Friday, March 22, 2013

Art That Follows Me Around or I think Van Gogh is Stalking Me!

My parents made sure that I developed an appreciation for art from an early age. I have a childhood memory of going to an L.A. museum with my parents, who were, at the time, taking an art appreciation course. As we looked at the works on display they imported to me an my siblings the insights and information they had received. Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" and Thomas Lawrence's "Pinkie" were always a highlight of our trips to the Huntington Library during my young years in L.A.  A visit with my parents during my early teen years to a retrospect of the work of Claus Oldenburg introduced me to the wonderful and imaginative work of this most original artist. The spare, angular interior of the museum on the U.C. Berkeley campus provided an excellent setting for his outsized world view. Visits to museums across the U.S. and Europe were always integral parts of our family vacations.

I live in an art rich city. Our public art plus museum collections contain an almost embarrassment of opportunities to see and appreciate works buy many of the world's greatest masters. This is augmented by special exhibitions providing me with the opportunity to appreciate an even wider range of works. Taking a cue from my parents, I make it a point when I travel to seek out the museums of the cities I visit. This has resulted in my often encountering the same work in different settings.

I have had the privilege, and good fortune, to view Van Gogh's "A Starry Night" 3 separate times in three different venues. It's permanent home is New York's Museum of Modern Art. During my first visit to New York the museum was closed due to the herculean task of dismantling a major Picasso retrospect. Upon my second day of wandering the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, an art institution so vast that it takes at least two days to fully appreciate, I discovered, on an upper floor in a distant corner, the European Collection of the Modern Art museum. It had been loaned to the Metropolitan during the Picasso show. It was there I encountered the famous Van Gogh piece for the first time. It is a piece of incredible power. The madness and emotions of the tortured artist seem to emanate from the canvas and bombard the viewer. You can feel the inner demons he attempted to exorcise in his work in the swirling brushstrokes of the night sky encircling the stars. It left me simultaneously breathless and exhilarated. On another visit to New York, some years later I was able to see it at it's home, along with the rest of the works I had seen on that earlier visit at the Metropolitan. I experienced the same deep emotional response as I had the first time I saw it.

A special exhibition was mounted in Chicago centering on the summer Van Gogh and Gauguin shared a home and studio. My ex-roommate had come for a short visit over the holidays. Attending this exhibition was to be our major activity during his time here. We moved through the crowded galleries commenting to each other about the works on view. I suddenly saw, over the heads of the crowd the top portion of "A Starry Night". I watched my ex-roommates reaction as he viewed it for the first time and fondly recalled my initial encounter with the remarkable work. This same exhibition was touring Italy when we were there. Of course we did not take time out of our all too brief visit to see it again, we had the collections of the Vatican and Michelangelo's "David" to sate our artistic thirst.

Also on that first visit to New York the Whitney presented a retrospect of the work of the great American realist Edward Hopper. My time was too limited to attend this, however, several months later the show moved to San Francisco, my home at the time. It was there I saw for the first time "Nighthawks". The paining is odd and ambiguous, almost eerie. Despite it's hyper-realism, the figures depicted seem to inhabit a realm that is almost surreal. The attention to details such as the interiors of the shops along the street draw the viewer into this world. It's permanent home is Chicago's Art Institute, which is where I encountered it next. Having the opportunity to see it a number of times since I never tire of it. At one point another retrospect of Hopper's work was touring. "Nighthawks" was loaned as a centerpiece of the show. It's place at the Art Institute was left blank. A small card with a black and white photo of the painting explained it's absence. Finally, along with the rest of the retrospective, it returned. As I stood before it I smiled. Although I was glad others were able to experience it as I had, it felt like I was welcoming an old friend back after a long time away.

While in the Impressionist portrait gallery of the St Louis Museum of Art I came upon a Gauguin which had been part of the exhibit with Van Gogh. In the center of the room a sculpture by Degas had been in an exhibit I had seen in Milwaukee. The Art Institute mounted an exhibition of Jasper John's works entitled "Shades of Gray". While visiting the Nevelson Museum in Houston two of the pieces I had seen in that show hung side by side in one of the galleries there.....I could go on.......

I find that as I experience works of art in different settings, juxtaposed against different works, I gain a different perspective. I see things in the works I may not have seen before or gain a greater understanding of a pieces place in an artist's timeline.

Art, you are free to follow me around. In fact, I encourage you to do so. 

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