Tag Archive | modern art

Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou

In 2009, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the largest modern art museum in Europe, did an amazing thing.  It emptied all of its galleries, all of its permanent collections, of every piece of artwork done by a man and put them in storage.  And then filled the entire museum with art by women.  Every single gallery.  Every single piece.  By women.  It exhibited only women artists for a period of two years.  Now, some of the collection is on the road, and it is currently at the Seattle Art Museum.

On Saturday, Jon and I headed down for a little break from all the holiday hustle and bustle for a visit.  The exhibit is only in Seattle until January 13, 2013, and we wanted to see it before it leaves.

So, the first thing I want to say is… this is the painting that was on their flyer.

The Blue Room by Suzanne Veladon, 1923

The Blue Room by Suzanne Veladon, 1923

This painting by Suzanne Veladon was painted in the Post-Impressionist style in 1923.  Although it was painted during the roaring twenties, and there were plenty of glamorous upper class women to paint, she chose to paint a member of the working class.

So, why is this painting significant?  Well…  The exhibit started out fine, with several very nice works by artists I had never heard of before.  Natalia Gontcharova, Romaine Brooks, and Tamara de Lempicka.

Romaine Brooks was born to wealthy American parents in Rome, but unfortunately, her father abandoned the family and her mother was emotionally abusive, preferring to dote on Romaine’s mentally-ill brother.  Romaine moved to Paris and lived as a poor art student until her mother’s death in 1902 gave her the money she needed to live independently and paint what she wanted to paint.  Sadly though, Brooks largely stopped painting after 1925; she only completed one painting after World War II.  The self-portrait below was in the exhibition, and it was one of my favorite works.

Au Bord de la Mer (The Edge of the Sea), Self-Portrait by Romaine Brooks, 1914

Au Bord de la Mer (The Edge of the Sea), Self-Portrait by Romaine Brooks, 1914

Tamara de Lempicka was another artist I was unfamiliar with, but whose artwork really resonated with me.  Tamara was Polish, born to wealthy parents in Warsaw, and went to boarding school and traveled extensively as a child.  She married a ladies man whom she was enamored with, and when he was arrested by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, she searched for him in prisons and managed to secure his release with the help of a Swedish consul.  She and her husband then fled to Paris where she took up a bohemian lifestyle, with multiple lovers of both genders (her first husband left her in 1927 and they divorced in 1931).

Tamara de Lempicka was one of those artists who knew success early on, and her paintings of the 1920s and 1930s are apparently her most well known.  She painted with a clear Art Deco style, and her works exude sexuality.  She fled Paris in 1939 when she saw the writing on the wall that World War II was coming, and moved to Hollywood, where she lived a life of high style with her second husband, the Baron Raoul Kuffner von Diószeg.  Her works are collected by Madonna and Jack Nicholson.  I really like the painting that was in the exhibition.

Girl in a Green Dress, by Tamara de Lempicka, circa 1930

Girl in a Green Dress, by Tamara de Lempicka, circa 1930

After that, the exhibit went downhill.  I got a little worried when an exhibit room had a warning label before you entered.  “This Exhibit Contains Mature Content.  Discretion Advised.”  Oh boy…

That room contained a giant-sized (I’m talking about 20 feet tall) woven textile (probably wool) representation of a vagina.  Other notable works included a whole wall of photographs of a topless model adorned with different patterns of chewed gum, a video of a woman violently brushing her hair, a series of photographs of a woman with crotchless pants posing with a machine gun, and what I like to call the “Feel-Up Box.”  This was a video of a woman wearing a box over her upper half, with a piece of fabric covering the front.  She then invited men to put their hands in the box and feel her up.  But not for too long, because she was timing them with a watch.

Much of the remainder of the exhibit was overtly sexual, and angry.  It just seemed like the entire exhibit was angry feminist art, and I didn’t think it was very representative of several decades of art by women.  I guess I just don’t understand modern art; to me art will always be something that requires talent, and putting a nylon over your face and filming yourself as you cut holes in it with scissors just isn’t art to me.  And in case you weren’t completely weirded out at this point, the exhibit ends with two more disturbing works.

The first – dead birds in crochet.  Yep…  Three cases of dead, taxidermied sparrows dressed in little crocheted sweaters.

And the finale… A film of a nude woman on a beach, hula-hooping with a hoop of barbed wire.

I won’t make you endure any photos of these later exhibits…  I’m sure I’ve already scarred you enough.  And if you want to visit Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, and you don’t have to pay out of pocket (hooray for our membership!), I would suggest that you quit after the second gallery.

Detroit: The Detroit Institute of Arts

After we left the Motown Museum, we headed to our next downtown Detroit destination – the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA was built in between 1923 and 1927 in the Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance architectural style. The museum is made of white marble, and is absolutely beautiful! It provides a stark contrast to some of the nearby urban decay. After a renovation of the building in 2007, the museum contains over 100 galleries and 658,000 square feet of gallery space. The building and collections are technically owned by the City of Detroit, but an endowment and foundation are responsible for fundraising and paying the museum’s expenses now. It truly is a success story in a city that has had more than its share of troubles.

So, the collections… First, let me say that it would be impossible to see all of it in one day. This would be a great museum to be a member of if you lived in the area. We started off perusing some of the collections on the first floor, which include Native American baskets and pottery, Mayan and Incan figures, and masks. Then we headed upstairs, where we walked into a gallery with a series of two-story Diego Rivera murals covering all four walls. If you see nothing more in this museum, these murals make it worth the price of admission (and if you live in the three closest counties – you can go for free!).

The murals explore the story of the manufacturing industries in Detroit. Rivera was known for depicting the indigenous cultures of Mexico, and the DIA murals are considered to be a depiction of industry and technology as representing the indigenous culture of Detroit – an interesting way of seeing the auto empire of the 1930s!

One Wall of the Diego Rivera Mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts

One Wall of the Diego Rivera Mural – With Sunlight

The museum also has several lithographs and etchings by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt. They even have a giant Andy Warhol self-portrait.

Vincent Van Gogh – Self-Portrait With Straw Hat – Painted 1887

They have a motorcycle carved from one piece of wood, which is extremely intricate, and an exhibit of beautiful blown glass pieces.  Near the blown glass is their modern art area.  If you have been following this blog for long, you know that modern art isn’t really my thing.  However, they had some pretty cool modern art pieces (I can’t believe I just said that)!

Motorcycle Carved From One Block of Wood – Someone is WAY More Patient Than Me

Modern Art – Blown Glass Prescription Drugs – For the Baby Boomer Who Has Everything!

So, here’s the sad thing about the Detroit Institute of Arts.  We were mostly alone…  Some of the popular exhibits had maybe a half dozen people looking at the artwork, but in the permanent collection areas, we were generally by ourselves (except sometimes an attendant).  We went down to lunch in the cafe, and Jon loved the pay by the ounce salad bar, and I had a delicious sub sandwich.  The cafe was crawling with people and I thought all the patrons had just gone to get a bite to eat, until I noticed that about 80% of the people in the cafe had employee badges around their necks.  It struck me as pretty sad that there would be so few people taking advantage of seeing all this amazing artwork – especially when it is free for county residents!  I know it was a Thursday and all, but…  I would love it if we had a museum like this at home!