Sometimes art is great, and sometimes it stinks, but it’s always easy to figure out when you listen to the Navel Gaze.
Welcome to the podcast that takes the tinkle out of fine art. Angela Sawyer and Ken Green visit museums, galleries, statues, and other high-fallutin’ spots around New England and then tell you what’s good and bad about it.
Ken, Kim, and Angela visited the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. The PEM was created in 1992, when two existing museums merged. It’s current building was built in 2003. It’s collection goes all the way back to a local marine society founded in 1799, where local ship captains and seagoers put together their favorite curiosities.
Some of the other ladies in The World of Women include Portrait of Eunice Brown Fitch by Joseph Blackburn in 1760. There’s also John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Sarah Lawrence Brooks from 1890, John Singleton Copley’s Portrait of Sarah Erving Waldo from 1765, and Chatelaine’s Portrait of Lucy Dodge Allen from 1834. Sarah Waldo is no relation to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and while Sarah Lawrence Brooks is the daughter of Abbott Lawrence (who founded Lawrence, Mass.) she has nothing to do with Sarah Lawrence college.
Cotton Bennett made this Lady’s Secretary in Beverly, Mass. in 1809. Some reviews of ladies’ pens.
The Maritime Art and History exhibit is dominated by The Burning of the Luxborough Galley by John Clevely in 1759.
Clevely painted nothing but ships, and had twin sons among his seven children, both of whom also painted nothing but ships. The Luxborough Galley was a ship that carried slaves to Jamaica, and the previous trip had seen half of those imprisoned aboard die from smallpox. On this trip, two boys saw liquid leaking, held a candle to see where the leak was coming from, and started a fire. They hid in order to escape punishment, and the fire subsequently blew up the ship, as it was also carrying gunpowder. 16 people, including the boys, escaped to a small boat meant to hold 2. They were adrift for 2 weeks, and with the help of the ship doctor, cut up the dead and ate them to survive. 11 of the original crew of 32 survived, and 10 of those survivors got right back on a ship to go to London.
N. C. Wyeth’s They Took Their Wives With Them On Their Cruises, from 1937. Wyeth is best known as the illustrator for the most popular printing of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the book that invented pirates.
Cleopatra’s Barge was an extravagantly large luxury yacht built in Salem in 1816. It was built by George Crowninshield Jr., whose brother Ben was the secretary of the US Navy at the time. George died and the boat went to some Boston middlemen, who flipped it and sold it to the King of Hawaii in 1820. According to missionaries who used it to get back and forth between the Hawaiian islands, the crew and King were usually really drunk. Amid some arguments about payment and whether the wood was rotten, the ship ran aground in Kauai and broke in half while locals were trying to save it.
The Peabody has a life-sized model of the inside of the ship. They have a lot of the original furnishings, most of which were stolen off the ship while it was frozen into the harbor on the winter before it’s first voyage.
The Case of the Missing Artist exhibit features two paintings by Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen, two by James Edward Buttersworth, and then one 1875 painting, The Yacht Dreadnaught, that the museum helped identify. The unattributed painting first appeared on Antiques Roadshow.
Buttersworth was the son of a painter and was often asked to paint ship races, as photography was not yet a viable way to document them. His paintings are known for the severe angles of the ships in motion.
The Lady With the Gas Cylinder was made by Bikash Bhattacharjee in 1986. It is part of an exhibit called MegaCity: India’s Culture Of the Streets. Bhattacharjee taught painting at universities in the 1970s and 1980s in Kolkata (aka Calcutta, West Bengal), and exclusively painted it’s inhabitants.
Manjit Bawa made Dharma and the God in 1984. He is known for playing the flute, and for using vibrant colors where figures float on a flat field. Last year, Florida suffered a rash of triple-butt graffiti.
Empress dowager Cixi was drafted by the state as a prepubescent girl in 1851, because of her good looks, and forced to become a concubine in the closed Beijing palaces. Her complex rise through various court tensions and realignments resulted in a coup in 1861, and she remained the head of the imperial family through many internal skirmishes and full wars-of-state until her death in 1908.
