Monday, September 29, 2008

Fall Exhibitions in Paris

Ah, Paris. More museums than you could shake a stick at. Catherine Delors over at Versailles and More has put together a terrific list of exhibitions coming up this fall. Plenty to keep artlovers busy!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Star Has Fallen

We've lost another great one: the incomparable Paul Newman has died, at the age of 83, after a battle with cancer. Look up 'movie star' in the dictionary and Paul Newman's name must be there: not only gorgeous and talented (pictured: Newman with Diahann Carroll and Sidney Poitier in the jazz-themed romance "Paris Blues"), he was classy, generous, and kind, a loving husband to Joanne Woodward, a loving father. An American classic. Rest in peace, Mr. Newman.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Other Starry Night

Visitors to MoMA's "Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night" will be able to see one of my personal top 3 van Gogh paintings, "The Starry Night over the Rhone," painted in Arles in late September 1888. The painting belongs to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris but travels quite a bit for various exhibitions.

A photograph cannot do this painting justice. There's such movement, such texture in the way the paint is built up on the surface of the canvas, that (as with most van Goghs) you want to reach out and touch it. I first saw this painting in person in 1996 at the Orsay, and it took my breath away. Every subsequent viewing, I've discovered something new. I love it so much I gave its creation a whole chapter in my novel!

In Arles, you can stand on the very spot where Vincent painted his picture, today marked with a poster. (I did this, of course!) The skyline looking downstream as Vincent saw it actually hasn't changed all that much. But Vincent took liberties with the sky: as Charles Whitney explained in his 1986 journal article "The Skies of Vincent van Gogh," the Big Dipper (or as Vincent referred to it in a letter to Theo, the Great Bear) is a constellation of the northern sky, whereas Vincent is facing to the southwest. Presumably he turned toward the north while working to observe the stars, then created this composite scene. But why? Prof. Whitney in his research learned that the southwestern sky in Arles at the time Vincent created his painting was not very exciting, with only a few stars; moreover, there was a full moon around that time, which would have been visible to the south. For whatever reason, Vincent opted not to paint the moon (which in other pictures, he likes) and instead chose the stars. The fact there was a full moon debunks a common myth: that Vincent painted outside in Arles with candles stuck in his hat (we see this in the film version of "Lust for Life," for example). He wouldn't have needed it.

As for the couple in the foreground, described by Vincent in a letter to Theo as "two colorful little figures of lovers": happy couples with linked arms were a motif in Vincent's work while in Paris and Arles. In some cases, as here, the man is shown with a yellow straw hat, and it is tempting to see the painted couples as Vincent's wishful thinking. (In my novel, I have some fun with the painted couples...)

Vincent was very proud of this picture and held it in higher esteem than the more famous Starry Night (painted in June 1889). It was even exhibited, together with the Getty "Irises," in the Salon des Independents in Paris in fall 1889. It did not sell, and we learn later that Theo and his bride Johanna hung the Starry Night over the Rhone in the salon of their Paris apartment.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fall Exhibition Roundup

Good things coming in American & European museums this fall! Here are some exhibitions that caught my eye:
*Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night, Museum of Modern Art, New York (12 September - 5 January)
*Van Gogh retrospective, Albertina Museum, Vienna (5 September - 8 December). Includes 50 paintings and 100 watercolors and drawings.
*Hadrian: Empire and Conflict, British Museum, London, until 26 October
*Pompeii and the Roman Villa, National Gallery, Washington DC, 19 October- March 22. Wish I could pile my Roman Art class into a couple of minivans and go see this one!
*Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian, National Gallery, London, 15 October - 18 January
*Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 21 September - 4 January
*Art in the Age of Steam: Europe, America, and the Railway, 1830-1960, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, 13 September - 18 January. I made my first visit to the Nelson-Atkins in March 2007: it's a fantastic museum!
*Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, Dallas Museum of Art, 3 October - 17 May
*Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, installed at the Atlanta Civic Center, 15 November - 25 May. Yep, you read that right: there are TWO King Tut shows in the US this year!
*The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 16 November - 19 April
*Mystery and Glitter: Pastels in the Musee d'Orsay, Musee d'Orsay, Paris, 8 October - 1 February. The pastel rooms at the Orsay are among my favorites: generally quiet, generally peaceful, with gorgeous artworks. This show will highlight some of the pastels that usually, by necessity, live in storage. The 'poster image' by William Degouve de Nuncques was on view in the pastel rooms my last visit (May 2007) and held me spellbound.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Thousand Words

