gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Category Archives: Art

Art viewing in the time of Covid

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I went to the Art Institute of Chicago recently for the first time since the covid pandemic hit the U.S. last Spring, and I was surprised by how much I felt like I had to re-learn how to look at art and get the most out of a museum visit. I suppose we’ll have to re-learn how to do a lot of things post-pandemic. The Art Institute was quite crowded, which I was not expecting, and there was a three hour wait for the Monet exhibition. I didn’t wait for it, but I definitely want to see it before it goes down in June. It was incredible and rather surreal to see some of my favorite works of art at the museum, and I found myself spending more time than usual in front of them to soak them all in – scanning them from top to bottom so that I didn’t miss anything. I mostly went for the Henri Toulouse-Lautrec special exhibition, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Celebrity Culture of Paris. He’s one of my favorite artists and I always spend time with his works when I go to the Art Institute. They are typically on display in a room close to where the special exhibit is now. To have a full room dedicated to him and his large colorful posters and prints was spectacular. I love the playful imagery in his works that have a slight sense of mockery underneath their artistic virtue.

During my first museum visit since the pandemic started, I had this New York Times article about museums in the Berkshires on my mind. The Berkshires hold a special place in my heart. I love the beauty and the peacefulness of these majestic mountains, that take on a purple hue in just the right light. My mom grew up in the Berkshires and I lived there for one year before going to grad school. This area might be rural, but it is certainly rich and vibrant in art and culture. With numerous museums for its small scope and population, it’s a destination for visitors seeking solace in nature and intellectual awakening in its cultural institutions. The house that my mom grew up in in Williamstown, MA (the same house that I spent my time in while living there) was just steps away from the Clark Art Institute. We also took advantage of and appreciated MASS MoCA and the other museums in the area.

Williamstown, MA

What I really appreciated about this article was the commentary on contemporary art. Contemporary art is certainly contemporary, relatively speaking, but it’s not as contemporary as it claims to be. As this article points out, it can’t keep up with the current times that we have experienced over the past year. What then, one can argue, is the value of contemporary art? I agree with the author, Jason Farago, that we can learn just as much from the old masters as we can from contemporary art. Furthermore, art isn’t so much about what we can learn from it, but how it reminds us of our humanity.

“If I seek out art in a time of national catastrophe, it’s not because I need that catastrophe explained to me. And it’s not because I want to block that catastrophe out with a veil of pretty pictures. It’s simpler than that. It’s because I need to be reminded what to live for.”

Jason Farago

Life presented in theater and literature

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I’ve never been a big reader, but have always wished that I was. The way Hanya Yanagihara, editor of The New York Times Style Magazine, describes the power of a story to take hold of you only reinforces this desire. Our imagination sparked by the what if possibilities that literature affords an author is so exciting. The world that an author can create is truly a testament to the power of the mind and artistic expression. As Yanagihara points out, as an audience we tend be more drawn to stories that are outlandish and exaggerated. They catch our attention because they are different from our experiences, and perhaps encompass that which is not possible for us to experience in our life, making them even more alluring. 

She goes on to discuss the art form of theater and what it is that draws us to this particular art form, one of the oldest. Similar to other art forms that we seek for entertainment and out of intellectual curiosity, like movies or concerts, theater offers us the suspension of our own reality for a short time while we’re witnessing what’s playing out in front of us. Like film, theater also affords us the opportunity to watch a human experience as an outsider looking in, removed from the action, but yet feeling all of the emotions of the characters that we’re watching. Unlike movies or concerts though, there is something more immediate and intimate about theater since the characters acting out these life-like scenarios are doing so right in front of our noses and we can literally touch them with our own hands.  

What I love about the arts is their promise of teaching us something about ourselves, both about our human nature and our individual complexities, as they reflect back to us a clarity and a challenge that leaves us with more questions to investigate. All at once, this duality carries on the intrigue that draws us to the arts in the first place. 

Public art

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Mark Blanchard, Yestermorrow-2B

Public art can sometimes be overlooked because of its place in an open space – not confined by walls or curated as part of an exhibition, standing in conversation with other works around it and all encapsulated by a an aligning thread. I think we’re certainly developing a stronger appreciation for public art these days since museums and galleries  have been closed for the past few months. Not only is it of great value for public art to be admired more emphatically, but it’s also an important reminder that art is for everyone and not only to be accessed, in many cases, by paying for a ticket to get in to a museum.

This article about public art in Chicago by Luke Fidler in New City Art magazine struck me for its simple message conveying our appreciation for public art in a very thoughtful way. I only wish that I always appreciated it so much and that it didn’t take these circumstances to serve as the catalyst.

