The Kreeger Museum

The Kreeger Museum

I first read about the Kreeger in an article about dubious private museums. Two DC area institutions were mentioned: the Kreeger Museum in DC proper and the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland (which, if you only from the Real Housewives of  Potomac, you will not realize is actually rich, white, and equestrian). The dubiousness came from the possibility that the museums mainly existed as vehicles for tax mitigation.

Naturally, I had to visit them. Eventually.

Several years after reading the article, we finally made it to the Kreeger, in the Palisades neighborhood of DC. A low slung building of elegant, off white stone, the museum itself was designed by my favorite architect, Philip Johnson. It rather resembles a building wide expansion of the wing he designed for another DC museum, Dumbarton Oaks, to hold its Pre-Columbian collection.

The Kreeger, despite some excellent Southeast Asian sculptures, is primarily about pre-WWII European art. But darn, if it doesn’t have some great pieces.

Seven or eight Picassos. One from the sixties, but the rest from his early days through his peak in the thirties. Seven or eight Monets (a mixture of Giverny landscapes and marine paintings). Two Van Goghs. A Chagall. Two Gorkys. Some excellent, small Rodins. A couple of Miros. A Kandinsky. A Pissaro. There were even two very early Mondrians, which were deeply confusing because they were fairly straightforward, representationalist pieces.

All of them, really excellent.

The outside of building, once you got beyond a terrace filled with at least one Jean Arp and other pieces that looked relatively contemporary to him (they were poorly identified, if I have a criticism of the museum), with the rest of the grounds scattered with contemporary pieces.

It’s shameless, rich man exceptionalism at its worst. But well worth seeing.

The nearest one is called “Quill” and is part of a whole courtyard devoted to DC artist, John Dreyfuss

Monet, of course


Rather creepy, but cool

What a great Picasso, right?

Rainer Lagemann’s “Sean, Sara, Jess”

A Kandinsky, believe it or not, partly done with sand!

‘Chardin And Rembrandt’ By Marcel Proust

It was pretty exciting when this was published in English. It’s a little padded, to make it the length of a long chapbook, but that’s okay.

Chardin and Rembrandt opens with a description of a young man (clearly upper middle class, at least), looking around the dining room table and is disgusted. The half eaten food. The meats laying out. The ash strewn fireplace. In retrospect, it reminds me of the reactions of the narrator of Sartre’s Le Nausee.

But then he says to go to the Louvre and check out the still life paintings of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. By doing so, you will see the sublime in the quotidien. You don’t have to be a scholar nor even to have read Proust’s masterpiece to see the comparison to the episode of the madeleine or, really to the whole damn book to know that.

As for Rembrandt… he starts to write about Rembrandt representing something more traditionally sublime, but then he trails off. Literally. It ends with “…”

This is not a mature book, by any means. Proust is famous for his long sentences, but he also has a certain economy. This is more… florid. A younger man’s essay.

Why Is The Entire Staff Of ‘Brooklyn Rail’ Leaving?

Staff and Board Members Leave Brooklyn Rail En Masse‘ read the headline from Hyperallergic, an arts blog that I regularly read.

It caught my eye because I subscribe to Brooklyn Rail. It was happenstance (I got it concurrent with a subscription to Poetry; I’m always on the look out for deals on periodical subscriptions) that I did, but I enjoy reading it. It’s rather like reading The New Yorker when you don’t live in New York. There’s a lot to get from it, regardless of personal geography, but at it’s heart, it is a regional publication (even more true of Brooklyn Rail than its glossier cousin).

The Hyperallergic article doesn’t give any insight into why everyone is leaving (because no one involved will say), but it feels sad. Journalists are already such a precarious damn place. Arts journalists, more so. Does your local paper have a full time arts reporter? Or book reviewer? Much less an arts editor? Probably not.

For this revolt of thine methinks is like/Another fall of man.
– Henry V by William Shakespeare


The Rodin Museum & Joseph Fox Bookshop

We went to Philadelphia for a two day work thing that had the first day unexpectedly cancelled, so we found ourselves with an unexpected free day in Philly.

Living in DC spoils an art lover. Most of the city’s best museums (which are some of the finest in the world, I would argue) are free. You get used to not paying for access to great art. Which does bring up some interesting issues: by making it seem like creative works should be free, are we devaluing the labor of artists (as has already happened online, particularly with writing and journalism); or are we making the arts more available to underserved communities? Just to put my own thoughts into this, I would point to the model of the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, which is free to residents of the county wherein it resides (Wayne County, if you’re interested). While that wouldn’t apply to museums like the National Gallery of Art nor the Smithsonian, since they are treasures for the entire country, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking about various models.

