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Through My Lens: The Whitney

The Whitney

This photo shows some more of the art you can see in New York. At left is a photo by Richard Avedon and to the right is a painting by Guy Pène Du Bois. The sculpture in between is by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, an American sculptor and art collector.

When Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney offered her collection of work by American artists to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was refused. So she turned around and opened her own museum. The Whitney Museum of Art, which focuses on American art, opened in 1931 in Greenwich Village. It has had a number of homes since then, but its latest, a purpose-built building at the south end of the High Line, opened in 2015.

The Met, the Frick, and the Guggenheim

The real reason I went to New York last month had more to do with me wanting to visit another Met.

That would be the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met Exterior

I’ve written before about my love–hate relationship with the Vancouver Art Gallery. Which is why, after a rather trying visit to a popular exhibition at the VAG late last summer, I lamented to the friend I was with that I needed a proper art fix at a proper world class art gallery. Preferably in a city like Paris. Or London.

Or New York.

The Met Interior

A few hours later, as I was pondering my meltdown outside the VAG, I suddenly remembered that (1) I had enough points for a plane ticket to New York and (2) it had been far too long since I had visited my friend in Brooklyn.

A few emails back and forth, a few online bookings, and, within a few days, a few plans were in place.

And a few months later, just a few hours after touchdown at JFK, I was standing at the entrance to what most people rate as one of the top art galleries in the world.

Diana at the Met

The first time I walked into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on an earlier visit to New York, I did have a wee bit of a momentary breakdown. Its size almost did me in. I knew the Met was big ― I just didn’t realize it was that big. But within seconds, I shrugged off my frustrations. When you’re playing art tourist and you’re in the largest art gallery in the Western Hemisphere, there is no time to waste.

The trick to large art galleries is to get a map, and quickly zero in on what you want to see, picking a floor or wing to focus on. Don’t even thinking of trying to see it all. And don’t be afraid to ask for directions. Those gallery guards know their way around.

I tend to gravitate towards European Painting no matter what art gallery I am in. But if the Old Masters put you to sleep, not to worry. The Met has everything from Greek, Roman, and Islamic art all the way to present-day contemporary art. And if you’re there in good weather, don’t skip the roof garden. It has an amazing bird’s eye view of Central Park.

Knights at the Met

If oversized galleries aren’t your thing at all, then go to the Frick. The Frick was the perfect antidote to my morning at the Met. It’s so small you can see the entire gallery in a little more than an hour depending on long you linger in each room. Which is what makes it so delightful. The Frick is my idea of a perfect art museum, actually, as I truly believe art should be consumed in small doses before it all becomes a blur.

The Frick Exterior

Henry Clay Frick, an industrialist who made his money in Pittsburgh steel, built the museum in 1914 as a private home for his family, although he fully intended it to be turned into a museum after his death. Many of the rooms remain furnished and decorated as they were when the Fricks lived there, including how and where the paintings are hung.

The collection focuses on European paintings, and has an entire room of Limoges enamels ― something I knew nothing about, but they are quite impressive. Old man Frick was quite the collector. How on earth did he get his hands on three Vermeers is what I’d like to know, given there are only about 35 in existence?

The Frick Interior

The Met and the Frick are both located on Fifth Avenue (aka Museum Mile). Still on Fifth Avenue, but further north, is the Guggenheim. This museum is worth a visit even if it is just to have a look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s amazing architectural design that is as much sculpture as it is building.

The Guggenheim Exterior

The Guggenheim focuses mainly on art from the last 150 years or so. I enjoy the Impressionist works and there are always interesting temporary exhibits.

The Guggenheim Interior

Spending a long weekend zipping from art gallery to art gallery may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine, and I can’t wait to get back to New York for another art fix.

The Met at Night

Saint Rémy-de-Provence

About 20 km south of Avignon is Saint Rémy-de-Provence. My friends and I ended up here solely because of an article I had read in some travel magazine. It was the photos accompanying the article that had caught my eye, so what’s odd is I don’t seem to have taken many photos of Saint Rémy-de-Provence myself. I must have been incapacitated by the town’s beauty.

I do have this one of the town hall. It gives you an idea. I mean, what town hall in Canada is draped in flowers?

Saint Remy Town Hall

Saint Rémy-de-Provence has a bit of a gastronomic reputation, and I do remember a delicious steak with Roquefort sauce followed by profiteroles smothered in chocolate sauce and ice cream. When the waiter put the plate down in from of me, he muttered “Mon Dieu!” under his breath more to himself, it seemed, than to me.