This is just about the neatest exhibition idea EVER. Last week a show called "A Thousand Words" opened at the York Art Gallery in the U.K., curated by none other than writer-in-residence and one of my favorite authors, Tracy Chevalier. For the exhibition, Tracy chose a series of paintings from the Gallery's collection, works she felt could inspire thoughtful comment or even a story. Here's the neat part: the exhibition designers used blackboard-paint and created strips and blocks around the paintings where visitors could chalk in their ideas. Tracy included some of her own thoughts in the labels accompanying the artworks.

According to Tracy Chevalier's website, the exhibition's opening night was heaps of fun, as museumgoers actively engaged with the works and scribbled on the walls. The response has continued to be huge in the week since. What a wonderful idea this is! I always wonder what folks are thinking when they are standing next to me in front of this painting or that sculpture in a museum -- in this exhibition, those folks can tell the world. As Tracy puts it, "I wanted to...encourage people to do what I do when I'm looking at art -- make up stories about it." Hear hear!

The show runs until 11 January 2009. You can read more about it on the York Art Gallery website.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Colors of the Night Opens!

MoMA's "Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night" opens this Sunday the 21st and runs through January 5th. Reviews have already appeared with the New York Times,theNew York Post, and the New York Sun. The Times calls the show an "anti-blockbuster," not the typical van Gogh exhibit that goes on for miles and seems intended to overwhelm the senses. This is a more focused show in its theme and goals; a good recent comparison might be the excellent "Van Gogh and Expressionism" that was shown at the Neue Galerie in New York in summer 2007.

One of the exhibition's primary goals is clearly to show the familiar in new ways. As I've said many times, the popular image of van Gogh is not the measure of the true man, and the works chosen for the show say this too. I especially like that the show includes a display of books read by van Gogh that fit the 'night' theme; one of the things about Vincent most people probably do not know is that he was a voracious reader and quite erudite in multiple languages. This exhibition is an opportunity both to admire some of the most beautiful paintings he created -- one of my favorites is there, the "Starry Night over the Rhone" -- and to get to know him better.

To control the crowds, MoMA will have a timed-entry system for the exhibit (unless you are a member, in which case timed tickets are not required). You can read more about the exhibit and purchase online tickets at MoMA's website.

Monday, September 15, 2008

New Van Gogh Cultural Center

Over the weekend a new van Gogh-themed cultural center opened in Zundert, the small town in the southern Netherlands where Vincent was born. The former pastor's house, built on the site of Vincent's birthplace, has been converted into an exhibition space and documentation center. (Note: none of Vincent's paintings are displayed here, at least not yet.)

Vincent possessed a strong emotional connection to Zundert his entire life, even as he moved to many different places. Particularly during his illness, memories of his childhood there comforted him. I wanted to visit both Zundert and Nuenen during my trip to the Netherlands last year, but alas, there was no time.

You can read about the new center here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Let's Make Conferences More Fun!

I am refraining from discussing politics on this blog, but this thought I've got to share. I did watch the conventions, I've been watching the speeches, and I've decided academic conferences must be reformed. Wouldn't the conference of any professional organization be more fun if...

-Speakers used TelePrompters. No more looking down at your paper to read your talk. No more monotone. Head up, voice strong, let's put some emotion into it! Clapping and cheering after key lines encouraged. ("And that's why I believe we must RETHINK our perception of of fifth-century BC Athenian education! We must CHANGE our discipline!" [crowd roars])

-Attendees wore silly hats like the DNC/RNC delegates. Mine would have the ancient star of Vergina on the front and sunflowers sticking out the top.

