Florida has two big features going for it – sun and warmth. Interesting landscape, not so much, at least not in southwest Florida. One needs to find amusement elsewhere. After sampling a Cuban bakery and a Salvadoran restaurant, and with no luck finding any open beaches thanks to Hurricane Ian, I searched out exhibits to take in. I found the Naples Art Institute had a show of M. C. Escher’s work called Reality and Illusion so off we went.
Escher was a Dutch printmaker (woodcuts, lithographs, mezzotints) who became wildly popular among the college age set in the 1960s and 1970s for his meticulous logically impossible prints and his tesselated transformations. Copies adorned many a dorm room.
The exhibit had plenty of these, but I was most interested in his early work. Though born and educated in Holland, Escher spent much of the 1920s and 1930s in Italy, and then moved to Switzerland after Mussolini rose to power. In the early 1940s he returned to the Netherlands. Here a few works he made while in Italy. (the colored specks on the images are from the reflected lights.)
Escher seemed fond of cold blooded creatures. I confess his flatworms creep me out so I took no photos of them. Many of the exhibit’s captions stress his craftsmanship and his delight in mathematics, especially geometry. I was intrigued to get a fuller picture of an artist I knew mostly from those dorm posters. I know I appreciate his techniques more now than I did at 18.
Go big or go home could be the motto of The Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. It boasts “the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933), including the artist and designer’s jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass lamps and windows; his chapel interior from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago; and art and architectural objects from his Long Island country estate, Laurelton Hall.” Since my husband enjoys all aspects of Tiffany’s comprehensive output, we stopped by the museum on our way to our eventual Florida vacation destination.
There are also paintings and decorative art objects by some of Tiffany’s contemporaries on display as well; and many are worthy of study. Yet I came away stunned by the cumulative effect of Tiffany’s prolific output. Obviously, the work was made by artisans in his studios, but many of the designs and the solutions to technical challenges were Tiffany’s.
He began as a European trained painter, and his works show talent in my opinion. But early on he decided he wasn’t going to rise to the top of a crowded field, and he studied techniques and methods of glassmaking. He then went into the decorative arts, with commissions from several famous clients. In addition to being an astute businessman, he continued to innovate in glass manufacture, and joined new techniques to his aesthetic that nature should be the primary design inspiration for art.
Enough background. Here are just a few of the pieces that wowed me.
There’s room after room of very high quality work. The effect becomes overwhelming after a bit. The rooms Tiffany designed for his country estate seem a bit heavy to my taste, but he was working with a 1600 square foot living room and an even larger dining room. And he designed everything in the rooms, down to the pattern in the carpet.
This museum is well worth a visit if you are in the Orlando area, and the downtown of Winter Park is charming. Just avoid I-4 if you can.
Right now the Cleveland Museum of Art is showing the Keithley collection, a promised gift to the museum of over 100 pieces of art. This eclectic collection concentrates on Impressionist and early modern artists. I found it interesting that the Keithleys collected many prints and Asian ceramic pieces in addition to paintings. The exhibit has photographs of some of the works on display in the Keithley’s traditional looking home. I enjoyed seeing the pieces in such a context.
You can see what’s in the exhibit here, but let me say that size matters when judging the impact of a piece, so you can’t gauge the variety of the collection through the thumbnail photos. For instance, Some More by Joan Mitchell is about 51 by 114 inches, and between its size and that yellow, it takes up all the air around it in the gallery. I wonder where the Keithleys displayed it in their home.
At the other extreme, Pierre Bonnard’s charming lithograph, The Little Laundress, is a mere 8 by 11 inches. A large mat and ornate frame give it more presence. Luckily, the show curators had the good sense not to hang both pieces in the same room.
Let me run through some of the work that caught my eye. First, to return to Joan Mitchell, I loved the sunflower series of lithographs she made in 1992 at the end of her life. The lines are so free.
Second, I enjoyed the Maine watercolors by John Marin, as they straddle the line between representational and abstract art.
His earlier watercolors are far more representational. Even this one from 1922 is less abstract.
Third, my other favorites were an eclectic bunch. Frankly, many of the Impressionist paintings didn’t wow me, but I’ve been spoiled by trips to other museums with extensive holdings of those artists. The best private collections I’ve seen are those of the Barnes Foundation and Paul and Bunny Mellon, shown at the Frick Museum in Pittsburgh a few years ago.
Just to show how different a 3D piece looks from different angles, here’s a photo of the above piece from the museum’s website.
The Keithley collection was a reminder to me that what people see in a museum gallery isn’t necessarily what they want to display in their homes. Of course the smaller, more domestic pieces tend to get lost on a gallery wall, but they may enhance without overwhelming one’s living quarters.