This enameled porcelain elephant and pair of tigers from the late 1600s were made in the town of Arita on the southwest tip of Japan, and there are only a few others like them in the world. The individual artist is unknown.
This Dragon Robe is from the Qing dynasty, which ran Beijing from 1644-1912. Only the highest ranked man and woman in the court were allowed to wear this color yellow. Both the robe and the sash above are part of the huge Empresses of China’s Forbidden City exhibit.
Lion dance folk performances are Japan’s answer to the horse costume where one guy wears the head and the other guy wears the tail. This Shishigashira is from 1645 and comes from the Ishikawa province, which is on the western coast across the island from Tokyo. The hair is made of a horse’s mane.
Thanks for joining us!
Ken and Angela visited the sprawling Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
There were so many things to look at here, this episode turned out quite long. The MFA opened in 1870, and their permanent collection has half a million pieces in it. At 617,000 square feet, it’s more than 14 acres of artsiness. The most recent wing opened in 2011 after a huge all-out reconstruction campaign that took 7 years and was so expensive the museum had to sell several high-priced old paintings to finish hanging new stuff. The museum holds classes of various kinds, shows movies, has a whole college attached next door (The SMFA), and of course offers several different kinds of tours and memberships.
Even the back door is impressive.
Here’s the simplest layout of the inside I could come up with. The museum employs roughly 1000 people and has 5 different cafeterias.
The Art of the English Regency is an exhibition on display in the Susan Morse Hilles gallery, part of the Art of Europe wing, that mimics the ceiling drapes, furniture, and all that was trendy in London the early 1800s.
The Carlton House desk in the center of this picture is named after the place where desks like this were known to hang out, namely the residence of George IV. George ran the UK while his father the king suffered from mental illness from 1811-1820, and was then king himself from 1820-1830. It was probably made by the royals favorite cabinet maker at the time, George Oakley.
Above the Carlton House desk hangs Eruption of Vesuvius with Destruction of a Roman City, by Sebastian Pether. Sebastian was the son of a slightly more famous painter, Abraham, who also painted Vesuvius. Son Sebastian really socks it to his dad with the different kinds of light he lets loose here. Abraham was known for getting moonlight on water just right, so much so that his nickname was ‘moonlight’. Abraham was exhibited by the Royal Academy 61 different times, while Sebastian was rejected from it. Abraham invented a type of lead pencil and built his own telescopes, while poor Sebastian was broke his whole life because he sired 9 children, and didn’t even get credit when he suggested the invention of a stomach pump to a doctor. Sebastian died at age 54 of inflammation, but not before seeing 4 of his children die from consumption and lockjaw. He completed this painting in 1824.
There are no pictures of Sebastian, but here’s one of his dad Abraham.
French Pastels, Treasures From the Vault, is an exhibition in the Rabb Gallery. Ken noticed this dandy fella named Rene Maizeroy, painted by Edouard Manet in 1882. Manet is well known as the father of impressionism specifically and modern painting in general.
In the late 1800s, his paintings were considered a little sketchy and messy, and even superficial, as he eschewed the traditional techniques that were meant to create visual depth. Manet also liked painting rich people having a nice time in Paris (like Rene, who was a recently retired novelist). At the time of this painting, Manet was confined to a wheelchair because of leg pain & paralysis. He thought it was from a circulatory problem, but historians now think he had severe complications of syphillis.
Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born in Pennsylvania, but spent most of her life in France. She was a suffragette and a colleague of Edgar Degas and showed both at the Paris Salon and in independent Impressionist exhibitions. She directed her own education and made a living as an artist at a time when women were not admitted to most higher education facilities, and many thought that women were incapable of pursuing art as an intellectual practice. You might recognize her Little Girl in a Blue Armchair or The Child’s Bath.
