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Sunday, August 28, 2022

Exploring the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 Friday, August 26, 2022

Hi Blog!

It's been two weeks since our last blog. A lot has happened since we came back from Vermont. We moved lock, stock and kitties into our daughter's basement in Philadelphia. The RV is getting some much needed maintenance and upgrades at a shop in New Jersey. While we have stayed with our daughter before, it has taken Flip a while to adjust this time. She's an old lady cat and doesn't like her routine disrupted. On the other hand, Ruby loves to explore the house when our daughter's puppies go for their walk. A full week has gone by since the move, and we feel settled enough to explore the city. Today's adventure was a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

As we made our way over to the museum, we decided to enter through the less crowded West Entrance. We plan to leave the climb up the "Rocky Steps" for another visit. As we approached, we passed a large stone wall that supports the back driveway. We met an interesting character who makes his home in the wall. You all know Punxsutawney Phil, the weather forecasting groundhog. Well this is his cousin, Philadelphia Phil. Philly Phil is not as famous as his cousin. Rather than predict the weather, he just romps and plays on the museum's west lawn.

As we waited for the museum to open, Dave noticed a griffin guarding the building. The griffin is a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and sometimes an eagle's talons as its front feet. Because the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts, and the eagle the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Since classical antiquity, griffins were known for guarding treasures and priceless possessions like those contained in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

After checking our bags and picking up an audio tour device, we had to decide where to start. Dave likes Picasso and Kathy like Monet, but everyone likes Van Gogh, so we decided to visit his works first before the gallery got too crowded. 
The audio tour highlighted Sunflowers. Van Gogh painted a total of five large canvases with sunflowers in a vase, with three shades of yellow ‘and nothing else’. In this way, he demonstrated that it was possible to create an image with numerous variations of a single color, without any loss of eloquence. Besides, sunflowers are pretty.

What's really cool about Claude Monet's Japanese Footbridge is that Monet had the garden built before he thought of painting it. He encircled a basin with a vivacious arrangement of flowers, trees, and bushes, and the next year filled in the pond with water lilies. Monet added a Japanese-style wooden bridge in 1895, then a few years later started to paint the pond and its water lilies—and never stopped, making them the obsessive focus of his intensely searching work for the next quarter century. What a beautiful obsession!

Pablo Piccaso once said, "The world today doesn't make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”  The museum boasts one of his series of paintings titled, "Three Musicians," a perfect example of Picasso's Cubist style. In Cubism, the subject of the artwork is transformed into a sequence of planes, lines, and arcs. Cubism has been described as an intellectual style because the artists analyzed the shapes of their subjects and reinvented them on the canvas. The viewer must reconstruct the subject and space of the work by comparing the different shapes and forms to determine what each one represents. Through this process, the viewer participates with the artist in making the artwork make sense.

Juan Gris was obsessed with musical instruments. He painted dozens of violins. His fondness for the art of music is apparent in this depiction of "Violin," an image derived from the depths of his imagination. Gris felt a strong connection in painting musical tools; he believed that these instruments were as defining to the musician as a paintbrush was to a painter.

Man Ray described "Fair Weather" as the culmination of his Surrealist career. Fair Weather is a nightmarish premonition of the Second World War; the bombarded stone wall and puddle of blood are two of its more direct symbols of violence. The artist left this painting behind when he departed Europe for his native United States in 1940, but he eventually reclaimed it and kept it for the rest of his life.

Intended to decay while on public view, Zoe Leonard's “Strange Fruit” is made up of empty fruit skins that have been sutured together and sprawled across the gallery floor by the artist. The work was created in New York in the 1990s, during the early days of the ongoing global AIDS crisis, before any life-saving treatments were available. This was an era marked by tragic loss and the stigmatization of queer people and people of color, along with sex workers and drug users. In this climate of discrimination and neglect, people were dying daily, their bodies treated by the US government and healthcare industries as disposable. After the deaths of several close friends, including fellow artist David Wojnarowicz, Leonard began to sew these fruit pieces. Out of that process, over a period of six years, “Strange Fruit” emerged.

The embracing figures in "The Kiss" by Constantin Brancusi, merge into a single form. Two eyes make the oval of a single eye, hairlines sweep into a continuous arch, and arms join to encircle the cubic block. The artist’s fourth version of the same theme, it exhibits the greatest formal unity. Brancusi recommended that it be displayed very simply on its own base, in line with his belief that, for sculpture, "it is the complete thing that counts."

Sometimes, the story behind the art is as interesting as the art itself. Pictured below are a self portrait by Margit Pogany and a sculpture of her by Constantin Brancusi. Here is their story:

Margit Pogany, an art student living in Paris, sat for a portrait with Constantin Brancusi in 1910 or early 1911. Brancusi’s sculptures of Pogany gained immense notoriety for their shockingly austere, smoothly machine-like appearance when first exhibited as a plaster cast in New York in 1913. In the same year, having returned to her native Budapest, Pogany made this work, her only known self-portrait, with her face half-hidden in shadow and a pensive hand-on-cheek pose similar to the Brancusi portrait. Pogany, a Hungarian Jew, was documented as a Holocaust survivor after the Second World War and resettled in Australia in 1948. Her family sold her painted self-portrait to the museum, whose collection includes two versions of Mademoiselle Pogany by Brancusi in white marble

Best remembered as the prime minister who led Britain during World War II, Winston Churchill was also an accomplished amateur artist who painted to cope with depression. Inspired by Monet and Matisse, Churchill typically painted outdoors, using vivid colors and energetic brushstrokes. This painting, "Beach at Saint-Jean-de-Luz," depicts a beach on France’s Atlantic coast. It centers on the Casino La Pergola, an important example of Cubist architecture by Robert Mallet-Stevens that still stands today.

The most evocative installation we toured was called "Neural Swamp" by Martine Symsan American artist based in Los Angeles. It is the second volume in a series documenting works produced for the Future Fields Commission in Time-Based Media, a collaborative initiative established by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin to support the creation, acquisition, and presentation of new video, film, sound, and performance works by emerging artists. 
The multichannel video installation highlights the tactics and technologies of sport, cinema and surveillance. Syms challenges racial and gender stereotypes and investigates what it means to be a Black women in a hyper-digitized world. It is sometimes funny and other times disturbing. She used algorithms and artificial intelligence to question the politics of images and the technologies that allow for their production and consumption.

There is more here than can be seen in one day, so we will probably revisit the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the future. Not only was it hard to select what, out of that huge collection, we would view, but it was difficult to decide which of those to photograph.  Then, harder still, was to select only a few to present in this blog.
We expect to undertake a similar effort at Philadelphia's Barnes Museum in the near future.  Until then, stay thirsty my friends!

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