Air Get-Aways Go Awry for Thousands
Books and Art on the (Hip?) Upper East Side
Richard Selden • April 6, 2016
A National Historic Landmark, the Seventh Regiment Armory on Manhattan’s Upper East Side made an about-face in 2007.
The one-time drill hall for New York’s aristocracy — with interiors by Tiffany, Stanford White and the Herter Brothers, among others — had become best known as a cavernous venue for high-end antiques shows.
That year, the massive brick castle became the home of Park Avenue Armory, a nonprofit that undertook the building’s restoration and began to program performances and contemporary art installations. The Royal Shakespeare Company came for six weeks one summer and the Merce Cunningham Company danced its last there. Visitors listened in the dark to “The Murder of Crows,” a sound piece by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller; swung on giant swings amid dangling sheets at Ann Hamilton’s “The Event of a Thread”; and marveled at Paul McCarthy’s pornographic take on Snow White, “WS.”
Almost singlehandedly, the Armory has made the Upper East Side hip. (The next major installation, “Martin Creed: The Back Door,” opens June 8.) Its avant-garde events have been so successful that last year the New York Art, Antique & Jewelry Show, an annual rental of $300,000 or so, was evicted; the 2016 show will be at Pier 94 in November.
But two of the most prestigious shows of their kind in the world are still Armory tenants. The Winter Antiques Show will return in January 2017. This weekend, April 7 to 10, more than 200 of the top U.S. and international vendors of rare books, maps, manuscripts and ephemera will be at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair.
A short walk up Park Avenue from the Armory is the Asia Society Museum, between 70th and 71st Streets, where “Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan” is on view through May 8. The exhibition focuses on sculpture from the politically turbulent Kamakura period (1185 to 1333), when artists and their workshops were commissioned by the warrior class to create Buddhist icons of exceptional realism, power and technical excellence.
Meanwhile, the big news on the Upper East Side is the opening, last month, of the Met Breuer. With the Whitney Museum of Art in a new Renzo Piano building in the Meatpacking District (at the southern terminus of the High Line), the Metropolitan Museum of Art has taken over the old Whitney, at Madison Avenue and 75th Street, a Brutalist icon designed by Marcel Breuer.
The inaugural exhibition at what this writer calls the Metney (until I hear from both museums’ lawyers) is “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,” running through Sept. 4. Under the direction of Sheena Wagstaff, named the Met’s chair of modern and contemporary art, a new department, in 2012, the show’s curators selected nearly 200 works — by contemporary artists and by big names from Rembrandt to Rauschenberg — that were never completed or “partake of a non finito … aesthetic that embraces the unresolved and open-ended.”
About eight blocks away, at what is now identified as the Met Fifth Avenue, the top-billed special exhibition is “Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France.” Closing May 15, the display of 80 paintings and pastels is said to be the painter’s first retrospective “in modern times.”
Finally, across Fifth Avenue from the “Big Met,” the exquisite Neue Galerie on the corner of 86th Street is the sole U.S. venue for “Munch and Expressionism,” through June 13. Organized with the Munch Museum in Oslo, the exhibition explores the mutual influences among Edvard Munch and his German and Austrian contemporaries, including Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele.
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Spring Shows in Philadelphia
Richard Selden • March 18, 2016
It happened in Philadelphia: 56 men in breeches created a nation.
Then, 51 years later, it happened again. This time, it was 53 men in trousers. And what they created was … a flower show.
Actually, what they created in 1827 was the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The first public show, featuring the poinsettia’s American debut, came two years later. (In 1835, the society admitted women as voting members — long before the nation did.)
The descendent of that historic event, the Philadelphia Flower Show, the largest and longest-running indoor show in the world, now attracts more than 200,000 visitors over nine days. The 2016 show, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, ends this Sunday.
A Garden of Eden for plant-lovers — with award-winning specimens, lectures and vendors from around the world — the show is also a floral theme park that seems to grow Disney-er every year. Since this year’s theme is “Explore America: 100 Years of the National Park Service,” expect recreations of Yosemite, simulated Old Faithful eruptions and a Denali sled dog team. You can even “create your own Mount Rushmore floral headpiece.”
