Tag Archives: Museum artwork

Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City, and the Grassi Museum, Leipzig

Having visited many fine museums throughout the world and being an avid student of art history, I enjoy venturing beyond the usual Eurocentric and Asian collections to investigate Islamic Art. I also like to pair my interest in art with world history and Silk Road civilizations. I am currently reading The Silk Roads, A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It was recommended to us by Oxford scholar Craig Clunis. It turns traditional thinking about world history on its head and is a fascinating read.

My quest for understanding the Silk Road was initiated a few years ago during my first world journey in 2014 through Northwest China and the relatively untouristic path from Dunhuang through Turfan and Urumqi to Uzbekistan (See World Travels 2014 Page). My current personal research on Iran at the opposite end of my initial travels on the Silk Road  (originally named Seidene Strasse by a German academic) will hopefully culminate in a trip to Persia in the near future.

I couldn’t resist a stop at the Metropolitan Museum’s expanded and comprehensive collection of Near Eastern Artwork.  I two-timed the Michelangelo exhibit, the primary purpose of my visit,  that I saw with my sister in New York last month. The section includes an entire room with a soothing trickling water fountain and narrowly proportioned, elegant tracery windows made to simulate a traditional courtyard. Selected items in the collection are below, some with captions (but not all) .

As a design major in my undergraduate days at UC Berkeley, I learned Western calligraphy styles, such as Carolingian, Uncial, and Gothic. I couldn’t help but want to master the Islamic calligraphic style that now suddenly appeared so beautiful and balanced to me. Of course, learning how to read it would be part of the goal, a simple feat…

My earliest curiosity over the wide stretches between Asia and Europe came from specific designs of “Oriental” carpets, such as Bokhara, Tabriz, Caucasian, and Isfahan. I had no idea what they meant. Lo and behold, the places where they were made exist, or once did.  It was exciting for me to discover that Bokhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan were also UNESCO world heritage sites.

Below are a representative collection of carpets in the Near East Gallery at the MET. The weavers of the Anhalt Medallion carpet (2nd from the left below) followed a paper cartoon in creating the design.  The carpet is derived from the Anhalt prince of Dessau, whose ancestors may have acquired it through military campaigns against the Ottoman Turks in the late 17th C.

Porcelain was a coveted item from China. In addition to silk, these goods pwere transported along what became the Silk Road. The Sogdian traders based in Samarkand were the kings of the highway, and were adept at managing, bargaining and anticipating desirable goods along the route. In turn, cobalt and copper were brought from the Near to the Far. The beautiful calligraphy and inscription to the bowl below reads “Planning before work protects you from regret; good luck and well being”.

There were only a few sculptural ceramics but I particularly liked the whimsical and creative “bird woman” shown below.

I’m including a few of the beautiful floral-themed beauties that I discovered at the Grassi Museum in Leipzig (descriptions are in German) below, to compare with those from the MET.

The featured map above also comes from the Grassi. I could stare at maps like these forever, to contemplate and realize how little we know about the vast array of significant dots between Europe and Asia. You can’t really study the Silk Road without knowing the key place names that put them in time and order!

Michelangelo Drawings at the Met

As an earnest and diligent student of figure drawing, I followed my art instructor’s recommendation to see the Michelangelo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. The drawings are culled from multiple collections, both public and private, throughout Europe and the U.S. I was enraptured by each contour, hatchline, and the shade and shadows that created three-dimensional images on a flat piece of paper. These magical acts come from a discipline unmatched by any other since Renaissance times, and I was able to view these hundred or more performances all at once.

I first joined an exclusive after-hours evening at the Met to digest and sip the information slowly. The next morning, with a courtesy admission, I was able to quickly document the exhibition so I could later savor this encounter with Michelangelo.

Here are a few visual highlights with associated text from the exhibition. They are annotated in the order that resonates the most for my interest in figure drawing:

Portraiture

 

The Human Figure

 

 

Early Precedents: These show how and from whom he learned. The white highlights on tone paper provide contrast and depth to the drawings.

 

Painting Preparation and Students

 

Architecture

 

Sculpture

 

City Planning

 

There’s still time to see this magnificent exhibition until February 12! If you are unable to attend, I invite you to please study and relish these reproduced copies carefully. In order to share these in a timely fashion, I have not captioned or annotated every image. I hope you will nevertheless catch the whiff of Michelangelo’s development, intentions, and success.  We should appreciate the wealth of information we now have at our disposal. The contributors to the exhibition are listed below. Congratulations and thanks to the Metropolitan Museum for this incredible effort.