This 1903 painting, Simone in Plumed Hat is one of a couple of Simone, and also one of several of little girls in portrait formalwear. Cassatt’s most famous paintings show intimate moments between mothers and children, and they’re quite different than her slightly miffed little girls sitting stock still in ruffles. Counterproof is a technique in engraving that Cassatt learned from Degas. It’s basically the 1800s version of a xerox.
This Untitled work from 2003 was made with dixie cups and hot glue, and sits at the top of one of the main hallway ceilings.
Artist Tara Donovan lives in Brooklyn, and her art generally uses repeating, manufactured items that are pliable. She creates huge, undulating sculptures that are specifically made in and for each building they sit in.
The dixie cup design.
A 1970s style cup holder.
All Art Has Been Contemporary was made in 2011 by Maurizio Nannucci.
Maurizio makes neon works in all caps, mostly, but sometimes neon sculptures. He lives in Florence.
Jeppe Hein’s Please was made in 2008.
Jeppe splits his time between Copenhagen and Berlin, where he makes minimal, but interactive sculptures, mostly of something other than neon.
Here is an article about Icelandic reggae bands. Antonio Fargas played Huggy Bear on Starsky & Hutch from 1975-79. Fargas was and is very frequently mistaken for Sammy Davis Jr.
I was also reminded of some benches by Jenny Holzer in the Albright-Knox gallery in Buffalo.
The MFA is currently exhibiting 11 Mark Rothko pieces, some from even before he began painting in his signature style. Rothko moved from Russia (a part that’s currently in Latvia) to Portland, Oregon when he was 13. He went to anarchist meetings as a high school age kid, dropped out of Yale, and took art classes in his 20s. He had his first solo show in New York by the mid 1930s. He went through a bunch of little phases, disliking the Whitney Museum, getting a couple of divorces, getting really into mythological symbols or Freud or Nietzsche, etc.
But then in 1946, he started painting blobs, and then thick stripes (like Untitled, 1949, above), and then, suddenly, big rectangular blurry blocks of colors.
Here’s Untitled from 1955.
No. 1 from 1961.
No. 7 and No. 8, from 1964, are almost impossible to take pictures of in a way that shows what you see when you look at them in person.
Here’s a 1950s ad agency, namely McCann Erickson, photographed by Henri Cartier Bresson.
The cover of Count Basie’s The Atomic Mr. Basie.
Zhang Wang is from Beijing and he makes chrome-covered sculptures that almost always look like rocks.
Artificial Rock #85 is from 2005, and it’s part of the Nature exhibition. Many of Wang’s rocks are intentionally located in front of buildings in China, where he says they best highlight a nice juxtaposition of natural/traditional (that is to say, rock) and contemporary (chrome).
John Wayne took his nickname ‘Duke’ from the name of his parents’ dog.
Utah’s national parks are so well known for their cool looking rocks that they are nicknamed the Mighty Five. The five parks are Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches.
Joan Jonas grew up in New York City, and went to school in Holyoke and next door to this museum at the SMFA. She makes lots of video pieces that use mirrors. Some of them are cool, like Mirror Piece I from 1969.
But Ken & I weren’t fond of Reanimation from 2013. Ice Drawing from 2012 was a little better. Both of them are found in the Seeking Stillness exhibit.
Philip Corner is best known for music pieces with gongs, but he also likes field recordings.
He recorded a beach in 1994 for the album Italian Air, issued in 2012.
Corner also happened to perform on Ben Patterson’s 1960 “Paper Piece” that appears on Ben’s 1999 cd Early Works.[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSpOu-qcEBg[/embed]
But the star piece of that particular cd is one written in 1995, “A Simple Opera”. It’s one of my all time faves.
Here’s a picture of Nicole Cherubini with her daughter Roma where she’s clearly a fantastic person to get to know.
Melba was made in 2012, and it’s part of the exhibit called Studio Craft and Beyond.
The last thing you see before you get a dental mold.
There’s a video piece right next to the bathroom by Eugenia Calvo, of a woman throwing mattresses out a window. It’s called Caida Libre (Freefall). It’s from 2010.
This Agnes Martin piece is part of an exhibit called Process. Its Untitled #15, from 1988.
