Being Fifteen At The MFA

My little sister came to visit me in Boston a couple of weeks ago, so I took her to museums and a Boston Symphony Orchestra performance that she enjoyed more than I did (she’s a pretty talented flautist, so it figures). Carrie’s turning sixteen on Friday (!!) and I was really interested in getting her take on art, so we went to the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston on a pay-what-you-wish Wednesday night and had the best time.

She’s only fifteen but she’s pretty brilliant. Sometimes she’d mention a comment about a painting or sculpture I’d spent hours studying, and point out something I didn’t even think to consider. Because with art, what you know doesn’t matter as much as what you see, and how you view it through your own lens of experience.

Inspired by the new People’s Choice section, read on to meet Carrie and hear what she thinks about five masterpieces on view at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston:


Hi! My name is Carrie Davis. I’m currently a sophomore at Fairhope High School, and I just happen to be the little sister of the creator of the site you’re on right now. Music is my passion, but I recently went to the Museum of Fine Art with my sister so she’s putting me to work by writing about these lovely pieces of art. I also enjoy playing the flute, riding my horse, long walks on the beach, and bacon. HAVE A GREAT DAY, OKAY?

Alex Katz, "Rush," 1971

Alex Katz, “Rush,” 1971


Rush makes me curious as to who the inspirations are, or where they came from. I love the emotion in the faces, too. It’s very interesting how some of the faces are shown straight on, some show their profiles, and others only show the back side of their head.


Detail, Alex Katz, "Rush," 1971

Detail, Alex Katz, “Rush,” 1971

Paul Cezanne, "The Large Bathers," 1879-1906

Paul Cezanne, “The Large Bathers,” 1879-1906


Paul Cézanne uses an almost watercolor looking technique in The Large Bathers to get a beautiful contrast of colors between the sky and the nature. The women in the painting appear to be doing the cliché deeds of women in the early 1900s when this artifact was created, which gives the viewer a glimpse back into time. The one thing I’m most curious about is the town in the background. It seems to be civilized, yet the people are nude. Could they be a different civilization of people, or possibly a single nudist colony? I’m in love with the way Cézanne makes you think and consider the possibilities of these lovely creatures.



Alexandre-Georges-Henri Regnault, "Automedon with the Horses of Achilles," 1868

Alexandre-Georges-Henri Regnault, “Automedon with the Horses of Achilles,” 1868


The strength and fury of the horses in Automedon with the Horses of Achilles puts me in awe of how much bravery that man (Achilles?) must have. The foaming mouths of the horses as they rear up to the protagonist of the painting makes me astonished by the man’s power. This painting was at least eight feet tall, creating an entirely new feature that a computer screen lacks. The frame of the piece is very forceful. It looks like something that would be in a literary work by Homer. The raging horses, along with the raging ocean makes for an angry and terrifying mood.


Annette Lemieux, "Pacing," 1988

Annette Lemieux, “Pacing,” 1988


Pacing, by Annette Lemieux, is quite inspirational. It was created so simply, yet it’s so beautiful and interesting to look at. I love how most of the foot prints are very concealed, yet the ones on the outside are so detailed and noticeable.


Detail, Annette Lemieux, "Pacing," 1988

Detail, Annette Lemieux, “Pacing,” 1988

Pablo Picasso, "Rape of the Sabine Women," 1963

Pablo Picasso, “Rape of the Sabine Women,” 1963


In the Rape of the Sabine Women by Pablo Piccaso it makes me sad for the victims in the painting. The men want them so desperately, and are willing to hurt them in order to obtain that power. The poor child appears to be crying out for the men to cease, but they so crave the power and the sense of control that winning this brawl will give them.



For more from Carrie, you can follow her on Twitter, and be sure to wish her a happy birthday!

If you have your own impressions you’d like to share, use this form to join the People’s Choice Project and get your own post just like this one.



VOLTA NY: What Can Come From One Pair of Hands

VOLTA NY is a showcase of individual minds and hands – hands that painted, sculpted, collaged, and sewed something incredible to be here. It’s held annually in both New York and Switzerland, and last week it took up two stories of 82MERCER in SoHo, and more than 22,000 people showed up.


David Kennedy Cutler, represented by Halsey McKay, East Hampton.

David Kennedy Cutler, represented by Halsey McKay, East Hampton.


The show’s design lead you around through two rows of art per room, and even though it was a bit cramped when tons of people showed up, the art took up most of the space, and the artists were sometimes there to greet you and discuss their work which is very exciting but also kind of nerve-wracking  David Kennedy Cutler’s sculpture stood right in the fair’s halfway point, greeting visitors as they walked towards the stairs and up to a whole new level of art – this one with higher ceilings and exposed brick walls.


Marc Fromm represented by Jarmuschek + Partner, Berlin.

Marc Fromm represented by Jarmuschek + Partner, Berlin.


A whole crowd was gathered around Marc Fromm’s levitating piece – the girl somehow miraculously held up by the seemingly slack rope draped causally around her wrist. The bear and the girl together make for an interesting pair: the bear’s furry face is still somewhat ferocious looking, and even though the flying girl is all dolled up with flowers and everything, there’s hardly any expression behind her empty doll face.


"One Day at a Time,” 2012 (paperback books, acrylic varnish)  by Brian Dettmer represented by Kinz + Tillou, NY

“One Day at a Time,” 2012 (paperback books, acrylic varnish)
by Brian Dettmer represented by Kinz + Tillou, NY

"An Encyclopedia of World History" by by Brian Dettmer

“An Encyclopedia of World History” by by Brian Dettmer


Brian Dettmer’s works appeared the most labor-intensive at VOLTA. His towers and wall sculptures are made from encyclopedias and  involved hours of pouring through old books and carefully cutting and rearranging. “One Day at a Time” actually reads ‘One Word At A Time’ with each of the letters carefully filled in with thousands of individually cutout letters.



