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


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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.

‘Lingotto’ By Mario Merz


I have no idea who Mario Merz is (though I suppose I could look him), but I loved this piece. Maybe I couldn’t even tell you why.

I finally visited the fully renovated East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. They added a lot of useful gallery space and I give whole thing an unreserved thumbs on for practical improvements. For some reason, though, I was in a mood to see paintings by the time I got there. Not just paintings, but traditional paintings. Nineteenth century landscapes with ruins and picturesque peasants. You know the type.

But was making a good faith effort to walk through the galleries and I came out of one space and into another and Lingotto was directly opposite the doorway I passed through and I was instantly struck by a my own little Stendahl episode. There was just something about it. Maybe the ritualistic aspect, the shrine-like quality. But I was just amazed.

Wilmington, Delaware


So, I was in Wilmington, Delaware the other weekend. On Saturday, I walked from Brandywine Park to the Delaware Art Museum, which is famous for its collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and related works. The museum was originally founded to house and preserve the works of Wilmington based illustrator, Howard Pyle, who died in 1911.

On Sunday, I walked through the park and up a set of stairs and wound up at an eighteenth century Presbyterian church which is only open one day month and only for two hours on that day and, by strange coincidence, I walked up there on that day.

My notes are all mixed up, so I’m just going to post a bunch of pictures up and make whatever comments I want in the caption.

This is from the church, obviously

This is from the church, obviously


You can see the date of its construction written in 'brick' on the side

You can see the date of its construction written in ‘brick’ on the side


Colonial graffiti

Colonial graffiti


The classic colonial pulpit

The classic colonial pulpit


A quintessential subject (Lilith) by the quintessential Pre-Raphaelite artist (Rossetti)

A quintessential subject (Lilith) by the quintessential Pre-Raphaelite artist (Rossetti)


'Hymenaeus,' by Edward Burnes-Jones

‘Hymenaeus,’ by Edward Burnes-Jones


I took a picture of this just because of the salon style display of the works

I took a picture of this just because of the salon style display of the works


Another example of how charmingly welcoming this museum is!

Another example of how charmingly welcoming this museum is!


Most museums won't let you sit in the nice chairs in the galleries

Most museums won’t let you sit in the nice chairs in the galleries


Another very Rossetti-like Rossetti... they did love red-haired women

Another very Rossetti-like Rossetti… they did love red-haired women


From the Pre-Raphaelite gallery; I should note that the museum took a wonderfully liberal view of photographs; no flash, of course, but if the museum owned the piece, you are welcome to snap away

From the Pre-Raphaelite gallery; I should note that the museum took a wonderfully liberal view of photographs; no flash, of course, but if the museum owned the piece, you are welcome to snap away


What I like best is that the man is smiling despite his burden; protecting children is inherently rewarding

What I like best is that the man is smiling despite his burden; protecting children is inherently rewarding


This is a great Motherwell, but also exemplifies the challenge of the smaller, regional museum; how does one work around having an eclectic collection that doesn't really illustrate a movement or artist? What good is one Motherwell, in a way?

This is a great Motherwell, but also exemplifies the challenge of the smaller, regional museum; how does one work around having an eclectic collection that doesn’t really illustrate a movement or artist? What good is one Motherwell, in a way?


Completely random, but cool - a set of Art Deco elevator doors!

Completely random, but cool – a set of Art Deco elevator doors!

‘The Flame Of Life’ By Gabriele D’Annunzio


I bought this book in complete ignorance of anything buy visual and tactile beauty; as a physical object. But I wasn’t wrong in guessing that I would enjoy what would surely be some wonderfully overwrought prose.

The plot is wafer thin (Monty Python reference) and driven by issues and concerns that seem positively ridiculous. A dionysian poet named Stelio enthralls a lushly imagined Venice with his wild declamations on art and beauty. Among those enthralled a beautiful actress (former courtesan, too?) alternately called Perdita and La Foscarina. Their love (and presumably, their passionate sex, though that is never mentioned nor described) is voluptuously erotic, but it is haunted by La Foscarita’s greater knowledge of impending knowledge. Yes, she is a nearly decrepit thirty-four (I’m guessing the young genius poet is in his mid-twenties). I’ll admit, those concerns pulled me out of the narrative a bit. Maybe if he had been twenty and she was thirty-nine, I’d have seen the problem more clearly… She is also haunted by the memory of a beautiful and, needless to say, virginal singer named Donatella. Poor Perdita believes that Donatella is destined to be Stelio’s life partner.

But it’s not about plot. It’s about lengthy digressions on art and poetry and architecture and Richard Wagner’s death (which bookends the novel; placing the action around the year 1883). It’s about painfully decadent prose stylings that you will either love or that will force you set the book down before the fifth page.