Just outside of Saint Rémy-de-Provence is Saint Paul de Mausole Monastery. We stopped in because it was here that Vincent van Gogh spent a year as a patient at its psychiatric hospital. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place.

On the grounds of the monastery were a series of signs identifying the olive trees that van Gogh painted during his stay. The signs were positioned in such a way that you could see the view that inspired each painting.

Like this.

Saint Paul Olive Trees 1

And this.

Saint Paul Olive Trees 2

Prior to his stay at Saint-Paul de Mausole (which still functions as a hospital), van Gogh lived in Arles for a year. A sketchbook he is reported to have filled during that time, which he later gave to the owners of the Arles café where he lived, was published this week to much controversy. Which has put Vincent van Gogh at the top of the news once again.

All I can say is: The more we talk about art, the better off we’ll all be.

Vancouver Biennale: Engagement


Here’s one more Vancouver Biennale photo, this one from the 2005 to 2007 exhibition. It’s called Engagement and was created by Dennis Oppenheim, an American. It overlooks English Bay at Sunset Beach Park.

Vancouver Biennale: A-maze-ing Laughter

A-maze-ing Laughter 1

Speaking of cheerful, here are the guys from A-maze-ing Laughter, the hit installation of the second Vancouver Biennale. Fourteen supersize cast-bronze figures with smiling, happy faces completely transformed Morton Park in English Bay when they were installed in 2009.

A-maze-ing Laughter 2

The beauty of A-maze-ing Laughter is that it’s completely interactive in the best way possible. You can’t help but smile at the figures, touch them, imitate them, and, for some of us, climb on them.

A-maze-ing Laughter 3

The artist is Yue Minjun from China. That’s his face smiling back at us.

A-maze-ing Laughter 4

A-maze-ing Laughter is probably one of the most popular public art installations Vancouver has ever had. Like all of the Biennale pieces, it was for sale when the two-year exhibition was over. All of Vancouver wanted the figures to stay exactly where they were, but at first it seemed impossible, due to the hefty price tag of $5 million. But when Yue Minjun saw photos of people interacting with the sculptures, he dropped the price to $1.5 million with the condition that they remain in a public location. Thanks to a private donation by Chip Wilson, founder of lululemon, and his wife Shannon, the laughing men are here to stay.

A-maze-ing Laughter 5

Vancouver Biennale: Giants

 Every city needs art and art has to be in the middle of the people.” — OSGEMEOS

Giants 1

The Vancouver Biennale is a two-year-long outdoor public art installation that takes place every two or three years. The first was from 2005 to 2007, the second from 2009 to 2011, and the latest, the third Biennale, began in the spring of 2014 and finishes up this year.

Giants 2

The installations by world-renown artists are scattered across Greater Vancouver. The most impressive piece of this latest Biennale is Giants by the twin Brazilian brothers, Gustavo and Otávio Pandolfo, who call themselves OSGEMEOS. (Os gemeos is Portuguese for “the twins.”)

Giants 3

Giants consists of murals painted on six concrete silos located at Ocean Concrete on Granville Island. (An aside: this concrete factory is the last vestige of False Creek’s industrial past.) The murals alternate between facing the water and facing inland. They are colourful, and they are cheerful, which seems to be a hallmark of the most successful installations of the Biennale. None are intended to be permanent, but sometimes we just can’t bear to let them go. Hopefully this one will be kept on as well.

Giants 4

Oh, and any guesses as to how much paint was used?

A mere 1400 cans.

The Getty

Getty 1

I first read about The Getty in a magazine article, well before it opened, and knew I had to see the place if I ever made it to Los Angeles. And so, during my first-ever visit to Los Angeles some years ago, I made a beeline for The Getty. I was so enamoured with the architecture that I barely made it inside to look at the art.

Last month, on my second-ever visit to Los Angeles, I made a beeline for The Getty. This time I did make it inside, where I enjoyed some fine art, but, once again, I was awe-struck by the architecture of this world-class art museum.

The Getty sits atop a hillside in the midst of the Santa Monica Mountains (well, Angelenos refer to these hills as the Santa Monica Mountains, but, you know….). It overlooks the San Diego Freeway and offers a spectacular view of downtown Los Angeles. Look west, and you see the Pacific Ocean. Look east, and you see the San Gabriel Mountains.

