clothes for all the weather changes and to bring back whatever we wanted.

This is the fourth time we have traveled coast to coast looking at art museums. This was the most successful trip. We had a very detailed plan and stuck to it. We had to skip one museum when we both had a cold, but we crammed in a few places that weren't on the plan.

We got healthier and stronger on the trip. We did not come home all broken down and worn out. In fact, Dan didn't pause for breath after we got home before he went to the Post Office and Safeway.

The next phase of the trip is to process the data we gathered, meaning we have to edit our photos and figure out how we want to share them. It's going to be a busy winter.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Day 60/60: Flagstaff to Barstow

It's difficult to work out the timing between Amarillo and Sunnyvale. The way the cities are spaced, you can do 3 long days or 4 short days. Since long days of driving are dangerous, especially when you are driving into the late afternoon sun, we opted for 4 short days.

The scenery between Flagstaff and Barstow is pretty. Nice healthy pine forest leaving Flagstaff. One mountain range after another.

We had lunch at Denny's in Needles; an acceptable chicken salad. Needles is a pretty small town without much going for it.

We stayed at a number of Comfort Suite hotels (toward the high end of the Choice hotel chain) on the trip, enough to get the last two nights of the trip free, based on points. Last night we had a truly crummy Quality Inn (toward the low end of the Choice hotel chain; reminded me of how we used to travel), but tonight's Quality Inn is pretty nice: more spacious, fresher and more functional, with a swinging bar and Mexican restaurant.

It was 29 degrees in Flagstaff when we awoke; it was 89 degrees in Barstow when we arrived.

You may notice that this was the 60th of 60 days and still we're not home. Actually it was 60 nights in motels, and 61 days on the road. Home tomorrow. We were not especially in a hurry to get home, until Amarillo. This last few days with all driving and few distractions makes us impatient.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Day 59/60: Albuquerque to Flagstaff

Dan hadn't taken any photos for a couple of days, so he decided we should start the day by shooting the sculpture garden surrounding the Albuquerque Museum of Art. They have a few things by semi-important contemporary artists, and many cowboy and Indian type works by regional artists. The sky was clear and the temperature was slightly chilly, quite nice. Why didn't we tour the museum? We have visited the Albuquerque Museum a couple times in the past; they don't allow photos; they weren't open today.

It was about 9:30 when we got under way. The land in New Mexico is picturesque—mesas, buttes, and reefs of red rock near and far—but it appears to be virtually useless. Almost no agriculture, no mining, no drilling, hardly any railroads along I-40; just tourist stops and souvenirs. We stopped for pictures of the Paloma pueblo, which isn't very picturesque; more shacks than adobes, more vacant than occupied.

We stopped for lunch at our favorite place in Gallup—Don Diego's. This is a large and bustling place, serving both New Mexican and American food. It has become more upscale over the years and recently got a tasteful makeover in which they eliminated all their Mexican bric-a-brac and bright colors and replaced it with beige furniture and framed photos of Native Americans in their daily lives, and native dress. Nevertheless, everyone associated with the restaurant looks to be of Mexican descent, including most of the customers, and the food is authentic New Mexican style, which both Dan and I are partial to. We had the pork carnitas; it was terrific. I bought a turquoise bracelet from one of the constant succession of Native American vendors. He claimed that he and his family made jewelry together, but it was stamped 'Mex.' I can't really say why I went for it.

We stopped again in Winslow, Arizona to investigate a hotel called La Posada. A friend of Dan's had stayed there and had a room with a balcony over-looking the railroad tracks; he enjoyed watching the frequent passing trains. I was interested because La Posada was designed by one of the earliest women architects, Mary Coulter (or Colter, I've seen both). She was a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright and Julia Morgan, but she was very unassuming in her manner and didn't attract much attention. She was the architect and interior decorator for the Fred Harvey chain of hotels along the Santa Fe railroad. It was she who decided to use or adapt local Southwest styles, featuring local materials and decorative motives. Before her, Harvey was considering a Swiss chalet style for his hotels. So we owe Mary Coulter a lot. La Posada is a pleasant place; not especially impressive. It is a private business and every inch is used to display or sell art, in addition to being a functional hotel; anyway, it has been through so many changes it is hard to know Coulter's aesthetic intentions.

We got into Flagstaff about 4:30. Our room at the Quality Inn is cramped; only one person can move at a time. "But it was free!" Dan keeps saying. Also we could park right by the door. The freeway is hard by us on one side and the railway on the other, and the sound-proofing is not so hot. Dan went to the Outback Steakhouse for dinner; I decided to rest and watch the election returns.

We managed to stay up long enough to see the President declared the winner, but not to see his acceptance speech. No offense to any Republicans in the crowd (actually, I don't think I have any Republican friends), but I am inexpressibly relieved to have the President returned to the White House.