Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Cruise port Klaipeda

One of the downsides of traveling by cruise ship is that the ports of call are not necessarily places you would have chosen to visit.

And thus I found myself in Klaipeda, the third-largest city in Lithuania, asking myself, "Why am I here?"

Palanga Amber Museum

The tour guide would have answered, "Why, to see the Palanga Amber Museum, of course."

Of course.

rose garden outside Palanga Amber Museum

And indeed the amber museum is very well-organized, and answers any question one may have about amber, as well as offering thousands of amber items for sale in the gift shop.

The drive from the port to the museum offered glimpses of heavily wooded forests, and the excursion did give me a sense of what life might be like in Lithuania.

giant chessboard on street

young boy and mother observing chess game

woman with shopping bag

I had a chance to consider the rooflines of various buildings,

and to appreciate the textures offered by their surfaces.

In these instances, it is probably best to just surrender to the moment.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

National Gallery of Denmark

Should you ever be in Copenhagen, here are some of the treasures that await you in the National Gallery of Denmark. Admittedly, we stumbled upon this building on our way to somewhere else.

Don't you love it when that happens?

Landscape near Collioure, Study for 'The Joy of Life', Henri Matisse, 1905

The Harbour at l'Estaque, Georges Braque, 1906

Alice, Amedeo Modigliani, 1918

The Green Blouse, Henri Matisse, 1936

Self-Portrait, Henri Matisse, 1906

Portrait of Madame Matisse (The Green Line), Henri Matisse, 1906

Still-Life, Raoul Dufy, 1925

Village Seen Through the Trees, Paul Cézanne, 1914

Still Life on a Table, Georges Braque, 1928

the sculpture hall, seen from upper balcony

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Danish Chair

One of the top sites to visit in Copenhagen is the Design Museum, and one of its best exhibits is the one devoted to the design of the chair.

The Danish famously love porcelain and lights but when it comes to chairs, design becomes an obsession. A special section in the museum thus deals with the Danish Chair and the interplay with international chair designs.

The highlight of this display is a tunnel of 110 chairs, which is arguably the most popular part of the museum. Here, each chair is displayed in a single frame like a piece of art. (Many of these chairs are still being produced and priced as if a unique work of art.) 
To quote architect and designer Mies van der Rohe,
"The chair is a very difficult object. Everyone who has ever tried to make one knows that. There are endless possibilities and problems – the chair has to be light, it has to be strong, it has to be comfortable. It is almost easier to build a skyscraper than a chair."

Here are some notes from the museum's display:

The chair is the acid test of designers and one of the favourite objects of design historians. The design brief is simple enough: a structure that can support a body about 42 cm above the ground.
In 1949, in Designmuseum Danmark, the furniture designer Hans J. Wegner presented the chair, which American journalists were to dub The Chair. It became the symbol of a giant Danish export adventure and a national brand known as Danish Design. Wagner, who in his quest for the perfect chair designed more than 500 different ideas for the optimal chair, explained why we constantly need a new chair. 
"The chair is the closest thing to a human being. You can give it a personal expression."
Show me your chair and I will tell you who you are. 
The chair affects and reflects the body it has to carry, with arms, legs, seat and back. It is anthropomorphic. It invests the person sitting in it with status and identity, and gives the designer power of expression. The chair's function as a container for the body is secondary. The chair is one of the most culture-bearing objects we ever invented. It reveals everything about the age and the society in which it was created. 
Judge's bench, academic chair, episcopal throne... Cathedra, catheter, chair....
Chairs are instruments, which give individuals power, authority and dignity. You sit in a particular position or with a particular attitude. Earlier in history, the unnatural static position was reserved for chieftains or divine persons sitting on thrones.
It was not until the advent of democracy in Ancient Greece that the chair became a regular utility item, which had a function other than purely ceremonial. The idea of individual chairs was revived in the Renaissance, and the individualism of the Age of Enlightenment gave rise to countless chairs. In the first half of the 20th century, one could say that the chair was a seating machine: the emphasis was on a chair's function as a container of the body. But in the second half of the 20th century, when the number of chairs soared, everyone got the chair of their choice. The chair became a lifestyle object, which cast the spotlight on the individual.
A chair from a good old family
Denmark became world famous for its many takes on modern chairs in the 20th century. The founder of the Department of Furniture Design at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Professor Kaare Klint referred to "a chair from a good old family". What he meant was that a furniture designer should base his/her designs on tried and tested historical types of chairs, then refine and adapt them to the current age. That is why generations of Danish furniture designers have measured, studied, and drawn inspiration from the historic furniture in the Designmuseum Danmark collection. 
The Danish Chair shows how modern Danish furniture design can be regarded as one big family with its roots far back in history and foreign cultures. Even though the exhibitions places each chair in a frame as an individual and original work, all the chairs are presented in the proximity of close relatives. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Gabriele Münter @ the Louisiana