Hae-Sun Hwang represented by Gallery Simon, Seoul



The SoHo area around VOLTA was busy the entire weekend, the whole city buzzing with art fair fever. And even though thousands of people walked through the same space in four days, it somehow still had a personal feel. Each booth was dedicated to one artist’s work so viewers were individually immersed in different artists’ styles as they walked from one white-walled booth to the next.

“People were already talking about it before we even opened,” said Amanda Coulson, VOLTA’s Artistic Director. “People were already talking about it before we even opened…and then the quality of the space itself, with the wooden floors and huge daylight windows, is just putting everybody in a fantastic mood. Along with the solo artist concept, which is now being picked up more strongly at all the major events, visitors are leaving with only enthusiastic comments. Suffice to say, we are extremely pleased.”


Long-bin Chen, represented by Frederieke Taylor Gallery

Long-bin Chen, represented by Frederieke Taylor Gallery

by Sarah Hardesty

by Sarah Hardesty


Armando Marino's "The Revolutionary," 2013 oil/paper Represented by 532 Gallery T. Jaekel, NY.

Armando Marino’s “The Revolutionary,” 2013
Represented by 532 Gallery T. Jaekel, NY.


A Flickr album for VOLTA is currently in the works, and expect a lot of future descriptions of the incredible work that was there.

See more of VOLTA on their website.


Connecting Cultures: Examining Display Strategy & Museum Branding at the Brooklyn Museum

“Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn” is a new exhibition that presents more than 300 works from nearly every era in The Brooklyn Museum’s impressive collection, comparing universal ideas that have been represented in art over the centuries. It opened on April 19, 2012 as a long-term exhibition in the museum’s newly renovated Great Hall on the first floor, placed directly after the ticket booth and serving as an introduction to the museum’s collection that will be expanded upon in the floors above. The display is segmented into three loosely coordinated collections of Connecting People, Places, and Things that converge in the center of the square gallery space. The exhibition was organized by the museum’s Chief Curator Kevin Stayton and works to present the institution as both an innovative risk-taker using a unique form of cross-culture display, and as a well-established collector of some of the world’s most precious artworks and artifacts. This combination of innovation and establishment aligns perfectly with the Brooklyn Museum’s revised rebranding strategy — what used to be a more populist approach until criticism begged for a change in 2010, because the institution’s survival is already a difficult feat due to its location and ranking among competing museums in Manhattan.

Entering the Great Hall.

The Museum Director Arnold L. Lehman said, “For the very first time, our visitors have the opportunity to sample the breadth and depth of our holdings as they enter the Museum,” and the museum creates as impressive an entrance as possible, placing “Connecting Cultures” within four free-standing walls surrounded by a row of giant columns in the Great Hall. The space was previously home to a gallery of American Indian art, but the New York Times wrote, “The space never worked. Its parameters were vague, its sightlines blighted by clunky pillars.” Here, the pillars are used as a grand sort of frame, presenting “Connecting Cultures” as an embellished and classicized white cube with all the art shaken up within.

The visitor enters the exhibition space through the grand colonnaded entrance and greeted with what could very well be mistaken for a yard sale. There are so many items stacked on top of one another, paintings that are hung as high as ten feet, and every kind of object you can ever imagine. Walking through the space forces a sort of focus on individual pieces, but there are still so many options that each viewer is able to choose which ones they prefer to focus on and learn about. In the exhibition press release the Brooklyn Museum wrote, “The ‘Connecting Places’ section presents artworks that reflect the human fascination with the physical world around us and how it relates to spirituality,” and here there are giant landscape paintings, tribal animal masks, and tile mosaics, among countless other items. “Connecting People” on the other hand “investigates the ways in which human beings have represented themselves in artworks, in various cultures throughout time.” There is the obvious Picasso placed next to a more standard portrait, but also Gaston Lachaise’s phenomenally powerful “Standing Woman” from 1932 placed next to Abelam ancestral figures and Nigerian masks. Finally the “Connecting Things” section “includes work that carry particular significance to those who make a use them.” Obviously the most general section that includes vast collections of the same items like mirrors and pitchers, alongside smaller pairings of two or three similar items intended for comparison.

“Connecting Places”

“Connecting Cultures” constantly juxtaposed objects with similar themes by placing them next to each other, forcing the viewer to determine their similarities and differences even though the two artifacts may have been made on opposite sides of the globe in completely different millennia. One of these most obvious comparisons came at the introduction to the “Connecting People” section of the exhibit. At the top of an L-shaped display arrangement that began on the very left side of the wall hung a painting from Peru in 1765, “Our Lady of Cocharcas” which depicts a pilgrimage during the time of the Spanish conversion and conquest of the Incas, when they allowed for the apparition of the Virgin statue at sites sacred to the locals as a way of easing them into accepting Christianity. Below this painting sits an 18th century statue of the Buddhist goddess of Dawn from China, and to its left hangs Chevalier Fereol de Bonnemaison’s “Young Woman Overtaken by a Storm” from 1799. It features an idealized representation of a young woman wrapped in sheer fabric that is blown about by the wind; the turbulence here was intended to evoke the instability left in the wake of the French Revolution. These three works were all made in the same century but on different continents, and all use the figure of a woman to represent a larger idea, whether that be the incoming of forced religious change, the spirit behind the dawn, or the vulnerability of a nation still recuperating. The Brooklyn Museum’s press release stated, “In viewing the juxtaposition and combination of works from different cultures around the world, the visitor will be asked to consider the importance of the idea of place to the definition of culture and the self; the ways in which people represent themselves in the works of art that help define them and the role of objects, or things, in supporting identity, both personal and cultural.”