-Musical interludes were played after every talk. Let's rock the casbah!

-Two words: Balloon Drop.

Now *that's* a conference worth attending.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Tough Act to Follow

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has chosen a new director to replace Philippe de Montebello next year: not surprisingly, they played the process close to the vest, and not surprisingly, they chose one of their own. Thomas Campbell, curator of tapestries at the Museum, will take over the post January 1st. You can read more about Dr. Campbell and the challenges of the position in the New York Times. I suspect the choice was something of a surprise, and I also suspect some folks were weeping into their Wheaties yesterday at missing the post for themselves.

Dr. Campbell, whose degree is from the Courtauld Institute, certainly has big shoes to fill. Philippe de Montebello has been Director for 31 years and presided over any number of successes and controversies. During my ten-month fellowship at the Met back in 2000-01, I met Dr. Montebello only once, at a luncheon he hosted for the Fellows. The word 'patrician' is routinely attached to him, and with good reason: he's one of those people that makes you sit up straight in your chair and wish you'd gone to a Swiss finishing school. He oozes a certain je ne sais quoi beneath his very gracious manner. Lord of the manor, more like. I think I said five words during the whole luncheon, intimidated into silence (= a rare thing). I've not met Dr. Campbell, but the buzz about him is positive.

The Met will be honoring Dr. Montebello with an exhibition of 'greatest hits' acquisitions from his time as director, from 24 October to 1 February.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Blogging Award!

Thank you to Margaret at The Earthly Paradise for giving me & VGC a blogging award! Very much appreciated!

I'd like to pass this one to some blogs that I hadn't discovered yet on the last pass. Here they are...

Life and Times of a "New" New Yorker: Graduate student Amanda takes on the big city, reads a bunch of books, and shares it all with us.

Art Blog by Bob:Bob's an artlover, and it shows!

My Marathon Mommy:my sister Chantel blogs about life as a toddler's mom, owner of a franchise of Baby Boot Camp, and someone who's preparing for her first marathon. She makes me look lazy. ;-)

Congratulations to all!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

When Friends Move Away

Last week, I submitted the revised manuscript of "The Sunflowers" to my editor at Avon/HarperCollins. It will be poked and prodded (aka line-edited & copyedited), sent back to me after that, but essentially it's begun its journey to publication. When I hit the "send" button -- nowadays one does it simple as that -- I didn't dwell too much on it, but the next morning I woke up feeling quite listless. Melancholy, even. I felt the same way, I remember, when the I submitted the final version of my nonfiction book to Cambridge UP a few years ago, but that was more of a "now what" feeling after years of working on it (and the dissertation before it). This was different. I pondered it and realized the problem.

My friends had moved away.

Vincent, Rachel, and all the characters of my story had been with me every day, even if just in the form of a thought, for 2 years and 3 months. I'd gotten to know everything about them, I listened to their hopes and fears, I struggled to do them justice on the page. Like a faithful scribe I set down the voices I heard in my head (which, granted, felt a bit spooky) and more than once was moved to tears by the emotions the story conjured in my heart. Their world was my escape-world, and I loved going there. To suddenly *not* be going there any more felt ... sad.

I didn't expect to be that subsumed into my story when I began. In my other life I am an academic writer, after all, and in that world, one remains somewhat detached from one's subject. Nothing I'd written before had ever made me cry (well, except when I got snarky peer reviews in the journal submission process). I didn't expect my characters to become my friends -- I even begrudgingly like Paul Gauguin, whom you'll see someday Rachel does not like at all. I tell myself, maybe they aren't spending time with me any more, but in time my friends will be introduced to all kinds of people, and maybe, just maybe, folks will like them as much as I do.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll find new friends I like just as much. Or at least close to it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

New on the Bookshelf

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am an obsessive-compulsive book-buyer and could probably use a twelve-step program. The arrival of my birthday last week and the resumption of regular paychecks as the academic year began meant a flurry of Amazon activity and multiple visits from the nice UPS man. My Van Gogh library got a particular boost with two new books that were released this week...