Richard Meier was the architect and it was The Getty that catapulted him into the starchitect stratosphere. It was built from 1.2 million square feet (that’s 16,000 tons, folks!) of Italian Travertine stone. There are five pavilions of galleries, linked together with exterior courtyards and terraces.

I expect on my next visit to Los Angeles to yet again be making a beeline to The Getty.

Here’s why.

Through My Lens: Mission Abbey Bas Relief

Mission Abbey Bas Relief

It’s the Fifth Sunday of Lent and today’s photo is of one of the bas reliefs that adorn the interior of the church of Mission Abbey. These bas reliefs were created by resident monk and artist Father Dunstan Massey.

Father Massey began his art studies at age 15 under Jack Shadbolt at the Vancouver School of Art. At 18, he began his journey towards the priesthood by entering the monastery at Mission Abbey. Although he was willing to give up his art to devote his life to God, the Abbot had other ideas and made him the Abbey’s resident artist.

In addition to these bas reliefs in the church, Father Massey’s sculptures, paintings, and frescoes are displayed throughout the Abbey’s buildings.

Art Talk: Embracing Canada

It is equally true, I should add, that as some countries have too much history, we have too much geography. ― W. L. Mackenzie King

When Prime Minister Mackenzie King was giving his geography lecture in the House of Commons way back in 1936, it was generally believed that he was referring to Canada’s youth (a mere 69 years at the time) in comparison to our vast size (second in the world only to Russia). In my opinion, based on my travels, his assessment was bang on. Just take a look around.

Which is what Canada’s landscape artists have a propensity for doing.

Which is why I had Mackenzie King’s statement running through my mind like an earworm when I went to see the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven. The exhibition’s position is that Canada’s natural world and our relationship to it has often been a major subject for Canadian artists, particularly during the hundred years that bracketed Confederation.

Lawren Harris

I finally got around to seeing this exhibition during the Christmas holidays. It’s a good exhibition; I was impressed with its depth and scale, and am intrigued by who could own such a collection. (Most of the pieces were loaned to the gallery specifically for the show and the lender wished to remain anonymous.)

Emily Carr

I’ve written before that, even though Canada has a great tradition of landscape painting, most of us don’t get much beyond the Group of Seven when asked to name a Canadian landscape artist. So here’s a tip for my Vancouver readers: if your New Year’s resolution is to increase the amount of CanCon in your cultural life, get yourself down to the Vancouver Art Gallery before January 24 (the last day of the exhibition). You will learn something about the many (other) landscape artists who have lived and worked in this country of ours that has too much geography.

If only for that reason alone, the exhibition is worth the price of admission.

The Cloisters

As you may have, um, noticed from this year’s Lenten series, I’m rather partial to cloisters. The simple truth is: I just can’t get enough of them.

So, given my love of cloisters, why were my expectations of The Cloisters ― a branch of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art ― so low? I didn’t bother to make the trek all the way to Fort Tryon Park until my fourth visit to New York; even then, I debated whether or not to make the effort. (Though, in the end, I was glad I did as I decided the park alone is worth a visit. As you can see here.)

The Cloisters 1

The thing is, I’d always been under the impression that the buildings that make up The Cloisters are all reconstructions. Purist that I am, I figured since I’ve seen many a real cloister ― in France, and Spain, and Italy ― why would I want to see a mere imitation?

Turns out I was completely misinformed. The Cloisters aren’t reconstructions; they’re the real deal. (And let that be a lesson to me: I didn’t do my homework before dismissing The Cloisters and almost passed on what is a marvellous opportunity for anyone in the vicinity of New York who cannot get themselves over to Europe.)

The Cloisters 2

The Cloisters had its origins in the private collection of American sculptor George Grey Barnard, who lived in Paris for more than a decade in the late nineteenth century. In the decade before World War I, he got into the habit of collecting and bringing home with him pieces of medieval architecture from French villages. John D. Rockefeller bought the collection from him in 1925, and later donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rockefeller also donated to the city of New York the land that now makes up Fort Tryon Park.

The Cloisters 3

Open to the public since 1938, the museum is a chronologically arranged ensemble of remnants from five French abbeys: Saint Michel de Cuxa, Saint Guilhem le Désert, Trie-sur-Baïse, Froville, and Bonnefont-en-Comminges. In addition to the buildings, there are more than 2000 works of art, including illuminated manuscripts, stained glass windows, and tapestries.

Here, take a look.

If medieval history is your thing, I highly recommend a visit to The Cloisters.

As for me, I can’t wait to go back.

The Cloisters 10