For details, and to reserve a garden tea or an early-morning private tour (weekdays only), visit theflowershow.com. Families with children should note that on closing day, Sunday, March 13, there will be a Flower Show Jamboree and a Teddy Bear Tea.
Prior to launching their kisses-and-hugs “With Love, Philadelphia” campaign, Visit Philadelphia’s slogan was “Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over.” With the Flower Show meriting a full day and three new museum exhibitions, it makes sense to get a room.
After a controversial legal and financial intervention, the Barnes Foundation galleries relocated from the suburban residence of Albert C. Barnes (1872–1951) to a new museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 2012. The move’s approval hinged in part on the exact reproduction of the unchanging salon-style display found in leafy Merion by the relatively few visitors who made it out there.
Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien created a large and spacious modern building for the Barnes in which the tiny recreated rooms are encased. In accordance with Barnes’s eccentric theories of art appreciation, African, Native American, Pennsylvania German and other sculpture and artifacts, including miscellaneous wrought-iron objects, share the walls with frame-to-frame masterpieces by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse and Modigliani (to name a few of Dr. Barnes’s favorites).
It is one of the most astounding museums in the world, now with the additional reason to visit of special exhibitions. Through May 9, the Barnes (which has 22 paintings by Pablo Picasso in its permanent collection) is hosting “Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change.” The show’s focus is the period surrounding and including World War I, during which Picasso — the “High Priest of Cubism” in the words of curator Simonetta Fraquelli — abruptly returned to a naturalistic style, continuing to alternate between Cubism and Neoclassicism.
A video illustrates how during the war Cubism was portrayed as anti-French (though the style’s co-creator, Georges Braque, was as French as could be and served at the front) and associated with the despised Germans.
Several blocks up the parkway from the Barnes, “International Pop” is on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through May 15. All the American stars are represented, of course: Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselman, Ed Ruscha. But what makes the show an eye-opener are the works by what the text calls the “British forbears of Pop,” notably Edinburgh-born Eduardo Paolozzi and London-born Richard Hamilton, whose collages date to the 1950s (earlier, in Paolozzi’s case), and by artists from throughout Europe and from Argentina, Brazil and Japan.
Finally, across the Schuylkill River, the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is the exclusive U.S. venue for “The Golden Age of King Midas,” on view through Nov. 27. Of the 100-plus objects on loan from Turkish museums, many were excavated by Penn archaeologists from an eighth-century B.C. royal tomb, believed to be the resting place of Midas’s father Gordios.
Whether you hear the clatter of gold or of your muffler when you think of Midas, this exhibition is another example of the remarkable things to be seen this spring in the City of Brotherly Love.
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Winter Travel: 6 Continents, 6 Destinations
Georgetowner • November 19, 2015
Winter travel has its advantages. Aside from the peak holiday-travel dates, airfares are low. You can trade cold and snow for warmth and sun. And even if you choose a place as frosty as where you came from, you’re likely to find yourself in the midst of winter festivities.
For this article, The Georgetowner decided to limit the number of destinations covered to six: one for each continent (not counting Antarctica). As different as they are, the vacation spots we came up with — Alaska, Machu Picchu, Istanbul, Cape Town, Hong Kong and New Zealand — share the qualities that make travel worth the time, expense and occasional inconvenience, even in the troubled times in which we live: natural and cultural riches, unforgettable settings and that “je ne sais quai” that makes you feel more intensely alive.
North America: Alaska
The Northern Lights in Alaska are something you never forget witnessing. What starts out possibly being a car-dealership spotlight across town turns into a writhing kaleidoscope of color, leaving those looking upon its beauty speechless. Cruising up the Inside Passage through magnificent glaciers and Gold Rush towns is fascinating; everything is gigantic in a way that makes humans feel downright small. Shoving off from the Homer Spit in a fishing charter isn’t particularly grand, but returning from sea with a cargo hold of halibut — while watching pods of whales, puffins and otters play beneath the snowcapped peaks and glaciers — is absolute magic. And meeting Alaskans is a bonus; the folks who have chosen to make Alaska their home are hearty folk, and they know how to tell stories. You’ll return from this trip with plenty of photos, footage and tall tales to share.