Bogomila Welsh-Ovacharov, "Van Gogh in Provence and Auvers" (Universe 2008): This is actually a reprinting of an older volume that had been out of print for a while. A fairly large coffeetable-type volume with text written by one of the top van Gogh scholars, this is a fabulous addition to my VvG shelves. The layout is handsome, the illustration quality top-notch. I love the inclusion of illustrations of vintage postcards from Arles, Saint-Rémy, and Auvers-sur-Oise, some of which I'd seen before, some I had not. Vintage photographs of some of the people Vincent knew, including Dr. Félix Rey, the postman Joseph Roulin, and Roulin's wife Augustine, are also featured. This is not a 'scholarly' book with footnotes, etc. -- it is accessible to any reader interested in van Gogh.

Sjraar van Heugten, Joachim Pissarro, and Chris Stolwijk, "Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night" (Museum of Modern Art/Van Gogh Museum 2008): the English-language edition of the exhibition catalogue. A slim but very handsome volume, designed and produced by the Van Gogh Museum's publications staff (my graphic design colleagues on campus tell me the Netherlands is a mecca for graphic design, and it's true that anything the VGM produces is absolutely stunning). The book features essays on the themes of the exhibition, authored by MoMA and VGM curators. The essay I read last night, for example, concerns "The Formation of Crepuscular [I love that word, try saying it out loud] and Nocturnal Themes in Van Gogh's Early Writings" by Joachim Pissarro and is incredibly interesting. A checklist of the works included in both the MoMA and VGM venues of the show appears at the back in the form of a list of illustrations (with an asterisk by the exhibited pieces). For all the sound scholarship of this catalogue, I have to say, I miss the days of exhibition catalogues that have individual entries for each piece in great detail. The tendency now is to have catalogues that don't seem so much like catalogues, I presume so they will find a broader audience. Even so, this book is first-rate and adds a great deal to the Van Gogh literature. It also makes me wish I could go see the show: my plan was to fly up for a day to NY, but the airlines have cut the early-morning flights out of Tampa (eg the 6 am, my past flight for such a venture) and raised the fares so much that it's just not possible. I take consolation in the fact that most of the paintings in the show I have seen before in their original homes; many of them are from the Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum. The drawings and letters, though, I'm bummed to miss!

Speaking of VGM produced books...they got me good last week by sending out an email offering 20% off everything in the online shop for three days only, for their online newsletter subscribers. Sometime probably in this next week, the nice US Postal Service man will bring me Volumes 1 and 2 of the VGM's catalogue of their van Gogh drawings, which will complete my set (I have 3 and 4 already). Even with the exchange rate and shipping costs, it was far cheaper to obtain these books from the VGM than Amazon, *and* proceeds go towards VGM acquisitions. It's an altruistic thing to buy them, I told myself. Hooyeah!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Rest in Peace, Mr. Melendez

Like most folks of my generation, my introduction to art came in the form of hand-drawn animation: the movies and tv specials that peppered each year. I was sad this morning to hear of the passing of Bill Melendez, one of the great ones, known most of all as the animator of 70 "Peanuts" films and tv specials. He was Charles Schultz's number one guy for bringing his characters to animated life. "Charlie Brown Christmas" and "The Great Pumpkin" (my personal favorite) are just two of his creations; he won five Emmy awards for his "Peanuts" specials. He also won Emmys as the animator of the first "Garfield" and "Cathy" tv specials, and two Emmys for the animated version of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" (which I remember very well) in 1979. Before partnering with Charles Schultz, Melendez worked for Warner Bros. animation studios and Disney. Before leaving Disney in 1941, Melendez drew for "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," "Bambi," and "Dumbo."

You can read more about Melendez's remarkable career here in his Washington Post obituary. Each time we lose one of the classic great animators, I can't help but think: they don't make 'em like they used to.