entrance to Louisiana Museum

I was recently introduced to a new-to-me painter, Gabriele Münter (1877-1962), in a retrospective of her multi-faceted works at the Louisiana Collection, just north of Copenhagen.

Red Vase, 1909

This is a most fortunate coincidence, as the 12 by the dozen group (to which I once belonged) has chosen this artist to inspire their current quarterly challenge, due at the end of August.

Head of a Young Boy, 1909

Head of a Young Girl, 1908

Münter is best-known for her association with Wassily Kandinsky, with whom she co-founded the Blaue Reiter group of artists.  She wrote,
"In many people's eyes, I was only an unnecessary companion of Kandinsky.... That a woman can have an original and genuine talent and be a creative person in her own right – one tends to forget that."

Mill at Lake Iseo, 1946

The show's catalog reads,
"Through ten themes and more than 130 works – many of which have never been shown before – we here experience Gabriele Münter as an open, experimental artist who does not fit easily into any specific art-historical 'isms'." 

View from the Window in Sèvres, 1906

Münter traveled widely, and her life was relatively unrestricted for a woman of her generation. Orphaned as a young adult, she inherited enough from her parents' estate that she could visit the United States, recording her travels with a camera. Her photos showed an exceptional talent for composition, and she was later able to attend art school.

Main Street in Murnau with Horse and Cart, 1933

I would speculate that one of the reasons Münter is not better known is that the style of her paintings ranged widely throughout her 60-year career, depending on her subject. Viewers of art like to be able to identify an artist's work, and a consistency of style allows them to confirm their discrimination. Today we call this "branding".

Olga von Hartmann, c. 1910

It is gratifying to see more attention being given to the work of women artists, at the Louisiana Museum and elsewhere. The exhibition continues until August 19, 2018.

View from the sculpture garden of the Louisiana,
with the coast of Sweden in the distance.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Ordrupgaard Collection at Canada's National Gallery

What a treat it was to visit the National Gallery in Ottawa this month. Their summer blockbuster is a show of French Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings from a Danish museum, the Ordrupgaard Collection. Because the Danish venue is currently closed for renovations, the collection is traveling and we are fortunate enough to be included on the touring schedule.

The exhibition includes 76 paintings, with a good mix of still life, portrait and landscape. The posted information is informative, and the chronological display allows the viewer to see the evolution of French painting, beginning in the mid-1800's, and the context in which Impressionism began, as a reaction to the academic tradition.

Flowers and Fruits, Henri Matisse, 1909

Portrait of a Young Woman, Paul Gauguin, 1896

Waterloo Bridge, Overcast, Claude Monet, 190

My favourite Impressionist is Camille Pissarro. I especially love his city scenes. Often he painted from an elevated position, showing us the scene from his window.

Rue Saint-Lazare, Paris, Camille Pissarro, 1897

Morning Sun in the rue Saint-Honoré, Place du Théâtre Français,
Camille Pissarro, 1898

Plum trees in Blossom, Éragny, Camille Pissarro, 1894

I am prompted to learn more about the painter Eva Gonzalès, whose work and name are unfamiliar to me. She was a student of Edouard Manet, and died in 1883 at the age of 34.

The Convalescent, Portrait of a Lady in White,
Eva Gonzalès, 1877-78

Part of the exhibition is given over to Danish painters. I was most intrigued by the work of Vilhelm Hammershøi, as it has an "alienated" quality, not unlike that of Edward Hopper or Alex Colville.

Interior with Piano and Woman in Black,
Vilhelm Hammershøi, 1901

Our visit included a peek at the newly-organized Canadian collection. There has been an effort to include more women artists, and work by Indigenous artists is interspersed throughout the space. A great sampling, including many small studies by Tom Thomson, and staggeringly large canvases by Jean-Paul Riopelle.