But my point was that it has made me cheap and I couldn’t help but notice that the Rodin Museum had only a ten dollar suggested donation (per adult), whereas most other museums were charging twenty. Also, a large selection of Rodins was not something I could readily see in DC, whereas a large selection of (for example) Impressionists is something I can see back home.

It’s not a large museum, but it’s in  classy, Art Noveau looking building and filled with interesting pieces and has a beautiful garden with some larger pieces – though it was raining cats and dogs all day long, so we weren’t in the best form to appreciate, for example, a large bronze of the Gates of Hell.

A little later, we trod through the rain to the Joseph Fox Bookshop. I knew nothing about it, except that the Yelp reviews sounded promising.

It’s a very small bookstore, but it makes up for that by being exceptionally well-curated and giving a lot of space to smaller presses to publish (drum roll, please)… good books.

For example, the NYRB and Pushkin Press were amazingly well-represented (those are two presses that you can buy almost any book they publish and be confident that it will be awesome).

Naturally, I bought something. In my case, a recently re-published in book form long essay by Marcel Proust: Chardin and Rembrandt.


Yayoi Kosuma


There were five rooms (or five self-contained installations, if you prefer) and we only got to visit three before being escorted out (the museum was closing; we weren’t misbehaving, though there was some temptation, on account of our understandable frustration at the long lines preventing us from seeing them all).

The documentation around it, filling up the spaces, was filled with absences. There was the tiny, pink haired octagenarian that Kosuma is now and the provacatrix of 1960s ‘happenings’ and various forms of installation and performance art, but nothing in between those two periods.

While almost certainly not the curators’ intentions, it makes a bit of conceptual sense. Rather than infinity, I saw smallness and absence. Mirrors hiding cramped spaces. It was a joyful exhibit, no doubt – don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t see infinity.

Simone De Beauvoir’s Office

Or a replication/re-creation thereof.

And a brilliant idea by the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The Second Sex is brilliant and I have read The Mandarins at least three times, but when I first read about this exhibition, I didn’t put two and two together and realize that it was right here in Washington, DC. It was just coincidence that we happened to visit the museum that day.

As you can see, I got a kick getting my picture taken while sitting at a re-creation of her desk.

While much of the stuff were merely examples of things from her study and not actual originals, there were two handwritten pages from The Second Sex, which is pretty awesome.

A friend is a security guard there and she took me to see a marble statue and when I looked at the name, it was by Sarah Bernhardt, the famous actress of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stage – who was, apparently, a skillful sculptor in her spare time.

The museum is a beautiful building inside, to boot.

Matisse/Diebenkorn At SFMOMA

While in San Francisco for a wedding (congratulations, L-!), my better half and I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

While I appreciate the theory behind pairing Diebenkorn with Matisse to bring attention to the work of a NorCal painter (and I applaud SFMOMA for staging a blockbuster style exhibit that highlights a local artist) and appreciate them trying to find a new way to show a lot of Matisse paintings that isn’t just another retrospective, but… it all came together in a way that was unjust to both artists.

Besides the obvious: very few artists will not see their work pale with paired with one of the greats, like Matisse.

But also, Diebenkorn, someone I had not been familiar with before, but who is clearly an amazing painter, is reduced to his relationship to the influences of Matisse (for myself, I saw more Cezanne and Hopper than Matisse, but my opinion is suspect because, by the end, I was openly rebelling against the exhibit’s paradigm).

And we are presented with all these wonderful Matisses and they feel suffocated on the walls. Many of these works needed a little room to breathe and be appreciated for their own sake and not smushed (psychically and geographically) with someone else’s oeuvre.

Unrelated, they had two metal floor sculptures by Carl Andre that I made my better half stand on (because you could – as long as you wore shoes).

I first encountered his work at the Pompidou Centre. I swear it was his 144 Zinc Squares. An internet search revealed that that museum has Tin Squares, but my memory is so clear, I have to believe that it was Zinc Squares that I saw that day. But this is all besides the point.

The first time I saw 144  [Some Kind of Silvery Colored Metal] Squares, my mind was blown. But I didn’t realize you could walk on it. I went back (because I loved that museum so much) and read that visitors could walk on it. And if my mind was blown the first time, then this time, well, insert some kind of metaphor (maybe something involving nuclear explosions, but nothing tasteless that directly references actually nuclear disasters, which includes the dropping of the atomic bombs in World War II and morally outrageous nuclear tests on Pacific islands, but feel free to make some kind of Godzilla reference). To this day, I can still remember the sensation of walking on a piece of art and the electric sensation that ran from my feet to my brain. Probably, my love of conceptual art stems from that day.