Degas, Miss La La, & The Cirque Fernando at the Morgan Library & Museum

The Morgan Library and Museum in New York is transitioning two of their main galleries right now, so if you visit before May 10th, the only temporary installation you’ll find is the second floor room currently holding Degas, Miss La La, and the Cirque Fernando. 

The entire exhibit is based on a single painting hung in the center of the back wall: Degas’ “Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando” painted in oil in 1879, and the only work Degas ever painted with a circus subject. As you walk clockwise around the room, you’re first greeted with the pastel and oil studies completed in preparation for the final work, but after you pass the painting, you find Henry Gabriel Ibels’ lithographs of circus rings from the 1860s, followed by late nineteenth century circus posters – two of which feature Miss La La.

Miss La La was an aerialist traveling with the Troupe Kaira who performed for Degas during their appearance at the Cirque Fernando in Paris from December 1878 to February of the following year. In the painting she’s performing one of her signature acts: gripping a rope with her teeth and flying through the air.

Photo May 03, 11 23 31 AM


Books lay open under glass in the gallery’s center – a novel about the circus that a friend of Degas wrote around the same time and glossaries of infamous circus performers and tricks of the trade. The exhibit ends with a far-reaching connection to Renaissance representations of the angels in ceiling paintings, calling Miss La La a “secular angel” because her occupation also involves people craning their necks to see her. The four brown wash drawings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo completed centuries before the rest of the exhibit’s work seemed like too obvious a filler, especially for an institution whose holdings lie predominantly in drawings.

As you leave the exhibit it hits you that the whole thing only takes up half of the room because its entrance is blocked off by large introductory walls. It’s difficult to curate an entire show around a singular work, especially when it’s the only one where the artist worked that subject matter. Seeing the different studies that led up to the final piece is definitely the highlight, but it could have been rounded out with paintings and studies from other artists who painted more circus scenes, even though their names might not have the booming resonance of da Vinci or Degas.


From left, The Trustees of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham; Tate, London/Art Resource, New York; National Gallery, London/Art Resource, New York. via NYTimes.

From left, The Trustees of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham; Tate, London/Art Resource, New York; National Gallery, London/Art Resource, New York. via NYTimes.


Photo May 03, 11 10 20 AM

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, Museum Miss La La around 1880. via NYTimes.

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, Museum
Miss La La around 1880. via NYTimes.

Photo May 03, 11 22 18 AM

Degas' "Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando" via Wikipaintings.

Degas’ “Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando” via Wikipaintings.

For more about the Morgan’s exhibit, see their website. 


Durer to de Kooning: 100 Drawings from Munich @ the Morgan

I wrote a little too much for this review, so below you can read the extra describing I did about the pieces from this phenomenal new exhibit at the Morgan.

Read the full review on Woman Around Town here.

Andrea Mantegna, Dancing Muse, c. 1495

Last week the Morgan Library and Museum opened their first fall exhibit featuring 100 drawings by almost as many artists, all on loan from the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, or State Graphic Collection in Munich, Germany. This new exhibit was made possible by an agreement between the two institutions – in 2008 the Morgan sent 100 drawings in their collection to the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung as a part of their 250th anniversary celebration. Four years later, 100 drawings from Munich have made their way across the ocean to create Durer to de Kooning, an exhibit that fills both the East and West Morgan Stanley Galleries.

The Staaliche Graphische Sammlung has a collection of 400,000 works that began in the 1750s, growing over time until it was moved to Munich in 1794 for protection from approaching French revolutionary forces. German kings continued to add to the collection and it was opened to the public in 1823, becoming an independent museum in 1874. It was the only art institution that remained open during World War II, until July 12, 1944 when the building was bombed and almost a third of the collection was lost. But it only continued to grow in the twentieth century, adding a number of German Expressionist works and more modern and contemporary drawings, which still remains the collection’s largest and fastest growing genre.

Beginning at the High Renaissance in Italy, the artists represented are instantly recognizable, to the point where it seems as if some pieces were chosen based on name alone.
The drawing by Leonardo da Vinci seems a little out of place.