Another theme frequented by “Connecting Cultures” was showcasing single artworks that involved a combination of different cultural influences. These pieces were most prevalent in the “Connecting Things” section of the exhibition, the most generalized group of objects that gave the curators free reign to choose whichever kinds of “things” they desired. On a large scale, mirrors and pitchers were selected as the two “things” to highlight, nineteen mirrors impressively stacked alongside a giant open cupboard filled with pitchers along the “Connecting Things” wall. These multiple interpretations were displayed alongside conglomerate artworks, more modern pieces that gathered inspiration from multiple cultures. Paa Joe’s “Coffin in the Form of a Sneaker” from 1990 is one of the most striking examples. Here the artist combines the Ghanaian tradition of creating coffins that resemble the characteristics or profession of the deceased, with a reflection on the symbols of status and modernity in the late 20th century, effectively commenting on the West’s takeover of “cool.”

“Female Figure Standing with Arms Raised,” Dogon artist, Mali, 16th-19th century
“Girl in a Japanese Costume,” by William Merritt Chase, c. 1890
“Jizo Bosatsu,” Japan, late 10th-early 11th century

The exhibition concentrated on the museum’s responsibility of education, including a huge amount of supplementary teaching materials sprinkled throughout. Two out of the four pillars at the corners within the space incorporated some sort of additional learning feature. There was an open exhibition catalogue and a hanging “Pictorial History of the Brooklyn Museum,” which featured a simple walkthrough of some of the greatest artifacts collected throughout each decade of the Brooklyn Museum’s history since its founding in 1823. The resources for learning about “Connecting Cultures” are even greater online, and include the exhibition website and its original press release, an online exhibition archive with full-length object descriptions, and continuous blog posts that tie the exhibition to other events within the museum with titles like “Connecting through Conservation” and “Connecting Cultures Through Books!” There is even a Flickr set that includes photos of the exhibition as it was being set up, allowing the most interested visitors a behind-the-scenes look into how this huge expansive exhibition came to be. There was also an opportunity for feedback both in the exhibition and online. On another of the four columns sat a propped up iPad complete with a keyboard and a screen that read, “Please comment.” There is also a whole section of the Brooklyn Museum website dedicated to asking for feedback for “Connecting Cultures,” and currently there are twenty-two pages of comments that have already been posted. This emphasis on didacticism and feedback, both within the exhibition and online, create an open back and forth between the museum and its visitors, allowing for the Brooklyn Museum to gather ideas for future exhibitions while also allowing for the visitors to feel like they are part of a grand cultural tradition.

The exhibition also works to present the Brooklyn Museum as a transparent and humble institution, bringing the conceptual display of visual storage to a featured first-floor exhibition. They compared multiple mediums by including small-scale video screens along with the bottom placards, but left the wires and the DVD players completely exposed. This seemed to be a very deliberate choice used to create a more informal environment and convey a sense of openness, presenting a new concept of what a museum is supposed to be: a tool for community education instead of an elite and aesthetically flawless collection of artwork. The museum utilizes the same lit bookshelves used in their fifth-floor Luce Center for American Art Visible Storage and Study Center, expanding upon the idea in the open cupboards full of pitchers, each with its own individually lit cubbyhole.

This type of display did garner some criticism since it is makes attribution and wall text difficult to locate. In fact, there was a whole lit bookshelf filled with different interpretations of the Buddha figure that included no information whatsoever, which resulted in a crippling decontextualization of these works. How can the visitor compare these figures if there is no information about where they came from? Many of the comments posted by exhibition visitors online complained of a space that was “too cluttered” and left them with an uncomfortable, overwhelmed feeling. One visitor who identified herself as Jenn wrote, “I hadn’t seen this type of approach before, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, the dark backdrop really emphasizes the objects. On the other, it reminded me that I was in a 21st century museum, and thus decontextualized the objects.” The New York Times’ Holland Cotter offered the only institutional critique of the exhibition, which mostly consisted of ample praise for the exhibition’s “witty suggestive connections,” but continued on to complain of “sightline issues” and others that arose from utilizing this visual storage display technique. Cotter writes, “Open storage is a great idea, but because it crowds lots of objects together, it doesn’t give all the inventory optimal visibility… Many of the 100 pitchers are in compartments well above eye level. You know they’re there because labels say so, but they have no more physical presence than entries in an mail-order catalogue.”

“Blossom,” by Sanford Biggers, 2011

Although these issues of excessive clutter and disrupted sightlines were highlighted, almost all of the literature online praised the exhibition and the museum extensively, especially bloggers who are always searching for innovative new exhibitions to share with their readers. Aisha G., who writes the blog Hartlyn Kids said, “I would describe it as a ‘sampling’ of all the museum offers in one space.” The Rubin Museum of Art in New York City has a Tumblr blog for teens where one blogger wrote, “The exhibit is actually a new perspective on presenting art,” continuing on to say, “So it’s like a time machine, something that connects time and place!” The New York Times wrote that “Connecting Cultures” was an “art immersion experience, fast and condensed in a 21st-century way.” Cotter wrapped up her review writing:

“The ultimate goal of the Brooklyn installation it to encourage you to play with art, with meanings and values and cultural interconnections, which also means to play with the museum itself, to move its contents around mentally, to make friends where you ordinarily wouldn’t think to find them: to be at home in a large world. Some of us learned this through early soaks in art. Brooklyn’s installation offers a deep-end dive. Either way, the water’s fine. Come on in.”