To be moved and made to think: I’ve always known that public art can do these things, but I’m more grateful now than ever for its capacities. – Luke Fidler

As the streets have been more deserted than usual, we have the opportunity to sit with public works of art more intimately than before – to spend more time with them and get to know them better.

 

Art Institute of Chicago Color Wheel

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The Art Institute of Chicago has a new search filter on their website. You can now search their collection by any color on a color wheel and it will bring up all of the artworks they have with that color in it. How cool is that?? It’s blowing my mind a bit and I can’t stop going around the color wheel… Well done, Art Institute! Click on Show Filters, Color, and viola. Give it a whirl 🙂

A marriage between art and design

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JennyMain

Chicago Gallery News 

There’s something about designer Jenny Brown’s story that resonates with me so much, as I also share a love for art history and design and have felt a bit torn between the two. I studied Art History in grad school and then did an internship at the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, which focused on planning their annual housewalk in Oak Park featuring ten or so houses and buildings designed or inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. I really enjoyed the internship, having the opportunity to go to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio every day, and interact with people interested in the architecture. At the end of the internship I was a point where I could a make a decision to either keep pursuing a more full time, permanent position in the arts, or explore another longstanding interest of mine – interior design. Although I love art and spent my time in grad school wanting to work in the arts after grad school, I couldn’t shake the desire to pursue a more creative outlet, so I did an internship with an interior designer. Since then I’ve been working at a kitchen and bath showroom. Not having a degree in design, working in sales and helping people envision their kitchen or bathroom and guiding them through the selection process fulfills the creative pursuit I was yearning for.

Collecting things as I see them is also a practice I started when I was in high school. My mom and I discovered a fair trade store called Ten Thousand Villages when I was a teenager and I fell in love with all of the unique home decor pieces they have from all over the world. I also loved the fair trade approach and hearing the stories about the artisans who crafted the pieces. We went there what seemed like almost weekly and I started buying things for my future grown-up apartment. The things I bought ended up in boxes and trunks in our attic (many of which are still there because I’m still looking for places to put them). My parents have always liked going to antique shops, auctions, and estate sales, and while I hated them when I was younger because I thought they were SO boring, I began to appreciate them as I got older and now I actually think they’re fun! The idea of finding unique things, both old and new, became an exciting adventure and proved to be a relatively inexpensive way to add to my collection. While buying things as I see them and storing them until I need them might not seem very practical, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The thought of going to a furniture store or a Home Goods to get something generic when I need it just doesn’t appeal to my treasure-hunting, collector’s heart.

I admire how Jenny has drawn upon all of her life experiences, from working at an auction house, to an art gallery, and with a top Chicago interior designer to eventually give life to her own firm, Jenny Brown Designs. I was always frustrated both in college and post-college when I had to choose one thing to study or pursue as a career, but Jenny proves that you don’t have to choose just one. You can have multiple passions that overlap and converge into a multifaceted career. I look forward to forging a path that combines my love for art and interiors in a way where the two draw from one another and influence the other.

 

People matching art

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A friend showed this to me recently and I am so fascinated by it. People matching artwork. I’m an art lover and I go to museums every chance I get, but I’ve never noticed visitors matching the art on the walls. I mean what are the chances? Some of these pairings are more spot on than others, but I’m so impressed by the photographer’s commitment and patience for such a project. Stefan Draschan is the photographer behind these spottings and he has other similar series on people touching artwork, people sleeping in museums, couples matching, etc. All are humorous, but I think the people matching artwork is just perfection. I can’t decide which pairing I like best, but the colors in this one are so striking. I was surprised to find out that Draschan only spends a couple hours in each museum where he captures these moments. But he does go frequently – every few days. He thinks there’s something subconscious that draws people to their matching works of art and that it’s not purely coincidental. We do seem to be attracted to things that mirror us in a way and that provide an opportunity for us to reflect on ourselves. I think a work of art can certainly be that looking glass. Draschan’s love for going to museums and observing people isn’t so much a love as it is necessary, “I really need art…It fills me”, a sentiment that I can certainly relate to.

 

 

Art and beauty in the making

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Once again, Hanya Yanagihara, editor in chief of The New York Times Style Magazine, has dazzled me with her intellect and prose.

As long as there are humans, there will be art – and nothing will ever stop us from trying to make our lives more beautiful. Beauty and artistic innovation may not be rights, like water or food or clean air or free will, but they are impulses, and our desire for them is an important part of what makes us human.

