Having just returned home from NYC yesterday, my son still speaks of an appreciation for our visit (his first) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This place is somewhat sacred to me, having first visited in 1987. You quickly realize that you could spend an entire day there, but I could spend hours walking my feet off in the Impressionist section, feeling strangely empowered and bristling with energy standing next to the real-life-painted-over/around-120-years-ago masterpieces from my heroes Degas, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh and the likes of Cezanne, Gaugain and Seurat.
How often do you get to stand within inches of beautiful timelessness, products of the human mind and hand that precede and will proceed your existence on this planet, that actually deliver on a blend of popularity and artistic credibility? I get a similar feeling holding, looking at a piece of Steve Ditko or Bill Everett original artwork, the B&W originals used to make the color comic books, but these paintings are the completed masterpieces right in front of you.
Back to Luke - this umpteenth season of Dr. Who featured the 11th incarnation of the famed British time traveler and his companion Amy Pond meeting up with the famed Dutch painter in the last year of his life. My son and I began watching my generation's Dr. Who - centered around the classic early Tom Baker years (the 4th Doctor) - half a decade ago when the DVDs began flowing in earnest. Luke carried the memory of the Van Gogh episode to NYC where we spotted a book on Van Gogh at the Borders on Broadway and he happily pointed out all the paintings (like the one above) he had seen in the show.
Fast forward to our attendance at The Met and he ran out ahead of us looking for Van Gogh and dutifully reported back when he had found each one. Me, on the other hand, I religiously start with a few minutes dedicated to the pre-Impressionists, just to set myself up for the change when Manet and Monet start down the path. Impressionism, as my art teachers in high school, Robert Montgomery and Hugh Elcock can still relate, saved my artistic life. Couldn't stand photo-realism (didn't see the point) and hated acrylics; the two seemingly tied together in my young eyes. Impressionism allowed my brush to break free and I never looked back; in fact, Mr. Montgomery suggesting I was the closest to a Fauvist (a painter who uses pure colors, as opposed to mixed) the class had.
The gallery was in fine form this year, with its Picasso exhibit extended past August 1. Below are some pics (no flash!) taken during my visit. There was a great emphasis on his Blue Period and his sketches (click on each image to see larger versions).
Okay, every one's seen the Gertrude Stein pic, but I don't ever remember the oral sex one on the left below:
Manet's never been one of my favs (like him but not close enough to what attracts me to the other Impressionists) but his pastels (below top left) are underrated, as I discovered on this trip. Of course, Degas is one of my secret loves (his dancers are lovely, but his bathers are underrated too)...
And you can take all the pictures you want of Renoir, buy all the books you want, but nothing will match seeing the colors burst off the canvas like they do in person, especially for someone like Renoir. Van Gogh's the same, but all the Impressionists have that quality too.
Obviously I'm not very good as this blogging thing because I'm only supposed to be sharing pithy, quick thoughts on topics that barely deserve more than that, but here we go - back on my old (soon-to-be-revived) Ditko Looked Up website, I live-blogged my June '08 visit to the Met (the first time there since 1989!), and here's that entry in its entirety...
I spent from 2:30 to 4:30pm ensconced at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I hadn't been there since 1989, where I had an almost religious experience in the Impressionist section of the gallery on the 2nd floor. I remember walking towards that area, and noting how dark it was (they have the lights down low to protect Degas' charcoal drawings), but then I saw this incredible light coming from beyond that area. I thought it was going to be the most massively over-lit room I had ever seen, but it was the light coming off all the Impressionist paintings. That memory still sticks with me today, and I was back there for the first time in almost 20 years.
After drinking lemonade in the Balcony Cafe, my first stop was the "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy" exhibit that is showcased until September 1st. It was a let-down, and the sign outside of the Met just says "Superheroes" and doesn't mention the "fashion" part until you get inside. The opening verbiage when you walk in lists the comic-book eras as Golden Age: 1938-56 (I'd say it ended in the late 1940s), the Silver Age: 1956-71 (damn that Flash comic, and I'd end it in 1968, when Marvel started putting out all the #1s), the alleged "Bronze Age: 1971-80," and the "Iron Age: 1980-87" (?). Not a good start, and it was pretty paltry from there.
The exhibit was broken into sections in the walls with (at best) one actual costume of a superhero from a movie, and then surrounded by famous designers' far-out clothing that is supposed to resemble superhero garb. To its credit, the Iron Man suit (silver, pre-color) that Downey Jr. wears in the movie looks strong and bold in person. Christine Bale's costume from Batman Returns, however, does not hold up under scrutiny in broad daylight. They also had a full-bodied Mystique figure on its own, slowly rotating, and that looked impressive.