South America: Machu Picchu
Nestled high above the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the small settlement of Machu Picchu (in what is now Peru) served as the estate for Inca emperors for roughly a century. Despite its location near Cusco, the Spanish never found it. Reports of a fabulous ruined city in the Andes cloud forest began trickling out as early as the 1870s. But it wasn’t until 1911, when Yale historian Hiram Bingham (possibly the inspiration for Indiana Jones) was led there by a local guide, that the world found out about the so-called Lost City of the Incas. A trip there, even today, is not as much a vacation as it is an endurance test. The gateway to Machu Picchu, Cusco sits at an elevation of 11,152 feet above sea level, so you should plan on spending two days acclimatizing. The actual hike, which takes 4 days, is easier. While the hike offers stunning views, nothing compares to looking down from Machu Picchu on virgin forest vistas. Note: Peruvian authorities continue to place restrictions on visits to Machu Picchu, so plan your trip sooner rather than later.
On the eastern edge of Europe — Asia is just across the magnificent Bosphorus Strait — the city formerly known as Constantinople is the largest in Turkey. Its incredible history under three empires, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, is displayed on a grand level. Meanwhile, the city’s modern lifestyle expresses a passion for food, shopping, entertainment and, of course, raki, Turkey’s sambuca-like national drink. First stop, Sultanahmet Square, where a number of obelisks reach for the sky to mark Constantinople’s Hippodrome. A few blocks away are the stunning Blue Mosque, named for the 20,000 Iznik-style tiles that line its interior, and the incomparable Hagia Sophia. Originally built as a Christian basilica, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) became a mosque when the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453. Other landmarks include the Topkapi Palace, the primary residence for the sultans, and the Basilica Cistern, a location in “From Russian with Love” and the Dan Brown novel “Inferno.”
Oceania: New Zealand
Do you consider yourself an adventure traveler? Then New Zealand’s South Island should be on your bucket list. Queenstown is the island’s main adventure hub, situated on the crystal-clear blue Lake Wakatipu. The town, reminiscent of a skiing village in the United States, has a number of outfits offering skydiving, bungee jumping and other high-adrenalin activities. Scenery bombards the senses on the trip to the island’s west coast, where you can take a cruise around the Milford Sound, ride a helicopter ride to the top of the Franz Josef Glacier or explore breathtaking coastal inlets and otherworldly rock formations in Punakaiki. Farther north, enjoy pristine beaches in Nelson, or hop over to Christchurch, which has come back strongly from a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in February 2011, or Dunedin, which offers not only Victorian and Edwardian architecture but colonies of albatrosses, seals and penguins.
Asia: Hong Kong
One of the most densely populated cities on earth, a human ant farm of more than seven million residents, Hong Kong — officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China — is an ethnic kaleidoscope of hustle and bustle. The tantalizing beat of this urban financial center, the gateway to China, will draw you in and make you a part of it no matter how brief the visit. A trip across the harbor in the Star Ferry, dinner at the Peninsula watching the laser show, having a suit made for you, people-watching in the nightlife district of Lan Kwai Fong — these are just a few of the reasons to jump ship here. Watching the massive octopus-like cranes load and unload the cargo destined for and coming from places around the globe is a mesmerizing reminder of the magnitude of Hong Kong’s port, busiest in the world from 1999 to 2004 (when it was overtaken by Shanghai).
Africa: Cape Town
Cape Town is at southern tip of the African continent, cradled by one of the most unique and spectacular mountain vistas in the world, Table Mountain. Visitors can take a gondola up to the flat surface of the mountaintop for an unforgettable view of the entire city and the sea beyond. A short boat ride from the harbor is Robben Island, the now-defunct prison where Nelson Mandela spent nearly thirty years of his life. Back at the harbor, the best of current-day South Africa is on display, with delicious waterfront cafes and open-air boutique markets. A daytrip out to the quaint Cape Dutch village of Stellenbosch, the center of South Africa’s breathtakingly beautiful and highly underrated wine region, will run down your camera batteries with its views and windswept architecture. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is nestled at the eastern foot of Table Mountain, preserving the country’s unique flora and cultivating indigenous plants. Its Boomslang is a footbridge walkway into the tree canopy. South Africa still suffers from a great deal of poverty, so any conscientious traveler would do well to take a guided tour of Khayelitsha, a township that houses nearly 400,000 of the country’s displaced and underemployed citizens. The experience, while sobering, is also inspirational.[gallery ids="102385,123328,123321" nav="thumbs"]
Still Life in Philly
Richard Selden • November 5, 2015
Portraitist of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton and other figures of the American Revolution, Charles Willson Peale raised a family of painters in Philadelphia, naming his sons Rembrandt, Raphaelle, Titian and Rubens and his daughters Angelica and Sophonisba (not a complete list).
