The Eyes

The Eyes

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Happy National Dessert Day!

Around the Cake by Wayne Thiebaud

Fanciful Ice Cream Cone by Andy Warhol

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Intrigue of the Little Black Book

The "Little Black Books" of some American artists are currently on view at the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C. In this era of digital communication, contacts can be quickly updated, shared, and even deleted at the click of a button. Before smartphones and computers, traditional address books stored important, and sometimes confidential, contact information, and other details. 

The little black book has long been considered the secret space where the most intimate, mysterious details were once kept—a femme fatale’s list of lovers, a business magnate’s key clients, a detective’s code-named informants. These unadorned volumes, where a person would jot down contacts and other personal details, is less coherent than a diary, but its scattering of names, numbers, and appointments is in some ways more intriguing.

The show dives into the personal address books—complete with enigmatic notes, strikethroughs, and ink stains—of artists like Jackson Pollock and Joseph Cornell. The books offer a glimpse into the personal lives of these luminaries, and a portal into a time when important private information was scribbled into a modest volume, and carried around, unsecured, and dog-eared.

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner's list of friends is a Who's Who of the day's top artists: Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, and critic Clement Greenberg. Also, in their address book, Pollock's psychologist and the homeopathic doctor who tried to "cure" his alcoholism.

Just as an address book provides a vehicle through which to understand a person, it also served in one case as a pathway to a much larger world for its owner. Assemblage artist Joseph Cornell was a known recluse, who rarely left his home in Flushing, New York. But his address book is packed with names of avant-garde artists with whom he frequently exchanged letters and gifts, many of which he used in his collages. 

Although Cornell never really left New York, he did accumulate through all his friends and people listed in his address book, all these experiences from around the world.  People seemed to really enjoy corresponding with him. They brought the world to him. He didn’t leave much, but still had a really interesting life through those relationships.

"Little Black Books" runs through November 1, 2015 at the Archives of American Art Fischbach Gallery in the Smithsonian's American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Restoring the Grandeur of Rome

Rome's famous Spanish Steps closed to the public Wednesday for a restoration project funded by luxury jeweler Bulgari that is expected to last several months. Bulgari is putting $1.7 million into the refurbishment. The 18th-century Baroque-style stairway, which has 144 steps, was last restored 20 years ago. 

The work, which will be carried out by local restorer is expected to be finished by spring 2016, at which point the steps will be "restored to the whole world in all their beauty and splendor," Rome mayor Ignazio Marino said. 

The steps will be closed to pedestrians until December 7—the start of a special Jubilee year expected to draw millions of Catholic pilgrims to Rome. 

"Rome has always been the number one source of inspiration for Bulgari so it is right to give back to Rome what Rome has given Bulgari," the jeweler's CEO Jean-Christophe Babin said as work began. 

The work includes re-levelling the steps to repair natural wear, maintenance of the rainwater drainage system, as well as restoring the original lamps which illuminate the steps by night. 

The Spanish Steps, which links Bernini's "boat" fountain with the Trinita dei Monti church at the top, were made famous in the United States by the 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. 

Bulgari pledged the money last year in response to a government plea for help in financing Italy's heritage monuments. In addition, the private sector is already helping restore other UNESCO monuments: in Rome, luxury shoemaker Tod's is financing works at the Colosseum, while high-end fashion house Fendi is refurbishing the Trevi Fountain.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Short Architectural History of the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery

The Renwick Gallery is the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s branch for contemporary craft and decorative arts and is the first purpose-built art museum in the United States. The building is considered one of the first and finest examples of Second Empire architecture in the United States. 

The Renwick building was designed to house the art collection of William Wilson Corcoran, a native Washingtonian and a prominent banker and philanthropist. In 1858, Corcoran engaged the noted architect James Renwick Jr., who had earlier designed the Smithsonian’s Castle in Washington and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, to design a public museum in which to display his art collection. 