So although there were some issues that accompanied the use of visible storage display, all around the exhibition was very well received by bloggers and critics alike who praised it for offering an introductory snapshot of the Brooklyn Museum’s impressive collection of artwork and artifacts.
A large part of why “Connecting Cultures” was such a successful exhibition can be attributed to another New York Times article written in April 2010 that offered advice for the museum, which at the time was clearly struggling to find a balance between appealing to its local community of minorities and young people and presenting itself as a renowned, distinguished institution that was on par with museums like the Metropolitan and the Guggenheim in Manhattan. Robin Pogrebin’s article, “Sketching a Future for Brooklyn Museum,” recounted what some had believed to be the museum’s missteps and offered advice from eighteen different artists, curators, and those in arts management, to prevent the institution from falling off the too-populist end of the spectrum, and as an exhibition, “Connecting Cultures,” directly answers much of the advice put forth. Essentially the Brooklyn Museum was losing credibility with the art community by presenting exhibitions like 2002’s Star Wars gallery which featured props and costumes from the films, and 2008’s Takashi Murakami exhibition which included a Louis Vuitton shop that sold handbags designed by the artist. The Brooklyn Museum also hosted a month-long exhibition in 2010 dedicated to the work of the most successful artist on Bravo’s reality show “Work of Art.” Although it can be assumed that some in the established art community looked down on the Brooklyn Museum for incorporating these populist exhibitions, Pogrebin’s article did a lot to grant the institution the benefit of the doubt, recounting the difficulties in its location and its incredible competition in a more-accessible Manhattan. Brooklyn’s changing demographics also accounts for the museum’s ever-shifting audience, now with an average age of 35 and with 40 percent from minority groups.

“Connecting Things”

After “Sketching a Future for Brooklyn Museum” was published in April 2010, there was a noticeable difference in the exhibitions undertaken by the museum, that accompanied a more conscious institutional understanding of just where to stand on the line between populist and distinguished. The Brooklyn Museum hired LaPlaca Cohen, the same marketing and design firm whose current clients include the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. LaPlaca Cohen “crafted and communicated a new vision focused on connecting with Brooklyn’s diverse, local community” according to the Brooklyn Museum’s listing in their online client list. The Brooklyn Museum also worked to develop their social media ventures as a way to reach out to their younger local community while still holding exhibitions with prestige. Their Flickr account now has more than 5,000 images of behind-the-scenes installation photos of nearly all their exhibitions from the past six years, and their YouTube account has uploaded more than 300 videos of events and lectures that have accrued more than 800,000 views with nearly 3,000 subscribers. The Brooklyn Museum has also maintained a WordPress blog since May 2006, and their Facebook page has more than 70,000 likes. Their Twitter account currently stands at 5,074 tweets and has more than 380,000 followers.

The Brooklyn Museum has also been returning to the more traditional, art historically based exhibitions in answer to the New York Times’ advice since 2010. They held three different “from the collection” exhibitions in 2011, including “Thinking Big: Recent Design Acquisitions” and “That Place: Selections from the Collection,” with the intent of appearing as both a resourceful institution and an ever growing acclaimed force within the New York art scene. One of their most controversial exhibitions since 2010 was “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” which ran from November 2011 until February 2012, and focused on “sexual difference in modern American portraiture.” However the exhibition’s controversial nature was eroded by the fact that it was completed in cooperation with the National Portrait Gallery and the Tacoma Art Museum, both esteemed institutions, one to the east and one to the west, which still worked to present the Brooklyn Museum as a respected member of the international art community. In the 2010 article, chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts, Daniel Simmons Jr. stressed the importance of “developing a core identity and marketing this effectively,” which was clearly advice taken to heart as the Brooklyn Museum carefully balances populism with its own prestige in every exhibition.

The Brooklyn Museum has also continued to strengthen its relationship with its local arts community, both by hosting exhibitions in honor of local tragedies like 9/11 and by coming up with innovative programs designed to engage the thousands of artists embedded in its own surrounding neighborhood. The Museum exhibited the gallery “Ten Years Later: Ground Zero Remembered” from September 7th through the end of October in 2011, which featured a book of comments left by visitors to their similar 2002 exhibition, shown more immediately in the aftermath of the tragedy. The Brooklyn Museum also created the GO Brooklyn Art program, which organized an Open Studios weekend where community members could visit the studios of local artists and vote for which should be featured in an upcoming Brooklyn Museum exhibition. The exhibition opened on the free-admission night, Target First Saturday, the first Saturday of December 2012 and featured the work of five artists nominated by the more than 18,000 people who made approximately 147,000 studio visits during the designated weekend in September. By connecting directly with the artists in the area through innovative programs like GO Brooklyn Art, the Museum continues to, as Bill Ivey former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts suggests, “focus on growing its local audience, perhaps by developing an annual exhibition on a Brooklyn theme.”

The wall of pitchers – visible storage style.

“Connecting Cultures” is just one more example of the Brooklyn Museum’s direct answering to the 2010 New York Times article. Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chairman of the private equity firm the Blackstone Group wrote, “With its collection, among the best in the world, there’s no reason why the museum cannot reclaim this role,” as a source of pride for New York City residents. The director of the Museum of the Moving Image, Rochelle Slovin gave similar advice when she said, “Continue to take excellent care of your treasured collections, hang tough, and pile it on.” “Connecting Cultures” features some of the best selections from the Brooklyn Museum’s renowned collection, and reminds the viewer that all these treasures come from that collection repeatedly throughout the exhibit, most notably by including a pictorial collecting history and using a visual storage display that mimics their own visual storage five floors above. They also work to counteract comparisons to flea markets by including some of their most precious items. Cotter’s New York Times review reads, “As a group, they’re eclectic for sure, but this is by no means second-rank stuff. Some of the museum’s signature items are in the mix.” By following all of this advice, the Brooklyn Museum used “Connecting Cultures” to showoff its esteemed collection while setting forth an improved identity, an innovative one that is also a valuable educational resource for the community.