Matthais Grunewald,
Study of a Woman with her Head Raised in Prayer

It looks like it came straight from an engineer’s notebook and all the pieces surrounding it are sketches of religious scenes.
Still, the names are impressive, and being able to see the actual handwriting and sketches of all these ancient artistic masters feels more intimate than standing before finished portraits and paintings. A few of the works have placards that even include an image of the finished painting, revealing the artist’s thought process as he worked out compositional arrangements and the orientation of the figures.

The first work to include the finished painting counterpart is Andrea Mantegna’s Dancing Muse. Completed around 1495, it features a young woman dressed in flowing, flying wrinkled dress with her hair parted down the middle and tied back; her arms teased behind her back as well and her body twisted and on her toes like she’s dancing in the wind. Drawn in pen and brown ink plus brown wash and heightened with white, the brown-gray paper the figure rests on is aged and near crumpling. Her ankles are fading away on the edge of the paper and her dress looks Greek and ancient, as if this could have come from thousands of years ago instead of hundreds. This ancient muse is only one character of many in the finished painting, shown in the placards as a detail of Parnassus, a tempera painting now in the Louvre.

Leonardo da Vinci,
Mechanism for Gold Processing, before 1495

Vincent Van Gogh’s View of Arles Across the Rhome features a typical Van Gogh scene through an atypical lens, his thick gobs of paint traded in for pen and brown ink hatching. A town can be seen across the water, a bridge connecting it to what’s across the way, and a shadowed figure in a boat is rowing in the water before us. While traveling in Arles, France, Van Gogh had to save money on materials and so turned to drawing, and this work shows his drawing style’s turn towards more rapid, fluid strokes.

Read the rest of my review here on Woman Around Town >>

Vincent van Gogh, View of Arles on the Rhone River, c. 1888
Francis Picabia, Mask and transparence, 1925

The Morgan vs. The Frick: Why dead rich guys shouldn’t have hoarding rights

You know what they say: money runs in the family, or at least the family name. And apparently so does art, and even though Mr. Morgan and Mr. Frick have “generously” made their collections “available” to the public, somehow they’re still making money off of it, going against my number one motto: art is for everyone.

I’ll give you the rundown on these two museums that began as hobbies for these men, a couple of the first true 1%-ers to begin the process of hoarding all the wealth and beauty for themselves:

The Morgan Library and Museum
$15 Adults

Outside view of the Morgan, photo from NYTimes.

$10 Students/Seniors/Children
Free on Fridays from 7pm-9pm

Ceiling paintings in Morgan Library, taken by me.

Originally the collection of John Pierpont (or JP) Morgan, an American financier and banker who arranged the merger of General Electric and created the Federal Steel Company. He died in 1913, leaving his fortune and business to his son John Pierpont “Jack” Morgan Jr. On Wikipedia it says he left his mansion and collections to become the Morgan Library and Museum, but on the museum website, it says his son didn’t “give his father’s extraordinary library to the public” until 1924.

The museum itself is pretty remarkable, but with all that money how could it not be? A relatively new addition is an open glass-box structure that doesn’t even need artificial lighting, and unlike the Frick, they usually have around five temporary exhibits that focus on a single artist or time period. It’s more of your typical museum with moving galleries – most of Morgan’s collection is in the Library section.

Right now for example they have the Josef Albers: Art in America exhibit that I reviewed, plus a pretty cool Churchill: The Power of Words gallery that features a three-screen documentary about his role in WWII, plus letters and awards received and sent by Churchill while he was alive.

Inside the Morgan Library, photo from Architectural Record

These five exhibits exist separately from Mr. Morgan’s original collection, that resides mostly in the Library section, a different building linked to the glass Museum. Here, there are impressive ceiling paintings commissioned by Morgan, with four lavish rooms filled with books and ancient artifacts. Everything is left pretty much the same as he kept it, so much so that there aren’t even labels or identifiers next to the paintings that date back as far as the 12th century. You have to search for each piece separately in a little booklet, and some rooms have no booklets at all. The pieces in display cases do have information though, and in the largest library room you can find handwritten sheet music from Brahms, Debussy and Mozart.