Construction of the Renwick building marked an important moment in the cultural history of the United States, as it was the first time a building had been designed expressly as an art museum, and helped to introduce a new style of architecture to Washington and to the nation. 

Renwick was inspired by the Louvre’s newest addition in Paris and modeled the gallery in the Second Empire style that was then the height of French fashion. His design integrated the central pavilion and distinct mansard roofs he saw in France with his own creative interpretation of proportions, details and architectural elements. The result was a building unlike anything else in the United States at the time, popularizing a style that soon spread throughout the country. 

Renwick chose a contrasting palette of materials for the building: Baltimore pressed red brick, brown Bellville sandstone from New Jersey and purple Welsh slate. The interior included a grand flight of stairs to the second floor, which featured a main picture gallery (the Grand Salon) and an “Octagon Room” that was designed for Corcoran’s favorite sculpture. Elegant arched entryways to the galleries echoed the arched windows and front doorway. 

The architect incorporated a whimsical American touch into his design by adding ears of corn among the acanthus leaves of the columns’ capitals, inspired by Benjamin Latrobe’s earlier use of corn in his capitals at the U.S. Capitol. The words “Dedicated to Art” were inscribed in stone above the front entrance. Upon its eventual completion, Sen. Charles Sumner dubbed the building the “American Louvre.”

Known today as the Renwick Gallery, it is the third oldest Smithsonian building. In 1956, Congress proposed that the building be razed. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy successfully led the campaign to save the Renwick building as part of her plan to restore Lafayette Square and in 1965, S. Dillon Ripley, then secretary of the Smithsonian, met with President Lyndon Johnson to request that it be turned over to the Smithsonian. 

It was subsequently dedicated “for use as a gallery of art, crafts and design.” It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and was designated a National Historic Landmark building in 1971. The Renwick Gallery opened in 1972 as the home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s contemporary craft and decorative art program. 

The Renwick Gallery, after completing an extensive two-year renovation, reopens to the public Friday, November 13, with carefully restored historic features, entirely new infrastructure, dramatically improved energy efficiency and other upgrades that will make the National Historic Landmark building into a 21st-century destination.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Case of the Upside Down Matisse at MoMA

Le Bateau (The Boat) | 1953
Museum of Modern Art
[Image shown right side up.]

In October and November of 1961, only one person among the 116,000 visitors to the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition "The Last Works of Henri Matisse" noticed that one of the most elegant of the great artist’s late career cutouts, Le Bateau ("The Boat") was hanging upside down. The esteemed curators responsible for capsizing the sailboat, and even the artist's own son, the New York art dealer Pierre Matisse, had not noticed the error. 

Le Bateau, executed in 1953, is comprised of paper cutouts forming a blue boat sailing on a windy day with clouds, and the water outlined with graceful, yet assertive, curving purple lines. The bottom half of the picture shows a stylized reflection of the boat and clouds. 

“For the last forty-seven days, a picture by the
French master Henri Matisse has been hanging
in the Museum of Modern Art—upside down."
New York Times | December 5, 1961

However, a stockbroker named Genevieve Habert could not believe that Matisse would have arranged the picture in such a way as to give more detail to the reflection than the boat itself. An admirer of Matisse’s work, she visited the exhibition multiple times and on the third visit bought a catalogue, which, showing the picture correctly displayed, validated her assumption. 

Habert approached a nearby guard to notify him of the mistake. The guard responded rather amusingly, "You don’t know what’s up and you don’t know what’s down and neither do we." Undeterred by this modernist babble, Habert made her way to the information desk, but as it was a Sunday, the curatorial staff were not available. She decided to contact the New York Times, who ran the story on December 5a day after an embarrassed director of the exhibition righted the picture. 

According to the museum’s curators, Le Bateau had been hung incorrectly in the past as indicated by deep screw holes in the frame, which along with the labels had led them unwittingly to commit their error. On closer inspection, however, screw holes were discovered on the correct half of the frame as well, indicating that at least once the sailboat had headed in the right direction. 

Le Bateaunow part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Arthangs right side up.