There is something about exercising one’s creative powers that feels enlightening, inspiring, fulfilling, etc. There is an excitement that surrounds creating a unique entity and putting it out there in the world for people to see, therefore sharing a part of us and knowing that others will it. I don’t know if every single person has a creative drive, and certainly some have a much stronger creative drive than others, but I’m sure it can be argued that anything someone does has some kind of power behind it; if not fueled by creativity then certainly fueled by a desire to achieve an ambition, act on an impulse, or create something.

Striving for beauty takes the desire to create something to another level because it’s not enough to simply create, but to create something beautiful becomes a task that taunts us and frustrates us. Despite this obstacle that we have to overcome, or perhaps because of it, we can’t help but feel propelled to continue striving for beauty. Beauty not only makes us happy in the present moment, but it is what pushes us forward and compels us to connect with others and the world around us.

Museums of everyday life

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The Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, VT exhibits random objects that most would probably consider junk, especially in our disposable throw-away society. But I think the argument that these objects actually hold value and are worth keeping, maybe not in your own home, but somewhere for people to look at and remember, is worth considering. And that it was recently featured in the New York Times is certainly a testament to that. The museum, which is an unassuming barn, displays matches, which was the first exhibition, locks and keys, scissors, toothbrushes, etc. Some objects from special exhibitions then make it into the permanent collection. These objects may seem completely mundane, but they are important in their banality because they are things that we use everyday and are all around us. The museum is free and open to the public, although donations are always appreciated. It truly is a public space, as there is no one there attending to it and visitors can just come and go.

I lived in New England for one year and I absolutely loved it. Somehow a free little barn museum full of mundane, thrown-away objects is something I can totally picture in New England! 🙂

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It turns out this isn’t the only museum of everyday objects. They are around the world, including Hversdagssafn in Iceland. Their focus seems to be not only on mundane objects of everyday life, but also feelings, experiences, memories of everyday life, and “finding the poetry that comes forward when no one is looking.” As the women behind the museum, Björg and Vaida, put it:

Everyday life is a little bit like dark matter. It is what happens in between significant moments in life and holds everything together. It is meeting friends, having dinner, yelling at children, being yelled at, sulking, laughing and so on. And so on. It is walking from one place to the next. It is going to work. It is staying at home. It is worrying and washing dishes. It is both random and routine.

All of these little everyday things that we do mindlessly are actually what make up our lives and build our story day after day. So not only should everyday objects be appreciated, but also routine actions and activities because they are what make up our lives on a very primary level, and then comes everything else.

Chicago’s residential architecture styles

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Chicago is the city of the three story walk-up apartment building. Or at least the Chicago I know. Sure, it is also home to the high-rise apartment building, but that is a world that I’m not quite accustomed to since, well, high-rises are generally at a different price point than walk-ups. The Chicago magazine recently did an article about the styles of residential architectural in Chicago by AJ LaTrace, illustrated by Phil Thomas of Cape Horn Illustration.

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I’m partial to bungalows, so I think that’s my favorite type of Chicago home. Apparently the bungalow is also symbolizes “a man with a more authentic connection to Chicago than the cosmopolitan High-Rise Man”. The article offers historical insights about each style, like the fact that there are about 80,000 bungalows in the city, the greystone is “Chicago’s response to the Brooklyn browstone”, worker’s cottages were quickly rebuilt after the great fire, and Mies van der Rohe’s influence on the modernist high-rise. And the illustrations are magnificent. If you like what you see, check out Phil Thomas’s website, where you can buy a print for yourself!

 

 

“A Museum for Everyone”

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The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) recently got a new director and she has a spot in the Williams College Magazine to introduce herself to the college and alumni. Reading about her art journey was interesting to me because one might assume that the director of an art museum would have art flowing through her veins since before she was born while still in the womb. But not so for Pamela Franks, which is actually inspiring because it means that one can find an interest in and a passion for art at any age and stage of one’s life. Franks discovered art in college by taking an art history class on a whim.

“The joy of prolonged observation, of seeing ever more detail over time and becoming fluent in the visual language of art, was transformative. Knowing that someone, somewhere, made these remarkable objects felt like a direct connection across time and place.”

I have grown up around art ever since I can remember because both of my parents are art historians, and while I love art now, this was not always true. Growing up around something doesn’t necessarily constitute an affinity for it. I definitely went through a period of time when I was so sick of being dragged to art museums as a kid. But now I greatly appreciate the exposure my parents facilitated towards art appreciation.

Franks is setting forth to make her new museum a place for learning and engagement not only for Williams students, but for anyone who walks through the door that might have a similar eye-opening experience she had in college when she took that art history class on a whim. We never know what we might discover that could change the course of our lives.