The Frick Collection:
$18 Adults

Outside the Frick, photo from

$15 Seniors/$10 Students
Free on Sundays from 11am-1pm (but boy is it crowded)

Henry Clay Frick who saw the turn of the 20th century at nearly the same time as Morgan, was an industrialist, financier, and art patron who served as chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company and financed the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad. called him one of the “Worst American CEOs of All Time,” and he has a pretty terrible reputation stemming from his ruthlessness in business.

Sixteen years after his death the Frick Collection opened its doors, fulfilling Frick’s intention to leave his collection to the city, although for the life of me I can’t figure out why it took so long. The neoclassical mansion he built on Central Park became the Frick Collection we visit now, with everything left exactly the way he left it, the only exception being the small downstairs space now used for the one temporary gallery.

Prime example of my frustration. Yes that is Jan Vermeer’s Officer with a Laughing Woman (1657) behind the chair that you can’t sit on. Photo from NYTimes.

This is the part that most frustrates me. Everything is EXACTLY the way he left it, with little clear numbers marking the pieces instead of proper labels, with some left completely unnumbered and unnamed. To me, this is just selfish. He wanted everything to exist just as he had it, as if that’s some way to remain immortal, while the artists never receive the proper credit for the masterpieces they created. And there are some ridiculously famous paintings here, so many that I personally consider it a crime for this place to ever charge admission. The Frick hoards has Rembrandt’s self portrait from 1658, Titian’s famed “Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap,” plus multiple pieces by Jan Vermeer, JMW Turner, Hans Memling, and El Greco. Just check out the collections’s archives to see for yourself. Pretty much every piece I’ve ever studied in my art history classes that isn’t at the Met.

These artists did far more than Frick ever did, and yet somehow some of their most renowned pieces are stuck in his hallways without labels. There are old roped off chairs beneath them so you can’t see them properly or look close, and random little statuettes everywhere that they don’t even bother to number or name. Plus there’s really terrible placement of legitimate masterpieces in too-dark transition rooms and out in the hallways – people just walk past without noticing.

Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap, Titian, 1516, oil on canvas.
Frick Collection.
Self-portrait, Rembrandt, 1658, oil on canvas.
Unfortunately at the  Frick Collection.

Art should be for everyone. No one should be able to buy The Scream or own a Rembrandt. And it doesn’t help that these places you have to pay to get into are also the ones that don’t let you take pictures. They’re trying to hoard away the image itself, along with the original.

These works should belong to the people and should be seen by them too, not just by those who can afford the $18 admission price. It’s awesome that these places do have times when everyone can come and pay what they’re able, but the judgment I get when handing over my measly one dollar bill is not justified.

No one should have to pay to see the beautiful things that formed the foundations of modern art, especially those looking to learn and find inspiration. Plus, it’s not like these guys can’t afford it.

Josef Albers in America: A Peek Behind the Color Curtain

“Juxtaposing two colors puts me in a state of intense excitement”  –Josef Albers
Color Study for Homage to the Square
oil and graphite on blotting paper with varnish
An exhibition that began in Germany and worked its way around Europe has finally landed in the States at the Morgan Library & Museum. Josef Albers in America gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the work of this German-born artist, most famous for his studies of color and the series, Homage to the Square.
It’s interesting to see what came before that famous colored squares series; how much work went into choosing just the right pigments and color combinations. There are even notes carved into the paint and scribbled in the margins, notes like “Try Again.”
I found the opening pieces most interesting, as squares that play with perspective and color do more than just with color alone. His three “Studies for a Kinetic” placed side-by-side, give three different versions of the same lines becoming squares, each playing with the canvas space in its own way based on the angles and colors chosen. But it wasn’t perspective that most interested Albers, who once described the square as “the dish I serve my craziness about color in.”
Read the rest of my review where it’s published (woohoo!) on Woman Around Town
Study for a Kinetic, ca. 1945
oil and graphite on blotting paper