P.S. I wanna be this guy!!

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…seems it sometimes rains in Southern California…

Coming from Northern California to Southern California and finding drippy rain is a real downer. We Northerners never dispute the better weather LA gets…but what happens when it rains an entire day, causing plans to change and the wet weather gear to be pulled out…when it’s supposed to be an endless summer kind of town!?!

San Francisco rises to the ratings meteorically as a result. Better public transit, food, art, museums. Hands down. We don’t even have to make apologies for the fog this way.

Nevertheless, I continued my independent sketching exercises at the LA County Museum today. A painting of sketchers in an art studio gave me inspiration:

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Despite a host of Chagalls, Monets and other famous artists, we focused this time instead on a fine collection of German Expressionists.

Each time I explore this period of modern German art, I learn new means and methods for this group. I am drawn to them, not only because I am learning the German language, but because the techniques and emotional content speak to me.

They may even  seem a bit primitive (as in the large wooden sculpture in the featured image above), but apparently this particular artist studied the people and art in Palau, an island in the S. Pacific. Many of the artists have been displayed in museums I have visited in Germany, Chicago, and New York. Particularly those derived from the Bauhaus movement in Weimar and Dessau are represented(Feinnger), but also artists from Die Brücke movement or the Dresden artists were included.

Our antidote to wet days in LA was dining in two restaurants: a new one in the Arts District called Manuela, and an old favorite, Carlitos Gardel.

Manuela displays original artwork, including this mural by Raymond Pettibon.

 

 

Gettin’ it at the Getty

During this January’s post-holiday doldrums, we switched plans from an icy drive to Utah in favor of an old-fashioned schlep from San Francisco to Los Angeles. To clue in my international friends, SF-LA is about 400 miles away and it takes about six hours direct by Interstate 5 through the Central Valley.

I had forgotten how easy it is to travel by car. Instead of minimizing and condensing all my baggage and items to be packed like I normally do for international travel  (I usually pack months in advance of a world trip to test out everything), I could really slob out, be disorganized, and rely on last-minute tosses of extra shoes, jackets, snacks, etc. into the car. I’m not sure I like traveling this way, but why not?

We chose to take the more leisurely Hwy. 101 route. After two-hour drives between restful overnight stops in Aptos and San Luis Obispo (SLO stands for Slow Traveling), we beelined for the Getty Museum in LA. My primary goal for coming to Southern California this time was a drawing session at the Getty Museum on a late and lazy Sunday afternoon.

Once introductions were made, the art guide supplied us with pads, paper and written drawing tips for mark-making. The mixed crowd of all ages, both men and women, quickly learned how to hold a pencil six different ways, the benefit of hatching, and how to express emotions.

I was very impressed with the results of other participants. (See group review, above). A first timer but professional photographer clearly had his lighting nailed. If you are looking for a way to spend a satisfying, fun and active afternoon at a world-class museum, this is highly recommended.

Drawing in a gallery with all the masters is a bit daunting, but it’s much easier in the company of others. After observing sketchers in a few other museums that I visited (the latest at the Art Institute of Chicago), I was ready to try some drawing myself. Below is the result of a bust I attempted.

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Pick Your Poison

The Mushroom Madness event last week at the San Francisco Arboretum showcased not only the infinite variety of fungi, lichen, and spores that surround us, but it also surfaced many mycological fanatics. Not mythological, but close. In case you ever wondered whether the ones growing in your backyard were edible, this was the place to rub noses with those in the know.

The society reminded me of a similar group of astronomical buffs. When we stayed overnight at Fremont Peak years ago to stargaze, the featured delicacy of the evening, aside from Saturn and Jupiter,  was blue jello hidden below a frothy cloud of white meringue.

We couldn’t resist the Mushroom Soup this time either. Nothing too exotic, but we slurped and savored the mushy mess despite a few lingering trails of what looked like earthy seaweed in the broth.

December is wrap-up time for the academic fall semester. The student art show at City College of San Francisco’s Fort Mason campus brought together many new and old faces. Paper versions were displayed, while friends and family proudly gathered to admire the visual works. Below is a quick scan of a part of the Figure Drawing class exhibition’s earnest efforts.

And last night’s presentation of the SF Opera’s new and upcoming young singers from the Adler Program:

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Birthday wishes this month go to Eric, Melissa, Ruth, Jeff and Sherry!
Continue reading Pick Your Poison

…On State Street, that Great Street, I Just Want to Say…

A return visit to the Chicago Cultural Center, just down the street from State, gave us additional time to devote and absorb the energetic and inspirational Chicago Architectural Biennial submittals from architects around the world.