This emphasis on “Connecting Cultures’” role as a showcase of the Brooklyn Museum’s collection also follows the advice given by Peter Marzio, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston who wrote, “By looking closely at Brooklyn, by exploring the ideals and values of its citizens, the museum is opening a dialogue that is creating a sense of community ownership.” The visible storage display stressed this feeling of community ownership, as if the museum was working to share everything in storage because it all belongs to the people. Caitlin Williams wrote on her blog Brush, Chisel, & Spray Can that “Connecting Cultures” “encourages, rather than stifles, conversation,” directly answering Peter Marzio’s advice about opening a dialogue. This strengthened relationship with the community and emphasis on showing off their own collection also serves to reestablish the Brooklyn Museum’s institutional presence within their five floors. In the 2010 article, Brooklyn artist William Powhida wrote, “The museum has tarnished its reputation by ceding too much institutional control to outsiders, with Charles Saatchi’s ‘Sensation,’ the commercial artist Takashi Murakami’s boutique and now Bravo’s ‘Work of Art’ prize show. These efforts tend to dominate the conversation.” “Connecting Cultures” does all it can to present a new Brooklyn Museum, one that is proud of its collection and history and has the masterpieces to back it up.

“Connecting Cultures” is not the first exhibition to showcase the museum’s collection using this kind of cross-culture display. In fact, in 1992 the Brooklyn Museum used the same exact concept, but instead asked artist Joseph Kosuth to choose the items from their collection and juxtapose intentionally to create a political message; an exhibition that played on the idea of the curator as artist. “The Play of the Unmentionable” showcased the history of art censorship, a hot button topic at a time when the “culture wars” were at their peak due to fighting over funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. This 1992 cross-culture gallery “clearly illustrated that by deploying rather than denying its position as a site of ideological contest, the museum provides an arena for engaging contemporary issues.” In a way, “Connecting Cultures” could even be viewed as a self-referential affirmation of an institutional tradition that began two decades before. This same sort of integrated display can also be seen on a smaller scale throughout the Brooklyn Museum in other permanent installations. The American Identities gallery on the fifth floor includes art from all over the Americas, not just the United States, presenting an amalgamation of the art from the whole continent. This sort of inclusive, flexible brand the museum is working to cultivate presents them as impartial and proud of diversity in their galleries.

“Connecting Cultures” utilized a new trend in exhibition display by creating an entire gallery from its already existing collection, presenting them in a broad and unassuming way as an introduction to the rest of the museum. The Brooklyn Museum’s criticism of becoming too focused on populist exhibitions came to fruition in 2010 when their Bravo reality exhibition prompted polite suggestions from the New York arts community, and since then the Brooklyn Museum has found firmer footing on the line between populism and prestige. Because of “Connecting Cultures’” diversity and openness in the display, aesthetically and through teaching materials as well, it successfully opens a dialogue with its community and purports a sense of local ownership, all the while showcasing one of the most impressive collections of art in the world.

“Avarice,” by Fernando Mastrangelo, 2008

Extreme detail and formality again due to this piece originally serving as my final research paper in an art history class at NYU called Histories of Display: Modern Museums, Exhibitions, and Art History.

See more pictures in my Flickr album here.


Brooklyn Museum Social Media:

Gian Lorenzo Bernini: Creating his legend with Michelangelo’s help

The legend of Michelangelo was still a powerful force in the art world in Rome a century after his death, especially for aspiring artists who wanted to become legends themselves. Michelangelo’s remarkable talent in the arts, and the works he left behind to prove it afforded him the luxury of a listening audience – he was able to control how the world remembered him by instructing a faithful student to write a biography that would be seen as the most first-person account possible, especially after the artist’s death. Thirty-four years later Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born, another multi-talented artist whose primary skill was in sculpting, and he followed Michelangelo’s example, creating his own legend by closely instructing his biographer on what to write and how to write it. While Michelangelo wrote to contest false rumors purported in his first biography published by the Italian artist and author Giorgio Vasari, Bernini was sure to preemptively create his own legend before the same thing could happen to him, already having learned from Michelangelo that the artist’s own words are the most powerful way to combat any sort of negative light that could be shed upon his memory.

Self-portrait of Michelangelo
via Casa Buonarroti, Florence
Self-portrait of Bernini
found here.

Scholars have examined these biographies for centuries, working to prove which aspects of each were likely exaggerated or even made up altogether. Both artists had secondary biographers as well; men who knew the artists personally but wrote without his direct instruction. What is most interesting, however, is Bernini’s adaptation of the biographical formula set forth by Michelangelo in his own instruction to Domenico, especially concerning Ascanio Condivi’s The Life of Michelangelo. He probably did not have a copy of the text in hand while instructing his son, and there was a biographical standard for artists thanks to Vasari’s Lives, but even so the similarities between the Condivi and Domenico’s biographies cannot be ignored. Bernini was sure to stress some of the same artistic attributes, but also added information or anecdotes that he probably considered to be improvements, almost as if he were still competing with Michelangelo in the very final art of the legend-creation. These lessons Bernini took from Michelangelo could even be broadened to include how he conducted himself throughout his career, carefully avoiding Michelangelo’s mistakes with the papacy and instead branding himself an artistic genius that was also easy to work with. The first time Bernini was granted the presence of a reigning pope, Paul V said, “This child will be the Michelangelo of his age;” a comparison Bernini surely kept in mind as he went to record how he wanted the world to remember him.

