15 February 2013
A Trip to Boston ~ The MFA
Last week I travelled to Massachusetts to spend some time with friends. I arrived a few days early in order to visit some of the museums in Boston that I've long wanted to see! I got a good taste of East Coast weather ~ including superstorm Nemo! But more of that in a later post. I ended up spending about a day and a half at the MFA, which I really loved!
The building has great open spaces and lovely little transition spaces between different parts of the building. This enormous glass sculpture really set off this open area. I had lunch here one day.
Seeing the Sargent gallery was the highlight of the museum for me. I'd seen the occasional John Singer Sargent painting before, and certainly seen numerous photos of the paintings here and there. But to see them in person!!! They leap to life and I found my self standing in front of them for the longest time. And I returned again and again during my visit there. I was completely unprepared for the impact they would have on me. What a master he was! From his incredible eye for composition, which follows few of the "usual" rules in art, to the amazing brushwork, achieving much detail in the simplest stroke of color, to the way his subjects look out from the paintings with such feeling.
One of my favorites was this portrait of a Mrs. Inches. It is so simple, yet full of life. The circlet of diamonds around her neck sparkles from across the room as if the painting really had diamonds embedded within it, yet as you can see here, they are the merest dabs of paint. And take a good look at the "whites" of her eyes. Once again, from afar, they look sparkling and pure, but when examined up close they are actually painted a rather brilliant cerulean blue!
Another favorite was this portrait of a Mrs. Millet. My photo doesn't begin to do it justice. The white gown was luminous and the lavender blue shawl danced with color. She gazes out with such contentment as if caught in a happy moment of reverie.
There were fabulous paintings by other artists as well, such as this one called Eleanor by Frank Benson, one of America's premiere impressionist painters. Somewhere in the family archives, we have a photograph of my Grandmother posed on porch in just this position, which always has reminded me of this painting. I love the way he captured the light on her pale pink gown.
Another American Impressionist was Frederick Vinton Brown. You can almost feel the warmth and sunlight against the cool of the water in this painting.
Seeing the room full of European Impressionists was wonderful too. I've always loved the way Monet captured light and how he used such abstract strokes to bring his scenes to life. Looking at them up close, you can see the many layers of strokes and paint that build up to the final scene. It's a big difference between Monet and the other painters who often put just a single stroke of color down, while Monet layered and layered his strokes, often obliterating the original work completely as he built it up color by color.
Then it was on to some of the more modern art. I felt that as one traversed the museum following the art chronologically, one could see the state of mankind evolving, here going from the dreamy idyllic world of the impressionists to a sharper, more angular, contorted world between the wars. The idealism is gone and in it's place a bold new world arises.
Then to the bewildering work of Jackson Pollack around WWII. To me it reads of chaos and uncertainty.
The 1960's arrive and with it a blankness as seen in this painting by Jules Olitski. No direction. Just color. The narrative described it as having "a surface both dense and delicate, with subtle variations in hue that suggest deep space." To me, it is out of touch with reality somehow. Perhaps I am too literal in my interpretation of art to appreciate it fully.
This one by Joan Mitchell is also from the 1960's. Again, no representation, just a chaos of color and marks. It speaks to me of a troubled mind, unable to quite find it's way into the real world. Or maybe it is trying to escape from the reality of a troubled world. But I find this one more reassuring than the blankness of Jules Olitski's painting. At least this one seems to be looking for something, trying to represent something, even if it's not obvious to the viewer.
I find myself wondering if in a hundred years or two, people will stand in front of these with the same awe that I saw so many people have while viewing the paintings of John Singer Sargent or Van Gogh. Will they have a lasting quality to them?
I struggle with the current interpretation of what "Art" is. Today's "art" seems bent on provoking a reaction, of "shocking" people in order to do so. It is a mirror of what we see happening in our society. Yet I believe most of this current style of art will eventually fade away, though some pieces will maintain a curiosity value and some will continue to intrigue.
I enjoyed this installation of mirrored bottles and their endless reflections. The appeal was a combination of whimsy, the elegance of the glass shapes, the depth of reflection, the way the reflections of juxtaposing shapes interacted with one another, the pleasing colors, in addition to the way no reflection from the room made it into the reflected depths. A trick of one way mirrored glass I suspect, but intriguing none the less!
As I left the museum at last, the grass dotted with Canada Geese, I mulled over all that I had seen. I marveled at the skill and vision of some truly amazing artists, the audacity of others, and came away with a renewed appreciation for the creative spirit and a strengthened desire to continue to learn and expand my own artistic abilities.