Karen LaMonte’s Maiko is part of the Studio Craft and Beyond exhibit and was made in 2011.
I Dreamed I Could Fly, made in 2000 by Jonathan Borofsky hangs across the whole museum ceiling. The MFA closes at 5pm Sunday through Tuesday, but 10pm Wednesday through Friday. If you read this far, you’ve done a lot. So thank you & see you next time.
Ken and Angela visited a bunch of pieces at the Harvard Art Museums, more commonly known as ‘The Fogg’,which was established in 1895.
The museum includes rooms known as the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger, and the Sackler. I counted 9 different exhibits across 3 floors.
Part of the Art In Public Spaces exhibit is 258 Fake by Ai Weiwei. It was made in 2011 and consists of 12 monitors, shaped like cell phones, that show a total of 7,677 photos. The photos come from Weiei’s blog, which was taken down by the Chinese government in 2009.
Curve X, by Ellsworth Kelly, is from 1974. It’s part of the museum’s Modern and Contemporary Art exhibit, and the empty space that you see because of the very slight curve in the side of the piece is meant to evoke loss.
Four Greens is part of a series by Josef Albers called Homage to the Square. He began the series in 1949 to research what it looked like when related colors sat together. Albers taught design at the Bauhaus school in the 1920s and 30s, and also at Black Mountain College, and Yale. He took lots of photographs, made wallpaper, stained glass, woodcuts, album covers for Enoch Light, and lots more. This painting was done in 1964, long after he was famous, mostly just for teaching color theory. One of the other paintings in the series, Against Deep Blue, is from 1955. Albers was the first living artist to be given a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, in 1971. Four Greens and Against Deep Blue are part of the Mid Century Abstractions exhibit.
Victor Grippo is from Buenos Aires. His piece Analogia I is from 1970-71 and part of the exhibit The Sixties Experiment. Many of Grippo’s work feature potatoes, and at least at the Tate in London, they have to replace the potatoes once a week. Here’s a link to create your own potato battery.
The dead brains I was worried about turned out to be the brains of pigs.
Also, here’s a picture of Louis Pasteur’s original flasks. They have beef broth in them, not a whole steak, and they’re from the 1860s.
Georgia O’Keefe’s Red and Pink is from 1925, and was painted for a silk manufacturer’s brochure. It was constructed by enlarging and cropping flower petals. Although she spent some time working in New York, O’Keefe is best known for living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Fogg has it as part of their Surrealism exhibit.
David Alfaro Siqueiros was a raging communist who painted murals in Mexico during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). El Fin del Mundo is from 1936 and part of the Social Realism exhibit. David used pictures of a real place in Iraq as inspiration (called Taq Kasra), and the result is a 3D painting where the rock ridges come right off the canvas.
The red reminded Ken of Ronnie James Dio, and me of Dario Argento and He Man. Obviously.
And also the right panel from the triptych Garden of Earthly Delights, painted around 1500 by Heironymous Bosch and used on innumerable album covers and postcards ever since.
Todd Hido’s #2810 is from 2001. He lives in San Francisco and takes lots of pictures of suburban houses (that makes them look non-awful) and also recently took photos of models for an Italian fashion line. This photo reminds me a lot of one by Remi Thornton, who also takes a lot of nighttime pictures in the burbs.
Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks from 1942.
Thanks for listening!
Ken and Angela visited three pieces at the Boston ICA.
Before 2006, the ICA was located at 955 Boylston Street for over 30 years.
Liz is from Boston, and it’s the first time she’s had a piece at the ICA.
Sondra is from New Jersey, and has shows around the country and in London.
Hybrid Bodies is an exhibit within a larger ICA show called Art in the Age of the Internet 1989 to Today. One of it’s pieces is Safe Conduct by Ed Atkins.
Josh Kline made Saving Money With Subcontractors between 2015 and 2017.
Josh is originally from Philadelphia, but lives in New York. He is an art curator as well as an artist.
Thanks for listening!