Since I continue to be under the weather and without any artistic spark, I’d like to share a few of the glorious paintings we saw at the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum in Madrid and at other museums. Guidebooks go on about the Prado, and the Bosch paintings aren’t to be missed, but unless you have a thing for large portraits featuring Habsburg chins or are in awe of the immense skills of Velazquez and Goya, your time is better spent elsewhere in Madrid. My recommendations are the Thyssen and the Reina Sofia.
The Thyssen is the more manageable for viewing in a single visit. The Reina Sofia is huge and its layout is confusing, but its curators have made great efforts to put the artists in the context of their times. For many of its artists, that’s between the great wars. They have included magazines, journals, posters, and movies made by the artists. Interestingly, their collection has a nice assortment of photographs by U.S. artists such as Helen Levitt. If it matters to you, the Thyssen has better bathrooms.
The masterpiece of the Reina Sofia is Picasso’s Guernica. Photos do not prepare you for its sheer size. The exhibit includes many of the preliminary sketches and layouts, and the website link will give you a deep dive into the piece.
While the Reina Sofia covers art from about 1881 to present times, the Thyssen represents a mostly a single collecting family’s taste from the 1400s to present times.
Most Christian religious art leaves me cold as it is often allegorical and designed to teach or pay homage to donors. Occasionally hints of everyday life slip in as artists use neighbors for models or depict local scenery. Those are the bits I look for. The Thyssen offers lots of that and a quick and dirty history of the development of Renaissance art.
These are mere hints of the Thyssen’s collection. Another day I may have chosen different works. The website has arranged the museum’s greatest hits thematically if you want a deeper dive.
Next week I hope to be recovered enough to attempt some artistic endeavors; if nothing else I have some quilting to do.
The Artist as Quiltmaker show, held every two years at Firelands Association for the Visual Arts (FAVA) in Oberlin, Ohio, was one of many casualties of the pandemic. It was supposed to take place in 2020, but was postponed until this year. I drove over to see it with a friend just before the show closed and was glad I didn’t miss seeing it in person. You can view the entries online, but as with any visual show, you can’t get a sense of scale unless you stand in front of the pieces. And size does make a difference as some of the pieces are large.
Many of this year’s entries don’t fit the “three layers held together with stitching” requirement typical of quilt shows. And some don’t have 90 degree corners. In fact, a few approach sculpture. I was glad to see a broadening of the concept of a quilt, but hope such pieces don’t languish in the quilt ghetto of the art world. They might have better luck being called something else.
Some of the pieces that intrigued me follow.
While not groundbreaking in form (it even has a binding) “Blue Ice” captures the majestic quiet of ice bound parts of our world. The artist has kept the quilting simple, but uses a few changes in thread color from black to blue effectively.
Modern quilting influence is evident in the piecing and lighthearted fabric choices, but the curved edges and trio of hanging drops are more arty. And, look ma, no four inch hanging sleeve.
Materials used include “reclaimed vintage quilt and army blankets, army suture cotton dated 1953, cotton, linen, wool, silk, satin, felt, buttons.” The curved red lines are hand chain stitched embroidery. I found it an intriguing meld of old with new to reimagine the original materials.
The online photo so doesn’t do this work justice. It’s by a quilter renowned for working with large scale templates and pieced curves. Recently she has switched to digitally edited photos printed on cloth. From what I could see, only the outer mitered border is pieced. I’ll quote the artist here: “In 2019 my husband photographed a 135’ dive by one of the cliff divers of Acapulco at four frames per second. He combined the twelve shots of the three-second dive into one time-lapse composite. Using my digital drawing program, I added traditional Storm at Sea blocks to the corners of the digital image and designed borders that extend the colors and patterns of the photo that fade to black. The center panel, borders, and binding fabric were digitally printed and pieced. I quilted the center very heavily with matching threads to enhance the textures of the rocks.” The quilting is exquisite.
Only one layer of cotton canvas dyed with plants and a few organza appliqued pieces are used. The subtleties of the images left by the plants are best seen in person. There is hand quilting on the appliqued parts, but a traditional quilt judge would throw this piece out of the judging.
Pieced and quilted, but the shape and uneven edges elevate it from a typical abstractly pieced quilt. It’s almost like dress pattern pieces were used to create it.
The artist applied a digital editing filter to a photo, had it printed on a cotton/linen blend, and then hand embroidered it. I don’t know if it has more than one layer. I was intrigued with the combination of digital manipulation and hand embroidery.
Here the blue/purple ribbons come free of the quilt’s surface and curl around themselves. The red glyphs give a pop of color. While the quilting isn’t up to the standards of other entries, I enjoy the 3D effect. I guess I have some quilt police DNA after all.
I hope I’ve given you a taste of the show’s diversity. Please take a few minutes to browse all the entries. The detail photos are great for closeups.