Here are a few of the three-dimensional models and miniaturization of the world on display:

Here’s a link to the Bamboo House (my favorite model above) if you are interested:
http://archi.ocean-site.com/bamboo.html

And the “Supermodels”, 16′ high models of the 1922 Chicago Tribune competition reinterpreted:

An endless array of aesthetic and architectural textures, patterns and rhythms to explore and adore:

Real World great rooms with views inside and from the Chicago Cultural Center (formerly the Chicago Public Library):

Earlier in the morning, a six hour tour of the S.C. Johnson Wax Research Building and Laboratories in Racine, Wisconsin gave us a glimpse of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s major clients. Johnson produced some of the most prolific household products, including Raid, Deet, Kiwi Shoe Polish, and Pride Furniture Polish. Wingspread, the 14,000 sf private home of S.C. Johnson and the last major residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was also a featured stop on the tour.

Here are a few of the highlights of the company facilities. We were only allowed to take photos of exteriors of buildings and grounds:

The alien landing of the Company Reception Center was designed by Lord Norman Foster:

Needless to say, everything in the original buildings was meticulously designed by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including all details and finishes for flooring, ceiling, walls, and furniture.

At Wingspread, the interior of the private home was also highly controlled by Wright.

He had many disagreements with his client H.C. Johnson and his third wife Irene Purcell, a former Hollywood actress. Although he often tripled the cost of construction, Wright designed and built many quality homes applying his innovative concepts of horizontal lines that blended in with the landscape, use of natural materials, and attention to detail.

The dining table was designed to move on wheels into the servant’s area so staff did not have to be seen by guests. Whenever the roof leaked, the clients and staff often had to bring buckets out to catch the rain.

At an important state dinner held at the Johnson residence on a rainy evening  the roof leaked again, but this time directly on the owner’s bald head at the table. He immediately summoned Wright in Arizona and asked what should be done. Wright simply retorted: “You should move your chair!” Wright’s ego was seldom matched by his clients’.

In the final analysis, Chicago is a must see if: (1) you are contemplating a career in architecture; (2) need to be reminded of why you became one in the first place; and (3) need another fix for the architectural addiction you always had.

Fong & Daughter’s 72-hours in Chicago  achieved our desire for at least two of the three. We also succeeded in pursuing and understanding architecture as craft. I hope you enjoyed traveling here with us on this whirlwindy weekend. Chicago has great streets with great people in a great city.

Reflections of a World-Class City

Arriving in Chicago in the rain did not daunt our spirits in this wholesome, energetic and magnificent city. I continue to marvel at the clean lines of the high-rises, the prominence and respect for each building as they stand proudly on each piece of property, and the intriguing entryways and lobbies at the ground floor as they beckon you.  As soon as we were able to check into the hotel, we hit the pavement and powered our way down past Millennium Park to the Chicago Cultural Center to orient ourselves to the host of activities connected to the Architectural Biennale.

Following the tracks of the Venice Biennale, this bi-annual event in Chicago showcases exhibitions from architectural firms around the world. Sadly, San Francisco is not only poorly represented, but not represented at all! Many of the exhibitions are from firms that seek international recognition. More about the presentations and activities will follow in the next few days.

We bypassed Happy Hour at Joy District, free pizza at 10 Pin Bowling Lounge, and chicken wings at Hooters and decided to take advantage of the late hours on Thursdays at the Art Institute of Chicago. What a decision! The museum is only a short walk from the Cultural Center past the Bean to the new Piano and Rogers’ wing.

These representative paintings somehow made me think about our presence in Chicago.  Can you recognize the work of one of my favorite artists (shown in an entire room dedicated to him)?

Or these ridiculously signature paintings sitting modestly in galleries waiting to be identified?

And these works that are a joy to see?

Finally, a few miscellaneous shots (see captions by clicking on photos)

After an inspiring and entertaining evening in the contemporary, modern, impressionist and architectural galleries to satiate our minds, we hoofed it over to Eataly for big pasta paparadelle and linguine mit vino to fill our bellies.

*Works shown: Gerhard Richter (series); Rainy Day in Paris by Caillebote (1877); Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte by Seurat (1884-86); Giacometti sculptures, Portraits/Painting by Miro, Renoir, and Picasso.