From there, it was an hour-and-a-half of touring the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works from 1850 onwards. On a comic-related note, one painting I stumbled onto just outside those rooms was Alphonse Mucha's Maude Adams (1872-1953) as Joan of Arc from 1909 (Mucha being a Czech painter) and it looks like every Vertigo "Books of Magic" cover in the 1990s! The real painting in the gallery is a treat to see, compared to the above digital reproduction. For those looking for a fabulous new book that has excellent reproduction of the 1800 to 1920's European painters' work, check out the Met's new book, Masterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I picked up the hardcover and it looks to be a beauty for getting as close to the real painting as possible.
For those not interested in painting, now's the time to cut out, and we'll be back on Saturday with more blogging from MoCCA and my Jim Hanley's Universe event Saturday night at 8pm. I have booked a hotel room at 35th St (right between 5th and 6th) just two blocks from Hanley's (and 7 blocks south of Times Square), so when the event ends at 10pm, I'll be super-close to my quarters and can live out my dream of staying out all night in Times Square!
Here's a bullet blow-by-blow (all entered into my Blackberry at a hundred miles a minute) of what struck on me return to the Met after 19 years away, when I was 18 and in Grade 13 and in art class, having been completely drawn to the Impressionist period because I loved the freedom it gave me that I never found in realistic painting. When you read the below, remember that I haven't examined this era in over 10 years with any depth, so looking at it all again was like seeing it new for the first time. I had forgotten so much.
Degas - The Dance Class, 1874: can't believe I'm looking at it again. The Dancing Class circa 1870, his first ballet piece (quite small) really marked a big change in his use of light compared to the work right before it. Degas' Woman with a Towel, 1894 or 1898, stands out from the others, quite highly charged with eroticism, with what is exposed and the suggestive arch of the back.
Got to get more Japanese art circa 1850s that influenced Impressionists (once commerce trade opened up between Japan and France) like Monet's Garden at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. This one's not quite impressionist - still using the diagonal perspective.
The water reflection in La Grenouillere, 1969 is simple yet hypnotizing: his first true Impressionist work. The Parc Monceau, 1878, really takes his brushstroke work to the hilt.
Vetheuil in Summer: progression of brushstrokes and light on water, with such strong reflections of the shapes on the water, done 13 yrs later in 1880.
What a difference between Water Lilies painting from 1916-19 (Water Lilies, Reflections of Weeping Willows) vs. 1899's Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies. The former is such a dark green, not tightly rendered at all, no brightness, as if done at night.
Pissarro was almost a Pointillist by 1880s but especially 1890s.
My art teacher in high school, Robert Montgomery, said (the last time I was hear) that I was closest to a Fauvist that we had in the class - pure, bright and unmixed colors - and the "free-ist" with the brush, yet I still have the fondest memories of the more subtly shifting colors of Renoir.
Wow, Renoir's Daughters of Catulle Mendes, Hughette, Claudine and Helyonne, for such an indoor, semi-posed scene, just has its colors leap off the canvas from another room. The blues are dominant, but are informed by the orange and brown that make for an almost red sheen.
Striking are the staring blue eyes and expression of the 5 year-old girl in Renoir's Marguerite-Therese (Margot) Berard (1874-1956), 1879, like she's almost alive on the canvas, and going to jump out at you.
Cezanne - still a little too "geometric" for me.
Never been a huge fan of Pointillism, but can't deny the power of Seurat's Study for "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte," 1884. I had forgotten the painted frame within the frame! Or his Circus Sideshow, 1887-88, seeing the difference in the lack of depth, and stiff coldness, versus "A Sunday..." is fascinating. Every print I see of "Circus..." looks like it's been brightened ridiculously in Photoshop. How Van Gogh and Seurat existed at the same time is fascinating.
Van Gogh's Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889, still stunning with it's ripping, swirling movement across the sky and wheat fields.
Picasso's The Blind Man's Meal, 1903, from his blue period is wonderfully haunting. Love the brushwork on Mother and Child by a Fountain, 1901.
The Banquet of the Starved, 1915, by James Ensor, a Belgian, is almost a story on one canvas.
Would like to see more David Hockney, and quite enjoyed Marc Chagal's The Lovers, 1913-14.
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