This winter break, I was able to find a lot of inspiration while not going far from home. After a day trip to the Barnes in Philly and the Whitney and Guggenheim in Manhattan, I easily recharged my artistic batteries and my head is now overflowing with inspiration.
1. The Permanent Exhibition and Berthe Morisot at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
This was my first time at The Barnes Foundation in Philly. Unlike practically any other art museum, where the rooms are arranged by artist or by era, each room in this museum holds a mish-mash of random art from practically every corner and time in art history.
From the outside, the museum is smooshed between diagonal streets in a busy part of Philly. It looks pretty modern from the outside: just a grey rectangle. Inside is a spacious modern room with lots of lounge areas, and through some humble doors you walk into an ancient dark yellow gallery space. This is where the beauty is.
What I loved most was that I got to admire works from different time periods and regions on one wall. Often times in the past, I used to ignore the medieval looking religious pictures with gold painted backgrounds and a sad looking Jesus on his cross. Now, when they were put against a 1918 Renoir, an iron hoe, and even that odd abstract piece, I couldn’t help but feel intrigued. I compared their postures, their faces, their shadows and glimmers, even their moods.
When I walked into this room, I laughed out loud. Next to a serious and regal European portrait of a woman and another of a religious figure holding a knife was a Chinese woman with the same exact expression.
After my long stroll through the Barnes galleries, I had a stronger appreciation for the art I had come to disregard. Sometimes, it just takes putting some art in a different context that makes me see not only how unique it is, but how similar it can be to other pieces. Bravo, Mr. Barnes.
Another show that I would recommend at the Barnes is Berthe Morisot’s, open until January 14. Being one of few female impressionists, Morisot creates work that is intimate and full of complex emotion. I especially appreciated the fact that she was a woman. I don’t think there were any pieces where the woman was butt-naked. Instead, Morisot got just as much power and sexuality from the pose, colors, and face. Lastly, they did not just show women in beds or with men. Women were reading, they were deep in thought, they were with their children, they were doing something they were passionate about, like playing an instrument, or they were enjoying the beauty of nature. Some of her pieces even looked unfinished, emphasizing the sense of a passing moment of intimacy.
2. Andy Warhol at The Whitney, NYC
The Andy Warhol show at the Whitney Museum had a surprisingly political tone. Before going to his show, I only knew Warhol from his repetitional prints of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s soup cans. But here, I got to learn about his messages and less-known pieces.
Did you know Andy Warhol got a nose job? As much as it seemed like he was rejecting social assimilation, he seemed to be a part of it anyways. He even changed his name from Andrew Warhola to Andy Warhol because it was more “American.” As he aged, he became quite unhealthy, surviving an attempted murder and eventually dying from complications of gallbladder surgery at age 58. But despite his early death, Warhol seemed to get a lot done.
Warhol tackled issues of mass production, famous icons and celebrities, depictions of the trans and drag community, and current events relating to race. The progression of his work is quite noticeable, with early pieces showing a recognizable Coke bottle, to middle pieces showing still recognizable faces, to later pieces having no subject at all. I really did not know what to think when I walked into the last room to find a wall-sized painting made with urine, copper, and semen. Warhol explored so many different types of art that one could never get bored walking through the gallery. His show closes in March.
3. Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim Museum, NYC
I don’t think you will find an audience quite as mesmerized as the one now at the Guggenheim. Klint’s show, closing in April, is captivating as a whole, and each piece is bold and full of energy.
Born in 1862, Hilma af Klint was radical for her time. She knew her pieces would never be understood by her audiences who had not been introduced to abstraction, so she hid them away and made sure they would never be shown until twenty years after her death. This is the first time they have been shown, and I do believe that audiences today were appreciating them to their full extent. As someone who likes to do art, I now want to do bigger, bolder pieces like hers.
These large pieces focused heavily on magic, spiritualism, color, and form. Klint was quite a spiritual person herself. She even dreamed that one day her pieces would be shown in a spiraling temple. Now, they are at the Guggenheim, which has round spiraling hallways. Quite spooky, right??