I have long maintained that flowers have little to no place in my work. I love flowers in a garden or a vase, but haven’t been drawn to them as subjects for my work. So, I was surprised that I based a piece now under construction on flowers, rhododendrons specifically. Each May I see the bold magenta floral clusters of those plants in the yards of the older houses in my neighborhood. I don’t know if they’ve gone out of fashion, but I don’t see them in newer developments. Of course, that color would give one pause and they like shade.
But I didn’t start my floral project with the shrub in mind. Instead, I began with a surfeit of high flow quinacridone magenta acrylic paint that I decided to splash on scraps of tablecloths, muslin, PFD cotton, and fabric already printed with bell pepper. Then after I noticed all the rhodies in my neighborhood I came up with a scheme to make a piece with a floral theme out of all that painted fabric cut into squares.
To the magenta fabric I added squares (including an old sheet) painted with green, yellow-green, and yellow; plus fabric monoprinted with Inktense colors. Once I had the squares arranged to my liking I added thin bias strips of fused fabric. I know that my inspiration shrub doesn’t have skinny leaves, but let’s pretend bindweed has clambered up on it.
The new color palette I became enamoured of is that used by Zoe Zenghelis, a painter who pioneered an appreciation of the role of color in architectural design. The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh has mounted an exhibit of her paintings, which introduced me to her work. You can read a review of the exhibit below.
Now, I don’t grasp all the architectural aspects of her work, but I do love the shapes and clear, melting colors she uses. I was transported to an alternative universe through her paintings.
I hope to experiment with my paints to achieve similar effects. Maybe I can learn some subtlety.
Each year the National Collage Society holds a small format members’ exhibition. Since the the exhibit of eighty-six 4 by 6 inch works was held at Summit ArtSpace in Akron, I made a point of going to it. At first it seemed out of scale to walk into a large room with one horizontal line of very small works on three walls, but you forgot that once you drew closer to the pieces. I was amazed at the detail the artists packed into such small real estate.
While almost all the works merited close examination, here are the ones that really caught my eye.
Speaking for myself, it’s much easier to work at small scale with paper than with fabric, unless you’re only fusing. And that’s essentially collage with fabric. Now, that’s a thought – a paper-fabric collage using Mistyfuse. I’m sure many have already tried that, but it’s a new idea to me. I certainly have plenty of paper and fabric scraps to use.
To go with its upscale reputation, Naples, Florida, sports an impressive art museum/performance center that houses the Naples Philharmonic and the Baker Museum. My husband chauffeured me from Fort Myers to the museum so I could soak in more southwest Florida art. Unlike the collection of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota which features walls of European Madonnas, saints, and portraits bought in quantity; the Baker Museum has a more contemporary collection with many Mexican and American artists. The work is also more scaled for display in a modern private home.
I enjoyed browsing the permanent collection as well as special exhibits, especially one called Ocean Gleaning by Pam Longobardi. The museum is small enough you won’t suffer visual fatigue, yet diverse enough you can discover gems in each room. Too often I find smaller museums feel compelled to have third rate work by big name artists like Picasso rather than first rate work by lesser known figures. The Baker Museum has a few Chihuly sculptures that aren’t his best in my opinion, but the charm of other works make up for them.
Here are some works that caught my eye. Each photo is followed by the museum’s description. Be warned, there’s lots of photos.
And that’s not all. There are two additional galleries in the performance center with interesting cyanotype prints by Noelle Mason and wall sized charcoal drawings by Gonzalo Fuenmayor.
If you’ve stayed with me to this point, I offer the sunrise art we enjoyed on our trip north.
Recently I spent time with an online exhibit called Known and Unknown Quilt Stories put together by the Quilt Alliance. To quote from the website:
Documentation, or the lack thereof, is at the heart of the over 30 quilts in Known and Unknown. And it’s also the heart of what the Quilt Alliance does. Without documentation, the stories behind countless quilts are lost to us. But with documentation, we can honor and remember the diverse voices and perspectives in quiltmaking.
The exhibit’s quilts range from art quilts to rescued quilts spattered with paint. For each quilt featured there’s a short interview with its maker or current owner, and links to additional resources related to the type of quilt featured. Some quilt makers put their names front and center on their work; other quilts can only be ascribed to anonymous. Still other makers can be known through the stories of their quilts’ current owners.
For example, quilter Nellie Mae Johnson put a Native American spin with braids and moccasins on the classic Sunbonnet Sue block in her quilt Little Women.
The interview by Nellie’s granddaughter Gwen Westerman (who is a quilter) reveals the quilt was made for her high school graduation out of fabrics from her home made clothing. All Nellie’s quilts were meant to be used, and this one has the holes and lumpy batting to prove it.