Condivi and Domenico had very different approaches in the way they wrote these biographies, which may be one of the first indications that Bernini was working to make his legend seem even better and more credible than Michelangelo’s. Condivi writes The Life of Michelangelo completely in the first-person, always acknowledging that the book is merely his recordings of what happened, admitting that he is not a writer but instead an “honest collector” of truth. He begins with a letter addressed to the “Holy Father,” followed by another addressed “To the reader,” and in both he makes very clear that his intention with this biography is to honor his master and set the record straight because so many “have said things about him which never were so,” including most notably the first edition of Vasari’s biography which was later revised upon the release of Condivi’s. Domenico’s biography on the other hand is written entirely in the third-person, and he refers to himself only as the “author of the present work,” even where he talks about “Domenico” being the last of Bernini’s sons. By phrasing things as an outsider when in fact he was just the opposite, Domenico makes the stories appear more factual because they are presumably being presented by a third party and therefore with less bias. Bernini is attempting to reveal his life as a straightforward account of events that could be told by anyone; perhaps he felt that Condivi’s first-person narrative sounded too much like a fan letter, and by keeping the author and story separate in his own biography, it would appear as a more serious transcription of reality.

Michelangelo and Bernini had very different relationships with their fathers, part of the story that Bernini used to his advantage, as a way of suggesting that destiny was paving the way for him like it had not for Michelangelo. Of Michelangelo’s father Condivi writes, “On this account he was resented and quite often beaten unreasonably by his father and his father’s brothers who, being impervious to the excellence and nobility of art, detested it and felt that its appearance in their family was a disgrace.” On the opposite side of the parental spectrum, Domenico writes that Bernini’s father “gave his son the freedom to work as he wished, since he realized what higher aspirations were at work motivating the youth to make such great progress.” While Michelangelo’s story of struggle against his father might resonate more with a modern audience who have come to associate artists with some sort of strife, Domenico crafts Bernini’s fortune into fate, writing that “Heaven” had destined Bernini for greatness, laying the foundation with a supportive father so that the artist would have every opportunity to succeed. This theme of divine intervention on Bernini’s behalf continues throughout the entire biography: “But, in fact, we can justly conclude that the circumstances had been orchestrated by Heavenly Providence Most High, which, from that moment on, desired to prepare the hearts of future popes to be favorably disposed toward Gian Lorenzo.”

Success in seventeenth century Rome meant being in the favor of the reigning pope, which is why this intervention by Fortune and Heaven on Bernini’s behalf is almost always connected to the papacy. Bernini’s love affair with the papal throne is by far the biggest difference between he and Michelangelo, both in their lives and biographies. Domenico always includes mention of the death of each pope along with a description of the selection process for the next one, usually to draw attention to the fact that the next papal successor already loved Bernini, especially in the case of Urban VIII. The same day Urban was elected he called Bernini to his office and said, “It is a great fortune for you, O Cavaliere, to see Cardinal Maffeo Barberini made pope, but our fortune is even greater to have Cavalier Bernini alive during our pontificate.” Indeed Bernini’s every action is made with the pope in mind, a lesson he seems to have learned from Michelangelo who left Rome when the pope offended him, and sacrificed more than fifteen years worth of commissions after losing the favor of Pope Leo. Michelangelo was notoriously difficult to work with, a stubbornness that came through in Condivi’s writing; when Pope Julius kept asking when Michelangelo would finish the Sistine Ceiling, he repeatedly answered, “When I can.” Bernini created the opposite reputation for himself, always appeasing, obliging and “kissing the papal feet,” almost becoming an entertainer, and indeed Domenico even grants a whole chapter to Bernini’s work in writing and directing Comedies. Bernini’s reliance on the pope for his extraordinary success is reflected in his biography, a large chunk of which is dedicated to discussing the papacy.

Michelangelo’s David
found here.
For Michelangelo’s David, Condivi begins with how the piece of marble was quarried in a shape that limited the figure so much that no one had been able to make any use of it, writing that once Michelangelo was done he was able to form the shape so perfectly to the original block of marble that the rough parts could still be seen on the top and bottom. He continues on to say that this ability “is characteristic of great artists and the mastery of their art,” then praising it even further and concluding with how much money it earned. Of Bernini’s David Domenico is exceptionally brief, only telling of how Cardinal Maffeo Barberini frequently held the mirror “with his own hands” so that Bernini was able to sculpt his own features “doing so with an expressivity completely and truly marvelous.” Both biographers admire their artists but Condivi focuses on Michelangelo’s ability to create within confinements while Bernini is praised for dynamism and expressiveness, in a story that, as expected, includes the involvement of a future pope and Bernini’s biggest eventual benefactor.

Domenico’s The Life of Bernini also included a number of sections and topics that were never discussed in Michelangelo’s biography, a selection of improvements, including a rather large section dedicated to Bernini’s own religious beliefs and his strong conviction in the Catholic faith. Condivi hardly included any mention of Michelangelo’s personal beliefs, which could result in Michelangelo appearing mad rather than spiritually inspired. In one passage Condivi writes that the artist dedicated himself to his art so much that “the company of others not only failed to satisfy him but even distressed him, as if it distracted him from his meditation,” a meditation not linked to the Catholic faith. Contrarily, Domenico describes Bernini as a theologian as well as an artist; Domenico dedicates a sizable portion of the final two chapters to descriptions of Bernini’s extreme faith and piety: “So much did he become inflamed with these spiritual sentiments and so high did the acuity of his genius ascend, that the aforementioned men were astounded that someone who had not dedicated his life to letters could so often not only succeed in intimately penetrating these most sublime mysteries, but also raise probing questions about and offer logical accounts of the same…” Similarly, Domenico tells of Bernini erecting his painting of Jesus on the cross at the foot of his deathbed, and he spoke with many religious leaders in his final days. Including these mentions of Bernini’s own spiritual convictions brings even more substance to the works he spent his life creating because he actually believed in the messages they were purporting. The same may have been just as true for Michelangelo, but it is a point that he did not stress to Condivi for inclusion in his biography, which results in the impression of a slightly mad Michelangelo and a divinely possessed Bernini.