One of the major works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new exhibition, “Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life” (on view through Jan. 10) is Peale’s group portrait of his family: nine peaches-and-cream-faced Peales, including himself; the children’s nanny; and his dog Argus. On the green tablecloth is a still life — a tray of fruit next to a paring knife and a curled apple peel (pun no doubt intended).
On each side of this canvas, nearly seven and a half feet wide, are two small still-life paintings by Peale family members; nearby are classic still lifes by Raphaelle, one of the first American artists to specialize in the genre. His father, like many artists before and since, considered flowers, fruit, cheese, cutlery, serving ware, wine bottles, dead fish and the like more a subject for artistic training than for finished works, despite the still-life obsessions of Dutch Golden Age painters (excluding Rembrandt and Hals).
Grouping outstanding examples, many unfamiliar, in roughly chronological order under the thematic headings of Describing, Indulging, Discerning and Animating, the exhibition — the first of its kind in three decades — aims to make the case that, in the words of curator Mark D. Mitchell, “the story of American still life is the story of American life.”
At several points, context is provided in inventive ways. Plate 26 from John James Audubon’s “Birds of America,” depicting now-extinct Carolina parakeets, is accompanied not only by several of the huge folio volumes but by four specimens collected in 1843 and owned by Audubon, their colors — orange, yellow and turquoise — still bright.
In the Indulging section, visitors can explore the language of flowers at “You In Flowers” interactive stations, which generate personalized (sort of) on-screen bouquets from self-submitted adjectives.
Velvet curtains evoke the Gilded Age setting of William Harnett’s largest trompe-l’oeil (trick the eye) painting, “After the Hunt” of 1885, painted for the Paris Salon but purchased for Theodore Stewart’s extravagant New York saloon. Trained in Munich, Harnett was a genius at depicting feathers (dead game birds), fur (a dead rabbit), metal (two firearms and a hunting horn) and the life-size green door — with rusty ornamental hinges, a keyhole escutcheon and a dangling key — on which these and other precisely rendered objects appear to hang.
The superb selection of trompe-l’oeil works in the Discerning section includes “Reminiscences of 1865,” the movingly subliminal tribute to Lincoln painted in 1904 by Harnett’s contemporary John Frederick Peto, which shows a black-and-white portrait of the president and various forgotten scraps of paper tacked to a wooden panel in which ABE and his birth and death dates are carved.
The later works under the theme of Indulging (which overlaps with Discerning) show the influence of Japanese art, both directly — as in Robert Blum’s virtuosic “Flower Market, Tokyo,” of 1891–92 — and indirectly, by way of the French Impressionists.
Finally, the galleries featuring 20th-century art give example after example of modernism’s embrace of the genre. By including works by modern masters with distinctive personal styles — Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keefe, Stuart Davis, Paul Cadmus, Andrew Wyeth, Jasper Johns — the curatorial team compels us to ask “How does this work fit into the American still-life tradition and what does it add to it?”
Several of these works are sculptures, such as Andy Warhol’s seemingly trompe-l’oeil “Brillo Boxes” of 1964. Screen-printed on three wooden cubes, the piece actually proclaims its artifice through the imperfections of its handmade process.
One of the most beautiful works in the show is by an artist, like Peale, with Philadelphia connections: Alexander Calder. “The Water Lily,” c. 1945, constructed from sheet metal and wire, is black with a gray base, as far as could be from the colorful flower canvases in the preceding galleries. The flat piece of metal representing the lily’s seed pod, punched with holes, would never trick the eye, yet it is instantly recognizable, a triumph of observation to rival Audubon’s.[gallery ids="102346,125538,125533" nav="thumbs"]