Day 7-8: from the Mountain to the Sea…Macchu Picchu to Isla de Pascua

You may have heard of French Polynesia, but Spanish Polynesia?!? Combining Polynesia with Chilean culture is wild! Coming from the mountains of Macchu Picchu to the Moai at Easter Island is even more extreme and precious. These two UNESCO world sites are different but so spectacular in their own ways. The only two flights per day to Easter Island come from either Tahiti or Santiago, Chile.

Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, inspired me to visit Easter Island. The Polynesians came here by following birds on catamaran-type boats. Initially, they found the land unoccupied and fish plentiful. Easy fishing along the shoreline didn’t last as the population burgeoned. As they needed longer boats to go further offshore to catch fish, they cut down more of the trees on the island to make the boats.  An entire tree was needed to make longboats.

Within a short time the wood was depleted, and they no longer had the resources to sustain fishing. It is a sad but true chain of events. It is also a reminder of our vulnerability as humans. Combined with tribal wars resulting from too little to go around, the Polynesian society on Easter Island thrived and then disintegrated in less than 500 years (between 800-1200AD).

The Moai are the main feature on the Isla de Pascua. The huge basalt and tufa sculptures look amazingly modern and timeless. After they were carved directly out of bedrock, they were transported to a sacred site and placed on platforms (ahu). They faced away from the ocean to protect their descendants from the ocean. Only ruling families were allowed to have moai (nearly 400 of them in existence today). They were not officially blessed until the obsidian and coral eyes were place on the heads.

Most of the “long-eared” early arrivals ran the show. They ruled the latecomers, who were short-eared. The Longears had status in society because they got to Easter Island first (sound familiar?). They made slaves of the Shortears. The Shortears weren’t allowed to build moai to protect their families but probably did all the work for the Longears to haul and erect the finished stone.

The Anthropology Museum on the island provided an excellent explanations on the history and construction of the Moai. There are wooden sculptures made of makoi wood that remind me of the Mayan figures that are highly individualized and animated.

Throughout the island, there are many artistic interpretations of moai by local contemporary artists. Some were more successful than others, but the spirit and pride in the culture lives on.

A sample of the island’s incredible flora are shown below.

And I have to post a full size photo of my dinner with myself and an outstanding plate of tuna ceviche, roasted tuber, and fried banana, assisted by a glass of famous Pisco Sour at Te Moana Restaurant:

Day 1-2: Lima, Peru

Arriving in Lima reminds me of the rush I get when entering a new country, and the excitement over the opportunity to learn about another culture. Not having been to S. America except for a brief cruise stop in Caracas for a day, I finally organized a trip to this part of the world on my own.

No sooner had I arrived at the hotel when a feeling of calm and confidence struck me. The people were friendly, moved at the pace of a lilt and rhythm I enjoyed, and I became calm. Despite not much visual stimulation in the city itself, I decided to save the thrills for the ascent to Macchu Picchu later on the trip.

My full day free in the city focused not surprisingly on two historic and archaeological museums. The Larco Museum was founded in 1926 by a 25-year old archaologist who was given an Incan artifact from his father. Fascinated by this mysterious object, he pursued a career discovering a wealth of not only the Inca civilization, but the several significant epochs before that. We only seem to know the history about the conquests of the Inca by the Spanish conquistadors, but in fact the reputation and foundation for the Inca were built by many earlier societies.

Peru is divided into roughly three geographic areas: the coast, the highlands, and the jungle. The jungle occupies over half of the country, and the Amazon’s source lies in the Andes Mountains. Most of us only think of the Amazon and the rain forest in Brazil, when in fact it is also in Peru.

The various stages of formative and established cultures relative to other parts of the world are shown on the attached chart.

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Many of the objects or designs in the museum were based on the notion of the underworld, represented by the snake; the earth, or middle world, represented by the puma (jaguar); and the upper world, represented by the owl. These worlds collide, interact, and support each other, as shown in the geometric, three-step patterns.

Urns from high priests were used for drinking fluids from humans and animals. Buriel sites show human sacrifices and the dead placed in a fetal position upright, then covered with cloth and woven textiles as thick as carpets. Enjoy some of the many pieces that I particularly liked from the extensive collection from primarily the Larco Museum, and its lovely garden.

The hotel recommended the La Mar Restaurant that was open only from 11-5pm, so it fit my schedule perfectly. After an exhilharating visit to the two museums, I was ready to chow down some of the best food in the world! As soon as I was seated at the bar, I was greeted by a friendly young woman sitting next to me. She was visiting from Brazil on her own. We struck up a conversation that led to an agreement to meet for dinner two hours later at one of the sister restaurants, La Panchita.