In the same way that Bernini learned from Michelangelo’s mistakes, he was also sure to learn from his successes; both biographies heavily stressed the artist’s virtues of piety, self-motivation, modesty, and generosity, both with their money and with their craft through teaching. Michelangelo’s abstemiousness is a character trait Bernini works to duplicate in his own biography; Domenico repeatedly includes mention of Bernini not eating because he was so enraptured by a project or too dedicated to his work to be bothered. Domenico writes that Bernini “was abstemious in eating,” and for the marble portrait of Cardinal Borghese, Bernini, “except to replenish his energy with a bit of food, did not rest from this labor for the space of three days, when he brought the work to completion.” These mentions seem to be derived at least subconsciously from Condivi who writes, “Michelangelo has always been very abstemious in his way of life, taking food more out of necessity than for pleasure, and especially while he had work in progress, when he would most often content himself with a piece of bread which he would eat while working.”

Michelangelo was also abstemious sexually, a piety that Bernini could not logically include given that his biography is written by his son. Although only mentioned in a notation written down by Michelangelo’s student Tiberio Calcagni that was incorporated into later versions of Condivi’s biography, Michelangelo gave advice to “refrain from sexual intercourse in the interest of long life.” However, Bernini was sure not to be outdone by Michelangelo, and since he could not include sexual piety, he includes anecdotes that show a physical devotion to his art that is even more powerful. In his creation of the statue of St. Lawrence, Domenico writes that Bernini, “placed his own leg and bare thigh near the burning coals” in order to accurately “reflect in the saint’s face the pain of his martyrdom.” Had this inclusion been a direct rebuttal to Michelangelo’s abstinence, it would have been a very clever reversal of situation, turning a rather boring form of personal devotion into an exciting, vivid one where Bernini sticks his own arm into fire for the sake of realism in his sculpture. At the very least, it is certainly an augmentation of Michelangelo’s overwhelming desire to create works true to nature: “…he was determined to acquire not through the efforts and industry of others but from nature herself, which he set before himself as a true example.”

Bernini’s David
found here.

There is another similarity between the stories told by Condivi and then Domenico that seems too close to be accidental. One of the few times Michelangelo is in favor with the pope, Julius III remarks that he would “gladly give up some of his years and some of his own blood to add to Michelangelo’s life,” continuing on to say that if he outlived the artist “he wants to have him embalmed and kept near him so that his remains will be eternal like his works.” A story from Domenico is eerily similar; he writes of a gift Bernini received from Pope Urban VIII, a magical liquid that “would revive the vital forces in marvelous fashion,” continuing, “A gift truly worthy of the affection of that pontiff, who, had it been possible, would have wanted Bernini embalmed and rendered eternal.” The use of the word “embalmed” appears to be borrowed directly from Condivi, especially considering that it was applied to Michelangelo in a direct papal quote and only inferred from a gift that Bernini received.

Regardless of how consciously Bernini instructed Domenico to write his own biography after the template left by Michelangelo, the two books do have striking parallels that at the very least confirm that Bernini had read Condivi’s work to learn the characteristics of the “artistic genius” that he wanted to apply to himself as well. Of course, Bernini’s reputation as a problem-solver prevails as he works to improve on what many considered to be Michelangelo’s faults, fulfilling what Domenico describes as Bernini’s motto: “He who does not at times depart from the rule never exceeds it.” Domenico arranges of the pieces of his father’s life in a fashion similar to Condivi’s arrangement with Michelangelo, but with more repetition of his successes and less acknowledgment of Bernini’s competition and critiques. Ironically, Domenico’s third-person biography included more overpraise and excessive flattery of the artist than Condivi’s first person account of Michelangelo. It seems as if Bernini’s attempt to leave a lasting legacy resulted in the creation of a hyper-idealized version of what he thought an artist was supposed to be; a fault that surely became more noticeable as the time passed and the biography’s readers grew smarter and more aware of how easily the truth can be shaped for personal gain.

I originally wrote this piece as a final essay for my Bernini class at NYU, hence the citations and (boring) academic nature. 

GO Brooklyn Art’s Open Studios weekend: see the workspace for yourself

Thanks to all the fabulous technology now available, GO Brooklyn Art’s Open Studios weekend was a huge success. It was hard to tell at first though, since everyone participating was spread out all over Brooklyn during two full days (well, from 11am-7pm), but judging from the statistics just released (you can see all of them at the end of this post), there were more visitors than artists which at first seemed a hard feat to accomplish.

More than 1,800 artists in Brooklyn (can you believe there are that many artists in one borough?) opened their studio doors last weekend to whoever wanted to come by. And thanks to an awesome website set up by GO Brooklyn Art, visitors could peruse the works of participating artists and set up an itinerary of people and pieces they wanted to see for themselves. A neat little accompanying app let you take your profile on the go so that all the info you needed was right there in your pocket. You could register as a Voter online, and after checking into at least five studios with unique check-in numbers posted at each studio, you’re able to vote for your three favorites – and the three artists with the most votes win a spot at an exhibition hosted by the Brooklyn Museum.

Each studio was marked with a little “GO Brooklyn Art” sign, making them easy to pick out, plus specific instructions on what apartment number to buzz and which artists were in the building. Mostly there was an uncomfortable feeling of walking into someone’s home, but the spaces where multiple artists worked together and lived somewhere else were my absolute favorite.