The most memorable part of our visit to the National Gallery was the immersion into the soundscape of the Rideau Chapel. Originally the Chapel of the Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, it was built in Ottawa in 1887-88 and is the only example of its kind in North America from this period to include a Tudor-style, fan-vaulted ceiling. When the original building was sold and later demolished in 1972-73, its interior architecture, in 1123 pieces, was relocated to this annex of the National Gallery.

Forty speakers positioned around the Rideau Chapel each project a single voice,
singing "Spem in Alium" by Thomas Tallis, a 16th-century English composer.
This interactive sound sculpture, The Forty Part Motet, was created by Janet Cardiff.

Do consider a visit to Ottawa's National Gallery this summer. The show of French Impressionists continues until September 9, 2018.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Coup de Coeur

Ian Griffiths is an artist I first encountered through the Lakeshore Artists Association. He most recently showed his work in a solo exhibition, Resurfacing, at the Arbor Gallery in Vankleek Hill.

Sunny Morning, Ian Griffiths, 31 x 41

Griffiths is best known for his paintings that depict kitchen appliances and the reflections found within them. Being a fibre artist, shiny surfaces are not something I usually gravitate to.

Sunbeam Reflections, Ian Griffiths, 30 x 30

So it was all the more exciting to discover the small, sculpted toasters that Griffiths created before he undertook this series of paintings. Some were made of wood, others of laminated, corrugated cardboard. One, titled Harley, was upholstered in black leather with silver studs. All had the rounded shape of a retro toaster, and two separate slices of "bread".

Here is the one that stole our hearts: 

Quilted Sunbeam, Ian Griffiths

It is covered with the quilted textile often used to make oven mitts, and finished with silver studs. 

A whimsical acquisition that will "make us smile" for years to come.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Picasso show, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The title of the current show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is rather complicated:

From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present

but then so is the premise of the show.

I suspect many visitors will be drawn into the museum to see what they anticipate will be a show of Picasso's work. And there are indeed more than one hundred of his prints, paintings and sculptures on display. There are also African and Iberian sculptures from Picasso's personal collection.

Bust of a Man, (study for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon)
Picasso, 1907, oil on canvas

After a Fang artist
The original of this mask was gifted to Fauve painter Maurice de Vlaminck.
Soon afterward, short of money, he sold it to his friend André Derain:
Matisse and Picasso saw it for the first time in 1906.
This mask from Gabon came to symbolize the encounter of European artists
with African art, considered one of the determining factors
in the emergence of modern art in Europe.
Art dealer Ambroise Vollard had this cast made of bronze.

Also on view are many sculptures, some antique and others contemporary, from Africa and the Americas that share qualities of design with Picasso's work. These are exhibited side-by-side with Picasso's, encouraging the viewer to see how the artist was inspired by non-European art. They are carefully labelled with their country or tribe of origin, and their ceremonial use is described in detail. Altogether, more than 300 items are included in the show.

Weeping Woman, Picasso, 1937, oil on canvas

Dance Mask, Inuit artist, before 1935, wood,
collected by members of
the first French expedition to Greenland

On my first visit, I listened to the audioguide as I made my way through the exhibition. The narration went to great pains to create a "politically correct" lens for the viewer. What has been called "primitive" art in the past is now to be seen as evolving in parallel to European art, and as having its own worth independent of its influence on European artists.

The Kiss, Picasso, oil on canvas, 1969

Sinhalese exorcism mask, early 20th century,
wood, fur, vegetable fibre, porcelain,
shell, leather, wire

I enjoyed my second visit more, when I put the audioguide aside, and just appreciated the works from all the cultures on their own visual merits. I was especially delighted by the contemporary African sculpture. So often these works are created from salvaged scrap (metal, plastic, etc.), and the second-hand materials bring with them intimations of their value and use in trade with the West. The history of colonialism imbues the sculpture with an additional layer of meaning.

Head of a Bearded Man, Picasso, oil on canvas (1938?)

Mask, Otomi artists (Mexico)
before 1955, wood, fur, horns

A second show, Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art, shares space with the Picasso exhibit in a continuous layout.

The show continues until September 16, 2018.