What I didn’t realize when first looking at a map of Brooklyn, is that the place is actually gigantic, and venturing from one specifically chosen studio to the next required either a lot of walking or subway rides that added up. After checking in to the first studio on my itinerary and finding the next closest at least two subway stops away, I opted for proximity over itinerary, moving to the space on the map with the most studios in one place.

Once I had the strategy of it down, getting to meet the artists in person was actually a really great experience. They really wanted first-viewer opinons of their work, and listened to what I had to say. They wanted to know where I went to school and why I came all the way out to Brooklyn by myself. I was able to hear from the artists themselves why they created what they did and what it meant to them.

Now I’ll just give a little synopsis of each of the six studios I was able to visit (before the time constraints of weekend homework set in):

1. Chadwick Augustine: sculpture, mixed media, installation

Kind of like sculpture for a giant, Chadwick’s work was simplified large-scale shapes that looked impressive when gathered altogether.

     >GO Brooklyn Art profile

2. Clark Goolsby: painting, sculpture, mixed media
Clark’s paintings were my favorite, like an explosive collage made from bright colors and shapes, every once in a while a recognizable animal or image.

     >GO Brooklyn Art profile

3. Jessica Krause Smith: painting, photography

Her paintings were whimsical chaotic canvases and her photographs were organized compositions, so it made sense when she said “the fulfill completely different purposes in my life.”

     >GO Brooklyn Art profile

4. Ian Pawelec: painting

His work was inspired by the “spiritual search we all experience,” striving to “illustrate the energy of life within the universe” through abstract painting, which usually I don’t buy, but all his pieces looked like abstract planets exploding with color.

     >GO Brooklyn Art profile

5. Peter Daverington: painting, video/film/sound

Using his canvases as a silly interpretation of propaganda, Peter’s pieces combined stylistic themes and recognizable images to bombard the viewer with a colorful joke.

     >GO Brooklyn Art profile

6. Sepideh Salehi: video/film/sound, mixed media, drawing

Her studio was tiny, and so was a lot of her work. She paints individual frames of a film and pieces them together, as if the canvas could move, letting the whole image swim in the color of paint. The image below is a picture from the film, where a girl in a cape is running and running.

     >GO Brooklyn Art profile

Open Studios Statistics: (from GOBrooklynArt site)

  • Estimated visitors: 18,000
  • Estimated studio visits: 147,000
  • Total participating artists: 1,708
  • Total neighborhoods with participating artists: 44
  • Total registered voters: 10,319
  • Total voters who checked in to at least 1 studio: 6,106
  • Total voters who checked in to at least 5 studios and are therefore eligible to nominate: 4,929
  • Total studio check ins: 48,918
  • Average number of studios visited per participant: 8

See all the pictures of these artists’ work, plus some really cool Brooklyn street art in my new Flickr set here!

The Incredible Art Institute in Chicago

Unfortunately I visited this museum on the last day of my trip to Chicago. Had I known how incredibly huge and impressive it is, I definitely would have dedicated double the time to soak all of it up.

Think of the most famous iconic artwork you can, and it’s probably sitting at the Art Institute. I felt like every corner I turned led me to another piece of art history – everything from “American Gothic” to tons of Picassos to van Gogh’s “The Room” – all of my favorites and a couple of new ones too.

Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte, 1877
American Gothic by Grant Wood, 1930

New favorite! The Eventuality of Destiny by Giorgio de Chirico, 1927

It’s a funny thing finding a painting in a museum that you’ve studied and learned about through slides and textbooks. I imagine meeting up with someone from an online dating site would give you a similar feeling. Because you know so much about this piece and sometimes even the person who made it, which makes meeting it in person kind of phenomenal. Since its appearance never changes, I guess it’s more like meeting an old friend that always surpasses your expectations. 

Whatever the feeling that I can’t do justice describing, it’s one I felt dozens of times at the Art Institute. Three straight floors of glass and slick pale wood was the perfect environment to see the works in; nothing extra where it wasn’t necessary. The rooms and hallways of beauty and masterpieces just kept coming and coming, so I’m just going to focus on my absolute favorites.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942

The third floor European Modern Art gallery, from 1900-1950, was one of the greatest collections I’ve seen in so long. It could have been a substantial collection of work all on its own; maybe it’s own mini-museum. There were so many Picasso’s, Mattisse’s, and Dali’s – it always amazes me how much work those artists actually completed over the course of their lives, that they can be featured numerous times in hundreds of museums all around the world.

Detail of van Gogh’s The Room, 1888

American Modern Art was almost as great, well actually it was just as great, but in a different way. It’s really clear how different the styles of those two continents are after seeing these exhibits in succession. Right next to this space on the second floor was the featured exhibition, and when I visited I saw the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective.

I never really appreciated Roy Lichtenstein’s contributions until seeing this show, mostly because it was so hard for me to believe that they were actually oil paintings and not just pop art. But after seeing it as up close as the guards would let me, it was one part surprising and one part impressive to be wrong about how talented that man was. The show works chronologically, allowing us to really see how Lichtenstein developed his style and the different phases he went through during his progression as an artist. My favorite phase came later in his life, when he began to apply his own technique and style to the works of different artists and time periods. It really showed how great Lichtenstein had become – he had created such a unique visual language that could be applied to previous masterpieces, and it was so clear which aspects had come from where.

Masterpiece by Roy Lichtenstein, 1962
Laocoon by Roy Lichtenstein, 1988

Someday soon I’ll visit the Art Institute again. Comment if you’ve been – I want to hear what you thought of it!

You can see more of my pictures from the Art Institute in my Flickr set here